Mishima Yukio: Everyone’s Favorite Homofascist

This project begins with a simple observation about one of Japan’s best known novelists. While Mishima Yukio is known outside of Japan primarily as a « gay » writer, enshrined along with Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust on a ceiling mural depicting famous « gays and lesbians » at the Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, within Japan, he is remembered primarily for his anachronistic devotion to right-wing politics and aesthetics. Mishima Yukio’s two reputations thus constitute a conflation of both homosexual and fascist « tendencies. » It is a conflation which may seem contradictory to anyone with a knowledge of the brutal repression of homosexuals under European fascist regimes, but which nonetheless seems to subtend much of our understanding of both terms, both in Japan and elsewhere. In this article I will begin to ask why this might be.
Along with Mishima’s two reputations come two sets of readers who are likely to feel rather uncomfortable in each other’s company. If Mishima’s gay readers prefer to remember him for his moving description of the horrors of the closet in novels like Confessions of a Mask, his fans on the right prefer to recall his devotion to the emperor as the absolute guarantor of cultural value in « On the Defense of Culture » [Bunka bôeiron and other texts. But no matter how much they might wish to separate the two, there is little doubt that Mishima has come to embody an uneasy but somehow seductive conflation of homosexuality with fascism in modern Japan. Already in 1954, Mishima alluded to the connection between the two in the introduction to his « Shinfashizumu-ron. » Mishima writes that when he told a friend of his newly acquired reputation in the leftist press as a « fascist, » the friend congratulated him, saying, « Up until now you were nothing but a pederast, but now that people are calling you a fascist, it looks like you’ve been promoted to an ‘ist.’ That’s not bad. » In typical Mishima fashion, he tells us that being called an « ist » of any sort has stroked his ego and goes on to share with the reader what he has learned from reading a few books on the subject of fascism.
Mishima’s « promotion » from pederast to fascist evokes an imagined continuum between the two which continues to haunt our historical imagination of fascism. At the same time, however, the very possibility of establishing such a continuum, requiring as it does a stable understanding of the signifieds of the terms « pederasty » (homosexuality) and « fascism » is undermined in the comment Mishima cites by its focus on the two as signifiers evacuated of content–as nothing more than a difference between an « ast » and an « ist ». This tension between an understanding of homosexually and fascism as meaning intensive phenomena and a presentation of the two as empty signifiers is played out not only within the essay that follows these remarks (which was originally titled « Does Fascism Exist? [Fashizumu ha sonzai suru ka? »), but, I will argue, within postwar culture more generally. Indeed, it will be my contention that the ascription of a causal link between homosexuality and fascism is at least partly made possible by the way in which both homosexuality and fascism have been figured as crises in language and subjectivity, and thus in very system of historical representation itself.
In the larger project from which this article is drawn I have recourse texts by and about Mishima Yukio and Ôe Kenzaburô to begin to sketch the outlines of the literary deployment of homophobia as both an underlying psychic structure of fascism and a displacement of anxieties surrounding language and representation. As two authors whose works contain a rich store of both homoerotic and homophobic energies, and who both exhibit a strong interest in the relations between male sexuality and politics, their work and the reactions it continues to evoke have much to tell us about this problematic. It goes without saying that Ôe and Mishima could not possibly occupy more different positions in the public mind. I would argue, however, that it is precisely in these differences in the reception of these two authors that we can glimpse the workings of the two sides of the problematic relation between homosexuality and fascism. If Ôe is the writer who sought to combat what he saw as the contamination of the political by the (homo)sexual, Mishima is the one who dared to perform that very conflation. The result is that while Ôe came to embody the conscience of the postwar leftist intellectual community, Mishima became the writer that everyone loves to hate.
Masao Miyoshi has taken it upon himself to elucidate this distinction in his introduction to the English translation of Ôe’s « Seventeen » and « Sei-teki ningen. » After alluding to the thematic similarities between Ôe’s novellas « Seventeen » and « Seiji shônen shisu, » and Mishima’s 1969 novel Runaway Horses[Honba (both of which tell the story of young right-wing assassins), Miyoshi proceeds to criticize the latter for being flawed by what he calls the « stylish glamour of a revue-like theatricality » to which, we are told, « Mishima was always susceptible. » He then goes on to reduce the significance of any similarity between the two writers to a question of originality versus imitation. Miyoshi writes,

As far as I know no one has pointed out Mishima’s heavy borrowing, if not outright plagiarism, of the younger writer’s [Ôe’s–kv earlier work. At the same time, Mishima’s identification with the handsome young boy [the protagonist of Runaway Horses–kv is embarrassingly unguarded and unqualified. His pronouncement of the emperorist program, too, is so transparent that Runaway Horses is nearly unreadable–except as part of Mishima’s biography. This–Mishima’s self-indulgence and Ôe’s discipline–might be the greatest difference that lies between the two writers.

The viciously pathologizing tone of this passage speaks for itself, but it does provide a clear schematic of the problem at hand. Ôe, as the « original » to Mishima’s copy, is credited with having seriously grappled with the relation between sexuality and politics. Thanks to what Miyoshi calls his « discipline » Ôe’s work is able to transcend the writer’s personal experience and acquire depth, complexity, and universal significance. As such he is an exemplary embodiment of the liberal democratic subject. Mishima, on the other hand, is afflicted by a superficial, imitative « theatricality, » which would seem to be further aggravated by his « embarrassingly unguarded and unqualified identification » « with the handsome youth. » This kind of unabashed fag baiting is ubiquitous in Mishima criticism and here, as elsewhere, it makes us wonder just who is being embarrassed . But most important for us here is the way in which this rendering of Mishima implicitly coincides with the kind of pathology that Ôe, and apparently Miyoshi, would attribute to fascism itself. Mishima thus comes to embody in his very queer person the surrendering of subjectivity and the « susceptibility » to representation for its own sake that would characterize the fascist order. While Ôe’s manly « discipline » allows him to « represent » the problematic of fascism and thus to salvage some progressive meaning from its critique, the effeminized, « self-indulgent » Mishima is duped by fascism’s own representational order–an order which is in fact characterized by the collapse of subject and object which would make « true » representation possible in the first place. The implication of Miyoshi’s remarks is that Mishima’s narcissistically inflected homosexual desire has made it impossible for him to maintain a critical distance from « the emperorist program » because his subjectivity has merged with that of the « handsome [fascist youth. » The distinction between the writer and his material has collapsed with the result that this novel only bears reading as a « biography »–as a case history of a pathology which is intimately linked with that of fascism itself. If Ôe’s work can be read as critique of the sexualization and aestheticization of politics called fascism, Mishima’s life is here read as an enactment of and a signifier for the same.

In an article titled « All Japanese are Perverse » Mishima gives us the following description of what he sees as the overdetermined relation between homosexuality and representation.

Often in the case of homosexuality the question of self-representation is an indispensable condition for the generation of sexual excitement. In this sense homosexuality is related to narcissism. The fact that this kind of self-representation becomes an essential element in the exchange of representations with the partner distinguishes homosexual desire from heterosexuality. In a heterosexual context, because one’s identity as a man or a woman is a self-evident fact, the respective self-representation of the persons involved can only have a secondary significance.

True to its title, the thrust of this essay is devoted to the argument that gender identity is in fact not a « self-evident fact, » which would suggest that Mishima’s use of this term here is meant to be ironic. But nonetheless he has given us a concise summary of the logic by which the fixation on signs themselves, as a variant of narcissism, will be characterized as specific to homosexual desire. Ironically, the figure of Mishima himself will come to serve as a paradigmatic embodiment of homosexuality as a desire for representation. It is this very same logic, I will argue, which will also provide, through the figure of Mishima, the necessary link to an understanding of fascism as a homosexual phenomenon.
Once again it is Mishima himself who provides the clearest expression of this link in his « Shin-fashizumu ron. » Mishima argues that the recent tendency among leftist intellectuals to use the term « fascist » as the ultimate insult » has ended up stripping the term of any historically specific meaning. As a result, Mishima writes, calling someone a fascist has no more meaning content than expressions like « Idiot » or « imbecile » among the general populace (316). Mishima then goes on to introduce more complexity into the term by outlining the historical emergence of fascism in a Western European context and distinguishing it from contemporary Japanese rightist politics. Whereas European fascism was the outgrowth of a debilitative nihilism, the Japanese right wing is characterized by a naive optimism. « Western European fascism, » then « is a radical historical event of the first half of the twentieth century. As such it is difficult to imagine that it would recur in the same form again (321). » But no sooner does Mishima insist on the historical specificity and unrepeatability of European fascism than he proceeds to argue that fascism is indeed universal–that the threat of fascism exists wherever there is despair over the state of society and that Japan cannot be exempted from this threat. In what at first seems a rather bewildering move, Mishima returns to the question of denouncing people as fascists with which he began the essay and issues an appeal to the Japanese left wing to stop using the term in such an indiscriminate manner. « If you gentlemen persist in repeating this accusation the result may well be the emergence not of the pseudo-fascism [which your words would designate-kv but of the real thing (321). »
This progression from rhetoric to reality is strikingly reminiscent of in which Mishima’s homosexuality has been configured in his critical reception. I cite the following passage from Tsustui Yasutaka’s « Mad About D’Annunzio [D’Annunzio ni muchû » as a typical example. After rehearsing the oft-asserted idea of Mishima’s « virtually erotic obsession with performance, » Tsutsui writes that performance for Mishima took the form of « identification as a daily practice (34) » and that the target of that identification was D’Annunzio. What Tsutsui sees as Mishima’s desire to be the proto-fascist, rabidly heterosexual D’Annunzio is an indication of his extraordinary capacity for « self-suggestion. » Mishima’s homosexuality, in this context, will not be an identity as such, but another example of his extraordinary ability to create an identity through self-suggestion. Tsutsui writes,

His proclivity toward homosexuality is one example. Having experienced orgasm while looking at a picture of a man in a period when anyone’s sexuality is still undifferentiated, and having yearned for the protection of a strong man out of his own weakness, he convinced himself that he had homosexual tendencies…and that he was incapable of loving women. His excessive capability for self-suggestion is manifested in the fact that this conviction went on to develop into actual homosexuality (38-39).

Mishima’s homosexuality is here depicted as a product of his over-active imagination. But it is also this capacity for « self-suggestion, » expressed paradigmatically-or symptomatically–in his « homosexuality, » that Tsutsui marshals to account for Mishima’s ability to identify with the fascist D’Annunzio. Indeed, Mishima’s own transformation into a fascist would be the result of his ardent desire to « incorporate » or « merge » with D’Annunzio as a masculine role model. « Oh, he wanted so much to be a patriotic hero like D’Annunzio.(53). » Superimposing this text with Mishima’s argument about calling people fascists giving rise to « the real thing » we can clearly see that both homosexuality and fascism are characterized as resulting from a progression, or a « promotion » from desiring identification to reality. This reality of both fascism and homosexuality will be that of a signifier which has taken on a life of its own and come back to haunt us. Fascism and homosexuality would thus pose a similar dilemma–that of the dis-orienting disturbance of the relation between the sign and the signified. As Andrew Hewitt has written, « The identification of homosexuality with ‘rhetoric’…serves…to identify homosexuality with the purely ‘rhetorical’ politics of fascism. » Both phenomena bespeak an identity which is founded on lack and which can only be realized through a performative expression of identity as « identification » with the other.
We can glimpse the outlines of a very similar argument in a work written before Mishima’s death by Noguchi Takehiko. Mishima Yukio no Sekai begins with a discussion of Mishima’s relation to the right-wing writer Hayashi Fusao. For Noguchi it was Mishima’s identification with the figure of Hayashi, culminating in his 1963 « Hayashi Fusao-ron » which signaled his turn to the right. This work, which Mishima himself claims was as much about himself as it was about Hayashi, was an attempt to elaborate his own ideal of manhood. In it, he expresses rapt admiration for Hayashi’s commitment to what he calls an « abstract passion » which he achieved as a result of the galvanizing process of tenkô, or political apostasy. In his transformation from an ardent Marxist deeply committed to the proletarian literary movement to a right-wing apologist for Japanese imperialism, Hayashi came to the realization of the ultimate relativity of all political philosophies. It is through the abandonment of an adherence to any particular political philosophy that Hayashi/Mishima came to espouse an abstract passion for an « ideal » which is ultimately represented in the figure of the deified emperor. Noguchi writes,

In this instance, the « ideal » which is being performed by Mishima Yukio as he plays the double role of himself and of Hayashi Fusao is by no means a specific, tangible, or concrete ideal, but always an arbitrary « ideal » surrounded by quotation marks. We must remember that it is not a question of what that ideal might be in and of itself, but only of acting with that ideal as telos.

An « ideal » in quotes. Once again we have the notion of fascism resulting from a devotion to signs for their own sake. In a later chapter on Mishima’s novel Kamen no kokuhaku Noguchi draws the familiar parallel between Mishima’s « homosexuality » and his devotion to the deified emperor as an abstract ideal emptied of any content. Noguchi relies on an interpretation of that novel as an autobiographical depiction of Mishima as a youth to provide evidence that Mishima’s move to the right later in life was expressive of a tendency that had been there all along–in the form of Mishima’s understanding of his own sexuality. In Kamen no kokuhaku, Noguchi tells us,

Once normal [heterosexual sexuality is defined as « that desire which bubbles up from his being himself » and the need to escape from his own status as a homosexual is expressed as « an impossible, burning desire not to be myself, » the problem becomes formulated in entirely ontological terms…This is because for someone whose body is always inhabited by the desire to escape from the self, the desire « not to be me » the happy, human stable identity [dôitsuritsu of « he who is himself » is forever foreign (105).

For the young Mishima, it would seem that heterosexual identity provides, through its « self-evidence, » the only possible access to desiring identity. Deprived of this self-evidence, homosexual identity is marked only by a desire not to be homosexual. This plunges the young Mishima into an existential dilemma from which his only escape is to pretend to be something he is not–by attempting to pass as a heterosexual in his relations with Sonoko. His homosexuality is thus « expressed » through its own betrayal in the form of an obsessive « performance. » As the protagonist of Kamen no kokuhaku puts it « The unconscious guilt that I was misrepresenting my own nature thus resulted in an insistent stimulation of my conscious tendency to perform.  »
In this passage the protagonist is experiencing a kind of apostasy (tenkô) similar in structure to that of Hayashi Fusao which Noguchi argues was so fascinating for the later Mishima. A homosexual in a homophobic society, like a Marxist in a fascist society, may be forced to pretend that he is something he is not. But at some point along the way this « pretending » comes to constitute the very core of his identity. This alarming transformation imparts to him a deep-seated skepticism towards reality. Noguchi argues that in Kamen no kokuhaku Mishima was « borrowing the figure of the sexually perverted youth to express the alienation towards postwar society which never left him (108). » It is that very same alienation which will account for his predisposition to the kind of « romantic irony » which Mishima himself will find so attractive in the figure of Hayashi. Mishima will be left with nothing but an « abstract passion » for « provisional representation. » As Noguchi writes already in the first chapter of his book, « Mishima’s abstract passion could have no existence without the ‘mask. (19)' »
Of course this obsessive attempt to escape the bounds of the self will culminate in what Noguchi refers to as the ultimate irony of romantic irony. For it will leave a gaping hole in the self which will cry out for fulfillment. « The perfection of irony, » writes Noguchi, « can only be accomplished through the abandonment of irony itself. » And for Mishima, this abandonment of irony would come in the form of an obsession with the emperor. Borrowing Mishima’s own words, Noguchi concludes his first chapter with the claim that what Mishima called, in his « Hayashi Fusao-ron, » « the oldest, the darkest, the essentially primitive ‘Japanese heart » « has begun to take possession of Mishima’s soul (35).  »
It is important to note that Hayashi Fusao himself, in a book published four years later after Mishima’s suicide, is quick to deny any relation between Mishima’s homosexuality and his move to the right. Indeed he anxiously denies that Mishima was a homosexual at all.

Mishima reacted to the accusations that he was a pederast by resolving to play the part of the pederast to the fullest. He went back to do research on homosexuality, he made investigations of the places where these invalids meet, he engaged in a certain amount of experimentation, and when he was twenty-six he wrote Forbidden Colors and and later brought out its sequel Secret Rapture, both of which appear to be homosexual novels. But with the exception of these early periods of investigation and experimentation, he never went near the realm of the pederasts.

The paranoid rhetoric and abundant italics of this passage speak for themselves but it is worth noting that while the narrator of Confessions of a Mask claimed that his « nature » as a homosexual compelled him to « perform » as if he were heterosexual [which included the « minute study of novels » to find out « how boys my age felt about life and how they talked to themselves (90) », Hayashi makes precisely the opposite argument to exonerate his friend.


If I have spent more time analyzing these various attempts to link homosexuality and fascism than I have trying to refute them, this is because I have been all too aware of the ways in which they do in fact contain a hint of truth. There is no doubt that the historical emergence and the continuing threat of what I have here called fascism is accompanied by a certain heightening of homosocial bonds among men. It is also clear that fascism is characterized by a crisis in representation which is at the same time a crisis of the heterosexual order in which stable identities are maintained through the enforcement of sexual (in)difference. But I cannot conclude without pointing out that all of these critiques, while they may be true in some sense, are not free of complicity with a masculinist, heterosexualist ideal of desiring identity–with the always threatened and threatening logic that says, « I am who I am (a man) by desiring what I am not (a woman). » In this imaginary, homosexual desire can only be configured as a desire for the same and thus as an ultimately unrealizable desire for identity. Thus the homosexual comes to bear the brunt of the stigma of a fascism which is construed in similar terms. The homosexual, As Andrew Hewitt writes, becomes « the fetishistic subject/object of a heterosexual political theory, because he serves as the projection of a feared loss of subjectivity (202). »
The question that the problematic of homofascism forces us to address, then, is whether « subjectivity » as we have understood it up until now is in fact a viable means of combating fascism. It may well be true that, in a homosocial and homophobic society like the one we live in, homosexual desire represents a radical collapse of subjectivity. But this conception of homosexuality is generated by nothing other than an anxiety concerning the founding instability of heterosexuality itself. And buttressing that identity comes at a great cost. Indeed it seems fair to say that historical fascism itself was, among other things, a chilling example of a desperate homosocial order driven to extreme measures to shore up its own identity. Queer studies teaches us that identity and subjectivity, regardless of sexual orientation, are always already in crisis. Faced with this reality we have two choices: either to disavow it through a paranoid projection onto minorities and women, or to embrace it as an opportunity to recognize that all of our identities are formed through a process of promiscuous « identification. » Perhaps it would be wise to take a hint from the famously homofascist Mishima, and remember not just « All Japanese » but all of us, « are Perverse. »

Works Cited

Hayashi, Fusao. Kanashimi No Koto: Mishima Yukio He No Chinkonka. Tokyo: Bungei shunju, 1972.
Hewitt, Andrew. Political Inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imaginary. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.
Mishima, Yukio. « All Japanese Are Perverse. » Mishima Yukio Hyôron Zenshû. Vol. 4. Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1989. 780-87.
—. Kamen No Kokuhaku. Tokyo: Shinchô bunko, 1949.
—. « Shinfashizumu-Ron. » Vol. 3. Mishima Yukio Hyôron Zenshû. Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1989. 315-21.
Noguchi, Takehiko. Mishima Yukio No Sekai. Kodansha, 1968.
Oe, Kenzaburo. Two Novels: Seventeen and J. Trans. Luk Van Haute. New York: Blue Moon Books, 1996.
Tsutsui, Yasutaka. D’annunzio Ni Muchû. Tokyo: Chûkô bunko, 1996.

Vincent James Keith

Professeur assistant de japonais et de littérature comparée à l'Université de New York., il est impliqué dans les « queer studies » . Il a écrit de nombreux articles consacrés au genre et à la sexualité dans la littérature japonaise .Actuellement il prépare un ouvrage consacré au langage et à l'homosexualité dans le Japon moderne.. Dernier article paru : « Gei no koe: gengo, fetishizumu, to kindai Nihon no homososhiariti no kigen » [The Gay Voice: Language, Fetishism, and the Origins of Modern Japanese Homosociality] in Ekkyô suru chi. University of Tokyo Press: Tokyo (2001).