Style and the Body – I

‘Today, what are hands good for? Hands, poor hands which hang down at our sides. How do you expect there to be painters born, when our hands are dead? And musicians as well. And even writers. Because style, for the latter as for all the others, is born of the memory of the entire body’.

Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, as quoted and translated by David Carroll.

‘What, now, of my dealings with words during this same period? By now, I had made of my style something appropriate to my muscles: it had become flexible and free; all fatty embellishment had been stripped from it, while “muscular” ornament—ornament, that is, that though possibly without use in modern civilisation was still as necessary as ever for purposes of prestige and presentability—had been assiduously maintained. I disliked a style that was merely functional as much as one that was merely sensuous.

Nevertheless, I was on an isolated island of my own. Just as my body was isolated, so my style was on the verge of non-communication; it was a style that did not accept, but rejected. More than anything, I was preoccupied with distinction (not that my own style necessarily had it). My ideal style would have had the grave beauty of polished wood in the entrance hall of a samurai mansion on a winter’s day.

In my style, as hardly needs pointing out, I progressively turned my back on the preferences of the age. Abounding in antitheses, clothed in an old-fashioned, weighty solemnity, it did not lack nobility of a kind; but it maintained the same ceremonial, grave pace wherever it went, marching through other people’s bedrooms with precisely the same tread as elsewhere. Like some military gentleman, it went about with chest out and shoulders back, despising other men’s styles for the way they stooped, sagged at the knees, even—heaven forbid!—swayed at the hips.

I knew, of course, that there are some truths in this world that one cannot see unless one unbends one’s posture. But such things could well be left to others.

Somewhere within me, I was beginning to plan a union of art and life, of style and the ethos of action. If style was similar to muscles and patterns of behaviour, then its function was obviously to restrain the wayward imagination.’

Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel, translated by John Bester.


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