How the Imposition of Firm and Impersonal Rules and Regulations is Reflected

‘The steel faithfully taught me the correspondence between the spirit and the body: thus feeble emotions, it seemed to me, corresponded to flaccid muscles, sentimentality to a sagging stomach, and overimpressionability to an oversensitive, white skin. Bulging muscles, a taut stomach, and a tough skin, I reasoned, would correspond respectively to an intrepid fighting spirit, the power of dispassionate intellectual judgement, and a robust disposition. I hasten to point out here that I do not believe ordinary people to be like this. Even my own scanty experience is enough to furnish me with innumerable examples of timid minds encased within bulging muscles. Yet, as I have already pointed out, words for me came before the flesh, so that intrepidity, dispassionateness, robustness, and all those emblems of moral character summed up by words, needed to manifest themselves in outward, bodily tokens. For that reason, I told myself, I ought to endow myself with the physical characteristics in question as a kind of educative process.’

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


‘In the liberal world, what one considered a “good” face was,properly speaking, the delicate face–nervous, pliant, changing, and open to the most diverse kinds of influences and impulses. By contrast, the disciplined face is resolute; it possesses clear direction, and it is single-minded, objective, and unyielding. One immediately notices by every kind of rigorous training how the imposition of firm and impersonal rules and regulations is reflected in the hardening of the face.’

Ernst Juenger, On Pain, translated by Russel A. Berman.


The True Fundamental of the Body is Nothing but the Body Itself

‘The “I” with which I shall occupy myself will not be the “I” that relates back strictly to myself, but something else, some residue, that remains after all the other words I have uttered have flowed back into me, something that neither relates back nor flows back.

As I pondered the nature of that “I,” I was driven to the conclusion that the “I” in question corresponded precisely with the physical space that I occupied. What I was seeking, in short, was a language of the body.

Interestingly enough, my stubborn refusal to perceive the body was itself due to a beautiful misconception in my idea of what the body was. I did not know that a man’s body never shows itself as “existence.” But as I saw things, it ought to have made itself apparent, clearly and unequivocally, as existence.

When I was small, I would watch the young men parade the portable shrine through the streets at the local shrine festival. They were intoxicated with their task, and their expressions were of an indescribable abandon, their faces averted; some of them even rested the backs of their necks against the shafts of the shrine they shouldered, so that their eyes gazed up at the heavens. And my mind was much troubled by the riddle of what it was that those eyes reflected.

As to the nature of the intoxicating vision that I detected in all this violent physical stress, my imagination provided no clue. For many a month, therefore, the enigma continued to occupy my mind; it was only much later, after I had begun to learn the language of the flesh, that I undertook to help in shouldering a portable shrine, and was at last able to solve the puzzle that had plagued me since infancy. They were simply looking at the sky. In their eyes there was no vision: only the reflection of the blue and absolute skies of early autumn.’

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

‘The theology of Mazdaism, the doctrine of bodies regained after the last judgement, in Christianism, Tertullian’s small book De Carne Christi, all of these have been fundamentals which have underlain my present thinking. I do not believe in essences devoid of flesh. There, as on other occasions, I discovered once more the thinking of Nietzsche, who had once claimed that the Greeks were profound through being superficial. Indeed, the glory of the sensual world is not, except perhaps as  a marginal note, the radiance of the trans-sensual world, and the true fundamental of the body is nothing but the body itself. What justifies appearance is not essence. In contrast to Goethe, I do not believe that the justification of the world is its symbolic nature, but its overwhelming literalness. To say that flowers redeem themselves by their smell is just as inane as saying that the soul struggles, miserable, imprisoned and condemned, when the body knows the pleasure of another body. Since our life is a consequence of words we use, what is difficult to express in words is difficult to express in life as well. Nietzsche has said that the surest way to do something wrong is to do it consciously…We know more by living than by thinking, because the inner acts (including those of a physiological nature) – ignored by our awareness, which plays its own part in the continuation of our lives – are all more replete with intelligence than the acts which become words in the process of assuming the world through awareness…I, for one, still live today in the horizon of that mutation which would eventually allow man to think of the world and himself in such terms as those in which, when it does not rebel against its own fundamentals (as in cancer), our organism thinks of its life.’

Horia-Roman Patapievici, Flying Against the Arrow: An Intellectual in Ceausescu’s Romania.



In a Marrow-Bone

GOD guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone…

W. B. Yeats, A Prayer for Old Age.


‘To think what we do not feel, is to lie to ourselves. Everything that we think we must think with our whole being, soul and body.’

Joseph Joubert, Pensées, translated by Katharine Lyttelton.


See also:

Wasted by Words

I have often noticed that after I had bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it. Although it lingered on in my mind, its personal warmth, its retrospective appeal had gone and, presently, it became more closely identified with my novel than my former self, where it had seemed to be so safe from the intrusion of the artist.

Vladimir Nabokov, ‘Mademoiselle O’, Nabokov’s Dozen.

When I examine closely my early childhood, I realise that my memory of words reaches back far farther than my memory of the flesh. In the average person, I imagine, the body precedes language. In my case, words came first of all; then—belatedly, with every appearance of extreme reluctance, and already clothed in concepts—came the flesh. It was already, as goes without saying, sadly wasted by words. First comes the pillar of plain wood, then the white ants feed on it. But for me, the white ants were there from the start, and the pillar of plain wood emerged tardily, already half eaten away.

Words are a medium that reduces reality to abstraction for transmission to our reason, and in their power to corrode reality inevitably lurks the danger that the words themselves will be corroded too. It might be more appropriate, in fact, to liken their action to that of excess stomach fluids that digest and gradually eat away the stomach itself.

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

“Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice. Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or, perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little”.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. 

A New Form of Voluntary Servitude

‘Coubertin’s athlete though was born of a romantic, idealistic inclination, and represented the consummation of a life based on a commitment to the highest virtues of nobility, unselfishness and community. For Montherlant on the other hand, the athlete became the personification of an atheistic nihilism, the expression of a life of “service inutile,” a self-centered ideal that posited that the only choice individuals have to create any sense of a meaningful existence is to commit to a purpose, a cause, knowing at the same time that any purpose or cause is merely a chimera. For Coubertin, the athlete represented a knighthood of purpose; for Montherlant a “knighthood of nothingness.”’

Jeffrey O. Segrave, ‘Chevalerie du néant’ (“the knighthood of nothingness”): Henry de Montherlant and the Olympic Games Movement. 

‘You stop a horse that is bolting. You do not stop a jogger who is jogging. Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to the moment when he will achieve a higher plane of consciousness, he is not to be stopped… What the third-century Stylite sought in self-privation and proud stillness he is seeking through the muscular exhaustion of his body. He is the brother in mortification of those who conscientiously exhaust themselves in the body-building studios in complicated machines with chrome pulleys and on terrifying medical contraptions… Like dieting, body-building, and so many other things, jogging is a new form of voluntary servitude… Nothing evokes the end of the world more than a man running straight ahead on a beach, swathed in the sounds of his walkman, cocooned in the solitary sacrifice of his energy, indifferent even to catastrophes since he expects destruction to come only as the fruit of his own efforts, from exhausting the energy of a body that in his own eyes has become useless. Primitives, when in despair, would commit suicide by swimming out to sea until they could swim no longer. The jogger commits suicide by running up and down the beach.’

Jean Baudrillard, America, translated by Chris Turner.

Style and the Body – II

‘[The actor David Garrick] appeared wholly present in the muscles of his body.’

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, as quoted by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation.

‘An actor must know the composition of the entire production, must understand and feel it with his whole body.  Only then does he make himself a component of it and begin to sound in harmony with it.’

Vsevolod Meyerhold.

‘Our most sacred convictions, our most unalterable faith in the matter of supreme values, are judgements of our muscles.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power.

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.