Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima

by Jan 14, 2019Queer Syllabus

The Queer Syllabus is a joint project from The Rumpus and Foglifter Press that allows writers to nominate works for a new canon of queer literature. When we identify our roots, when we point to the work that shaped us as writers and as people, we demonstrate that our stories are timeless, essential, and important—and so are we. The Queer Syllabus is edited by Wesley O. Cohen and Marisa Siegel.

 

Yukio Mishima is a deservedly controversial author for his politics, his attempted coup of the Japanese government, and his ritual suicide. Much of Mishima’s writing reflects aspects of these topics, and yet, so much if his writing bears the unmistakable longing of queer youth. This is especially true in Confessions of a Mask, where the narrator spends the novel coming to terms with his sexuality. A lot of writing is done—and has been done—on queer coming-of-age narratives, but what sets Confessions apart, and has made it a classic, is Mishima’s dedication to an unflinching portrayal of homosexual desire.

Early in the book, when the narrator is twelve, he describes his first encounter with masturbation. The boy is browsing a book of European art, noticing the nude women with little interest when he comes across Guido Reni’s St. Sebastian: “Suddenly there came into view from one corner of the next page a picture that I had to believe had been lying in wait there for me, for my sake . . . the instant I looked upon the picture, my entire being trembled with some pagan joy. My blood soared up; my loins swelled as though in wrath . . . My hands, completely unconsciously, began a motion they had never been taught.” This experience is so authentic, it echoes many queer awakenings, nearly the same as my own (just a different picture of St. Sebastian). Confessions is entirely in this vein—this raw exploration of sexuality, of the body, of gender roles (the narrator performing the expectations of a girlfriend in his mercurial friendship with Omi).

Of course, there are artifacts of the 1950s within the book. Women are often relegated to secondary characters who seem to be little more than fixtures in a room. And it cannot go overlooked that main character is more than disinterested in women, he disdains them, as if their only use is to hide his sexuality.

Still there are sublime moments in this work, glimpses of total vulnerability that ring true today. The narrator, in a moment of solitude, misses his crush, desires him sexually. He is on summer vacation sunbathing alone on a rocky beach: “At once my feeling of solitude became mixed with the memories Omi . . . in this feeling of emptiness . . . a loneliness that outwardly resembled his, I wanted to savour it completely through his eyes. I would enact the double role of Omi and myself. But in order to do that I had to first discover a point of similarity with him, however slight . . . Summer had come and, with it, there in my armpits, the first sprouts of black thickets, not the equal of Omi’s, but undoubtedly there. Here then was the point of similarity with Omi that my purposes required . . . for the first time in my life I indulged in my ‘bad habit’ out in the open, there beneath the blue sky. As its object I chose my own armpits . . . ” This scene is so personal, embarrassing, and honest that the reader can’t help but be carried away with the narrator. These moments are why Confessions of a Mask remains a classic and would be included on my syllabus.

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Wow! We had the best time at this past Sunday's reading with the San Francisco Public Library Thank you so much to our fantastic readers—@emo.ocean (Lio Min), @real_james_cagney, @charliejaneanders, and Lydia Elias—for sharing their incredible writing and starting a warm dialogue on the importance of queer spaces.We'd also like to give a huge shoutout to the amazing folks who helped make our event as accessible as possible! Thank you to our ASL interpreters Heidi Woelbling and Benny Llamas, and to our live-captioner Jen Schuck. We're so grateful for your hard work!Keep an eye out for a recording of this event on the SFPL Youtube page! We'll announce when it's ready. Until then, please go follow and support these writers and their work!Image Description: A screenshot of a Zoom room with Lio Min, James Cagney, Lydia Elias, and Charlie Jane Anders. They are all smiling and listening to each other. There is some closed captioning towards the bottom, that says "I'm really struck by how much vulnerability you all shared. As a writer, I'm curious how you know when you're ready to put a story to the page?" End description. ... See MoreSee Less
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Our virtual reading with the San Francisco Public Library is tomorrow! Join us at 2PM PT for Generational Treasures: An Afternoon of Queer and Trans Storytelling.This fantastic event will feature James Cagney, Lio Min, Charlie Jane Anders, and Lydia Elias! RSVP here: on.sfpl.org/foglifterFoglifter is excited to collaborate with @sfpubliclibrary for Generational Treasures: An Afternoon of Queer and Trans Storytelling! Join us on Sunday, September 25th at 2PM PT for a virtual reading with @charliejaneanders, @emo.ocean, @real_james_cagney, Lydia Elias. In mainstream society, when we hear the word "generations" we may immediately presume biological progeniture. In the Queer/trans community, however, generations can refer to chosen family, drag mothers, drag dads, ball houses, aesthetic legacies, just to name a few. In either context, generations suggest an era. Foglifter has invited four writers—Charlie Jane Anders, James Cagney, Lydia Elias, and Lio Min—who span generations to illustrate their "era" and the power of queer/trans literature. Live-captioning and ASL interpretation will be provided. RSVP here: on.sfpl.org/foglifterSee you then! Image Description: This is an invitation for the reading, “Generational Treasures: An Afternoon of Queer and Trans Storytelling,” presented by the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center & Foglifter Journal and Press. This free and virtual reading will take place on Sunday, September 25th at 2PM PT. The photos of James Cagney, Lio Min, Charlie Jane Anders, and Lydia Elias are in the middle of the graphic. The SFPL and Foglifter logos are on the bottom. This background has a colorful gradient of pastel hues and various shapes and swirls, with a square containing all of the text and photos in the middle. ... See MoreSee Less
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There's just ONE WEEK until IT CAME FROM THE CLOSET is available wherever books are sold!!! Have you ordered your copy yet? https://bit.ly/3xAnz9k @joevallese @homohorror

WWS Around Town: This Saturday join this workshop with traci kato-kiriyama (@traciakemi) at @BBLitArts from 12pm-4pm.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/navigating-without-instruments-a-workshop-with-traci-kato-kiriyama-tickets-400498530887

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