Sun And Steel is a Kodansha International publication.
"Necessary reading." -Times Literary Supplement
"Had we [read this before his suicide], the extravagant events surrounding his death would have been more readily comprehensible." -Sunday Times
"A key to the novelist's behavior." -Sunday Telegraph
Of course, this is assuming the book accurately reflects the author's views. If you have read Mishima biographies such as Stokes' "Life and Death of Yukio Mishima" you might agree that "Sun and Steel" is a true reflection of the author's feelings. Otherwise, you might not have a good frame of reference.
It's a good idea not to make this the first of Mishima's works that you read (the aforementioned biography and "Confessions of A Mask" are suitable prerequisites). However, it is an interesting work in its own right.
My main reason for not giving this book 5 stars is that I was longing for more depth into his character than could be provided in so short a work; but maybe that's just because of my fascination with the author's life.
From the outset, it is clear that Mishima advocated an "active" creativity and that he held in contempt those who used words to convey experiences yet denied their own heroic capabilities.
For Mishima, art, action and creativity had to embrace the tragic. To be a hero meant sacrifice of the highest order and suffering life's strangest and most difficult problems. "He who dabbles in words can create tragedy, wrote Mishima, "but cannot participate in it."
Mishima begins Sun and Steel by telling us that, for much of his life, he held an unnatural view of the world, due to the fact that his awareness of words preceded his awareness of his body. This isolated him, he says, and he spent much time at his bedroom window simply watching the world go by.
"Words," says Mishima, "are a medium that reduces the world to an abstraction...and in their power to corrode reality inevitably lurks the danger that the words will be corroded, too."
Mishima explains how he attempted to overcome this "corrosive function of words" with physical discipline of the body. Because his early years were suffused with words, as an adult, he seeks balance in life with a preoccupation with the physical. His body, he says, came to be a metaphor of the human condition and allowed him to directly experience the tragic in life.
Life, says, Mishima, can be intellectualized, but the only thing that imposes dignity on life is the element of mortality that lies within. Here we have the key to both Mishima's writing and his own life and death.
As Mishima continues to impose a rigorous discipline over both his mind and body, he comes to realize that the mind and body are truly inseparable. "I was driven to the conclusion that the 'I' in question corresponded precisely with that physical space that I occupied."
In taking up the practice of Kendo, Mishima comes to the realization that he desires neither victory nor defeat unless he also has conflict. The battle is emphasized, not the goal.
Anyone can conquer what lies beneath him, says Mishima, and it is the process of overcoming higher and higher obstacles that brings one into the sphere of the tragic.
Mishima finally comes to the conclusion that, "The most appropriate type of daily life...was a day-to-day world destruction." Mishima had thus become a nihilist, a hero who could look death in the eye and choose to act anyway.
Although seemingly severe and extreme in outlook, Sun and Steel reveals Mishima to be a man who advocated moderation instead. His desire to create is balanced with a desire to nothingness; he lives his life in an area that is inaccessible to words or action alone.
Those who have read Mishima's fiction and found it inaccessible will benefit greatly by reading Sun and Steel. Those who have read and enjoyed his words will, with Sun and Steel, arrive at a deeper and fuller understanding of this complex and fascinating man.
Had we only been able to read these words prior to November 1970, we might have been able to both understand and appreciate the circumstances surrounding Mixhima's tragically heroic death. It is still not too late.