Mar 23, 2013

Fall 1982: Confessions of a Mask

When I started grad school in Bloomington, Indiana in 1982, I didn't have much trouble finding gay books.  There was no gay section at the campus bookstore or the White Rabbit bookstore downtown, but you could just scan the fiction shelves for titles that were dark and sinister, about secrets and lies and despair: The Flowers of Evil, A Thirsty Evil, The Thief's Journal, The Color of Darkness, The Immoralist, City of Night, The Young and Evil.

So when I saw Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask (1949) on the shelf, I knew that it was gay-themed.

It's about Kochan, a Japanese schoolboy in the 1930s who is tormented by same-sex desire.

He gazes lustfully at a night-soil carrier (a man whose job it is to carry human excrement) and at pictures of dead soldiers, knights, and Christian martyrs, especially St. Sebastian who was pierced by arrows (traditionally a subject of gay painters; Franz Kafka also posed).  He fantasizes about killing beautiful young men, enjoying the image of their beautiful faces bruised and bloodied, their muscular bodies seeped in blood.  Homoerotic desire is inextricably linked to the desire for filth, and to the desire to destroy.

Through his childhood and adolescence, Kochan never falters in his belief that he is wrong, deviant, evil, a monster masquerading as human.  He watches his schoolmates, especially a muscular boy named Omi who writes his name in urine on the snow.

He tries to suppress his urges for excrement, men, and death, even going as far as to have sex with a woman, but he realizes that he can never truly love anyone.  His desires are not only deviant but impossible; male beauty can only appear amid excrement;  a man cannot love a man without killing him.


A rather depressing view of my future, in spite of the organizations listed in the Gayellow Pages

Mishima was gay himself, and led a tortured life, obsessed with bodybuilders and death. He felt humiliated by the Japanese defeat in World War II, and in 1970 attempted to incite a coup d'etat to restore the power of the emperor.  When that didn't work, he committed ritual suicide.

See also: The Flowers of Evil; and Gay Chinese Literature