THE NOBILITY OF FAILURE: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan by Ivan Morris

THE NOBILITY OF FAILURE: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This book was conceived as homage to Yukio Mishima, who killed himself and a male lover when he finished his cycle of novels and staged a pseudo-putsch to restore the Emperor. Morris believes that the Japanese spirit in general is suffused with willfully failed heroism--he approaches this theme, not as a moral or intellectual problem to investigate, but as a schematic contrast to the Western hero ""wedded to the bitch goddess Success."" Most of Morris' heroes, however, including the nameless hundreds of kamikaze victims, turn out upon examination to be something other than predestined heroic failures. The 4th century prince Yamato Takeru died young of. . . beri-beri; Yorozu, the first to take his life by hara-kiri, seems to have preferred suicide to the prospect of falling alive into the hands of his enemies; Suigiwara no Michizane expired peacefully in A.D. 903 in his own bed. Other allegedly Wagnerian heroes were the Christian leader Amakusa Shire and the anti-Meiji samurai chief Saigo Takamori--these men led political forces which fell to defeat, but they were no more possessed of an ""ethic of failure"" than, say, the Huguenots or the German peasant leaders. Morris supports his factitious continuity with an impassioned but inaccurate view of Eastern versus Western military men, the Japanese warrior being a poet and his Occidental counterpart a brute rejoicing in fleshpots and slaughter. The book ends with literal cherry blossoms and moonlight, versified by kamikaze. Curiosities emblamed in a suspect kind of glow.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1975
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston