In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, what are instances of futile acts?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a minor incident of futility in the early part of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and a major act of futility at the closing of the novel. Mizoguchi is the son of a poor country priest and, as a frail, unhealthy boy with a stutter, realizes early that he is the opposite of beauty; he is ugly. Early in the story, a naval cadet, who carries a beautiful sword, visits his middle school. In a futile act to strike out against and in his small measure destroy beauty, Mizoguchi scratches the beautiful, shinning scabbard of the cadet's sword.

At the end of the story, Mizoguchi comes to realize a Zen understanding of the beauty of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion as he contemplates burning it down. He has the realization that the beauty of the Temple is derived from an uncompleted vision of beauty that can never be completed and therefore never surpassed; other structures that embody some beauty may be completed and may be surpassed.

In the sense that the Temple is the representation of the forever incomplete dream of beauty that forever continues to unfold new levels of beauty and is always a revelation without completion, the Temple is nothingness (incomplete and therefore, nothing). The Zen paradox of unsurpassed beauty being incomplete ever-unfolding nothingness makes the Temple's destruction an act of futility: destruction of incompleteness unfolding, of nothingness, is a futile, senseless, ineffective, unsuccessful, and therefore meaningless act.

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The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

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