Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 666
Japanese author and playwright Yukio Mishima (born Kimitake Hiraoka) wrote Sun and Steel (1968) two years before his death in 1970. In this essay, Mishima reflects on his childhood and the independent (often alternating) trajectories of development of his craft of writing as well as bodybuilding. He uses anecdotes and similes to discuss his experience. The title itself, Sun and Steel, refers to the mind and the body, respectively
Of his childhood, Mishima avows that he was more intellectually the physically inclined. In an interest simile using and and wood, Mishima explains:
"My memory of words reaches back far farther than my memory of the flesh. In the average person, I imagine, the body precedes language. In my case, words came first of all; then—belatedly, with every appearance of extreme reluctance, and already clothed in concepts—came the flesh. It was already, as goes without saying, sadly wasted by words.First comes the pillar of plain wood, then the white ants that feed on it. But for me, the white ants were there from the start, and the pillar of plain wood emerged tardily, already half eaten away.
World War II has a profound effect on Mishima. He recalls a specific occasion on which he saw the sun illuminate a field on which the war was fought in the summer of 1965. Mishima associates the sun with death, and so deliberate turns inward to matters of the mind, spending his time reading and writing. On this period in his life, he writes:
How dearly, indeed, I loved my pit, my dusky room, the area of my desk with its piles of books! How I enjoyed introspection, shrouded myself in cogitation; with what rapture did I listen for the rustling of frail insects in the thickets of my nerves!
Only after spending several years after World War I among the company of literary intellectuals who eschewed the daylight and paid little attention to their bodies did Mishima come to appreciate the value in physical training. He begins by lifting weights. Mishika realizes that everyone sees the body, as it is on the surface, and that the body must be trained in order to allow for the development of thoughts. He sees his fellow scholars in a new, less flattering light, and sets himself to building muscles by means of weightlifting. His instruments are "lumps of steel, heavy, forbidding, [and] cold." Mishima would spend the next ten years developing his body. Mishima describes the steel (and the process):
The nature of this steel is odd. I found that as I increased its weight little by little, the effect was like a pair of scales: the bulk of muscles placed, as it were, on the other pan increased proportionately, as though the steel had a duty to maintain a strict balance between the two. Little by little, moreover, the properties of my muscles came increasingly to resemble those of the steel. This slow development, I found, was remarkably similar to the process of education, which remodels the brain intellectually by feeding it with progressively more difficult matter. And since there was always the vision of a classical ideal of the body to serve as a model and an ultimate goal, the process closely resembled the classical ideal of education.
At the end of the essay, Mishima recalls riding in an F104 fighter plane, inspired by having seen a group of them while parachuting. As he rides in a two-person cockpit, he considers the plane a phallus and the flight a sort of fertilization. His motivation for flying was to find a place where the body and mind are joined. According to Mishima, this objective is achieved:
This silver tube floating in the sky was, as it were, my brain, and its immobility the mode of my spirit. The brain was no longer protected by unyielding bone, but had become permeable, like a sponge floating on water. The inner world and the outer world had invaded each other, had become completely interchangeable.