12 September 2013

Book Review: Deadly Dialectics

Roy Starrs is an associate professor of Japanese at the University of Otago, New Zealand.  This was one of his first books upon becoming an academic.

I'll be frank with you. I have no idea how this ended up in my pile of books. I've written about Beautiful Mystery and Yukio Mishima previously. Let me liberally quote from that previous blog entry:
Mishima was a famous Japanese nationalist after the Japanese lost World War II. He joined the paramilitary force in Japan and in 1970 staged a take over of the office of one of the commanders of the paramilitary. It was unsuccessful and he and his friends committed seppuku -- although it took a few whacks to behead him apparently. He was hated by the political left in Japan for his nationalistic samurai-worship and by the regular nutty Japanese nationalists for insisting that Hirohito should have abdicated and taken responsibility for the war dead.
Got it? So with Beautiful Mystery I felt it was mostly gratuitous sex-violence/soft-porn action going on. Nothing too deep. Well, everything critical, clinical and analytical missing from that movie was packed into this book. I'm so unfamiliar with authors who are not (1) Marxist, (2) post-structuralist or (3) Jungian, that it's weird to believe that the bulk of literary criticism is written in this style -- which can get a tad dry for me and seemed to lack any kind of intensity.

Okay so the book and Yukio Mishima. I still haven't read any of his books and this book doesn't make me want to change my mind. The phrase that repeats in my head is that Mishima eroticized his own violent death. I'm not into S&M and the one time I tried anything remotely down that path, I had a hard time not laughing until I felt the slightest bit of discomfort and I stopped everything. It's hard for me to empathize with S&M in its physical, external realm -- I fully appreciate its inner workings and psychological dynamics. I freely admit it. So it's hard for me to really understand how someone could eroticize his own violent death or how someone could commit suicide and "get off" on it.

This book didn't really get me to that place where Mishima was when he committed sepukku and two of his love slaves struggled to whack his head off but it got me closer than Beautiful Mystery. I found the discussion of Nietzsche and nihilism to be somewhat jarring. Perhaps in the conventional literary criticism world everyone know what is meant when one refers to Nietzsche's work or how nihilist thinkers appropriated Nietzsche's work. I have a different experience of Nietzsche's work so there were times where I was confused and not sure if Starrs was saying Nietzsche's thought was nihilistic or not -- maybe he was himself confused.

The psychology chapter was very disappointing and well, I'll just leave it at that. What was underdone with Nietzsche was wholly lacking for the psychology section. I consider a psychological analysis to begin with a methodology for the analysis. A quote from Freud here, Adler there wasn't enough. The use of Nietzsche for psychological purposes just after the confusing meanderings in the previous chapters no his philosophy didn't help. Starr's analysis of Foucault as self-hating lacked any indicia of critical or clinical credibility and seemed to be solely a way to dismiss the "pre-eminent Nietzschean of our time". For me, it's almost cheating to go to the post-mortem unauthorized biography of a philosophy to make the shallow comparison between Mishima and Foucault stick. Why not cite to Foucault's work? I see no resemblance between Foucault's work and Mishima's.

The version I read was a 232 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press (June  1, 1994), ISBN-10: 0824816315. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).


  1. "It's hard for me to empathize with S&M in its physical, external realm — I fully appreciate its inner workings and psychological dynamics."

    This made me laugh. You just had to make a disclaimer, didn't you?

    When I saw the title, I was extremely eager to buy it (the cover photo was 90% of that decision), but thanks for your review. I can waste my Abebooks fund somewhere else.