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November 25, 2003 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Ouch! In honor of swordsman, litterateur, scenarist, bodybuilding enthusiast, homosexualist, fascist, and all-around nutball Mishima Yukio, who did the deed 23 years ago today, here's Wikipedia's intruiging list of famous suicides. Now, the West used to have its own tradition of suicide on the part of those who preferred death to dishonor. Apart from various Koreshian poseurs, the demonstrably insane, and those vainglorious fellows who arrange suicide-by-cop, whatever happened to this tradition?
posted by adamgreenfield (47 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
um...it was 33 years ago. I remember an article in Life magazine at the time. I was 10. The article made such a deep impression on me because it featured a photo of the room where he and his friend committed seppuku and the heads were sitting there on the floor in the pic. They had been stood up side by side. It stuck with me.
posted by wsg at 11:55 AM on November 25, 2003


"death before dishonor" is a ridiculous concept, like "my country right or wrong". anyone who suicides because they feel dishonored is demonstrably insane. "dishonor" can be rectified. death cannot be.
posted by quonsar at 11:58 AM on November 25, 2003


Foucault said that suicide was a perfectly logical response to certain situations, and that the right to suicide was inalienable and should not be kept from an individual who is sound in mind. Quonsar, I don't think that the Bushido concept of dishonor CAN be rectified, actually; by its very definition, the only way to rectify it IS suicide.
posted by luriete at 12:10 PM on November 25, 2003


Apart from various Koreshian poseurs, the demonstrably insane, and those vainglorious fellows who arrange suicide-by-cop, whatever happened to this tradition?

It's still big in Japan

You still in Ebisu, by the way adam?
posted by SpaceCadet at 12:11 PM on November 25, 2003


For the record, I bet my right hand against quonsar's lies.
posted by trharlan at 12:12 PM on November 25, 2003


Let me get that last article right... Because the guy was insane and decided to commit suicide after his football team lost, the paper decided to tie in a totally unrelated story with the suicide just because football and suicide were never thought to be related? I'm confused. Ohh... and are there any pictures of this Mishima Yukio? I'd like to see what he looked like.
posted by banished at 12:13 PM on November 25, 2003


See also the recent New Yorker essay on suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge.
posted by SealWyf at 12:17 PM on November 25, 2003


While I can't attest to its accuracy, the movie on Mishima's life is excellent.
posted by Ryvar at 12:35 PM on November 25, 2003


Wikipedia forgot so many it's almost crazy -- Gig Young, Edna Millay, John O'Brien, etc etc etc
posted by matteo at 12:40 PM on November 25, 2003


Why are you automatically considered insane if you wish to end your own life? Mishima had very strong views on issues ranging from art to politics (politics of art?) and when you have strong views you sometimes do things with strong emotion. The movie is a good dramatization of why ritual suicide fits with his artistic and personal sense of style.
posted by cnx at 12:46 PM on November 25, 2003


This looks like it's supposed to be a picture of his suicide. I can't say if it's real though.
posted by putzface_dickman at 12:48 PM on November 25, 2003


putzface, Mishima did some photos prior to his suicide that dramatize seppuku. He was an actor and artist after all. I don't think anyone actually took photos of his real suicide.
posted by cnx at 12:52 PM on November 25, 2003


From the Wikipedia article on seppuku (often called "harakiri" by Westerners who don't realize it's an insulting term):
In Japanese, hara kiri (???) is a slang term: literally, "belly slashing". The formal term for honorable suicide, which should be used unless one is deliberately trying to be insulting, is seppuku (disembowelment) (??).
Note that the characters are the same, only in opposite order; this is because seppuku is a Chinese borrowing, and in Chinese the verb comes before the noun ("cut-belly"). In Japanese the verb comes at the end: "belly-cut." (In the former case the characters are read with "Sino-Japanese" pronunciations based on the Chinese words, whereas in the latter the native Japanese words are used, hence the completely different appearance of the terms.)
posted by languagehat at 12:56 PM on November 25, 2003


Whatever happened to this tradition?

It died out.
posted by agregoli at 12:56 PM on November 25, 2003


God damn it. Those characters looked fine on preview. Oh well, you can see 'em at the Wiki.
posted by languagehat at 12:58 PM on November 25, 2003


It's funny how the passing of time makes otherwise clearly and laughably insane acts seem sacred and righteous.

Goofy.
posted by xmutex at 12:58 PM on November 25, 2003


Aha - Adamgreenfield speaks! I was just thinking of you. Did you see my comment on the Seppuku thread? It was a wildly sarcastic speculation about how - since American culture was moving away from "guilt culture" and towards "shame culture" - a tradition analogous to Seppuku might arise - in an a peculiarly American form, of course.

I wonder how Mishima Yukio would feel about things now, decades later? More appalled? Less? (probably more, but what do I know except that I've got - quite anomalously since I don't speak Japanese - a copy of 'Japanese for Mac' in my CD files. But somehow the language refuses to seep into my head when I put it under my pillow at night)
posted by troutfishing at 1:02 PM on November 25, 2003


Wouldn't christian-esque western culture be fun if we had honor killings and ritual suicide? "Zany", I believe, would describe the bloodshed.

or Goofy.
posted by cnx at 1:08 PM on November 25, 2003


I'm sure they will invent a reality show where contestants are voted to disembowel themselves on live TV.

I might watch that one.
posted by xmutex at 1:10 PM on November 25, 2003


are there any pictures of this Mishima Yukio

Here you go.
posted by biscotti at 1:14 PM on November 25, 2003


matteo: Wikipedia forgot so many it's almost crazy -- Gig Young, Edna Millay, John O'Brien, etc etc etc

Then add them yourself! That's the beauty of Wikipedia. You don't even have to make an account.
posted by zsazsa at 1:16 PM on November 25, 2003


It's hard to imagine a loonier thing than to stick a sword in your belly and play shift-the-Ferrari, isn't it?
posted by gottabefunky at 1:26 PM on November 25, 2003


Wikipedia forgot so many it's almost crazy -- Gig Young, Edna Millay, John O'Brien, etc etc etc

Not to be snarky, but some of the ones they list seem very unfamous to me (and I'm not talking about obscure historical figures):

- Sarah Marple-Cantrell 12 year old girl who became famous after committing suicide. (huh?)
- Richard Greene, boxing referee (no additional explanation...)
- Mitch Halpern, boxing referee (ditto)

Then there's the ones I thought were questionable:
- Michael Hutchence Australian lead singer of rock group INXS (wasn't there some thought that it was perhaps an accident?)
- Marilyn Monroe, (1962), American actress (maybe an accident? or murder?)
posted by pmurray63 at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2003


pmurray63: MAYBE THEY WERE ALL MURDERS OMG!!!
posted by xmutex at 1:49 PM on November 25, 2003


cnx: Wouldn't christian-esque western culture be fun if we had honor killings and ritual suicide? "Zany", I believe, would describe the bloodshed.

I can't help you there, but I can give you fun links to these Christian traditions: hairshirts, flagellation and, of course, The Inquisition.

No ritual suicides and honor killings, but at least we have a grand tradition of self-abuse and murdering infidels! Go us!
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:56 PM on November 25, 2003


Joey: Woo Hoo! I'd forgotten about self flagellation and such. Oh well, guess that's gone the way of seppuku or I'd be able to buy cat-o-nine-tails at my local Christian book & gift store.
posted by cnx at 1:59 PM on November 25, 2003


As to "whatever happened" to the Western tradition, I recall reading in college an essay by Arthur Schopenhauer entitled "On Suicide" that attempts to explain the general condemnation of suicide in the Western world:

"As far as I know, none but the votaries of monotheistic, that is to say, Jewish religions, look upon suicide as a crime."

[ ... ]

"The extraordinary energy and zeal with which the clergy of monotheistic religions attack suicide is not supported either by any passages in the Bible or by any considerations of weight; so that it looks as though they must have some secret reason for their contention. May it not be this - that the voluntary surrender of life is a bad compliment for him who said that all things were very good? If this is so, it offers another instance of the crass optimism of these religions - denouncing suicide to escape being denounced by it."


Seems pretty compelling to me.
posted by RavinDave at 2:11 PM on November 25, 2003


cnx: Yeah, it really is sort of tragic that those traditions have faded into the past. It makes the day less interesting. I have images of businessmen at lunch time scourging their backs before going into high power meetings.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:14 PM on November 25, 2003


I thought that the tale of 47 Ronin was very interesting.

I think I'll use it as the title for the first album from the band I'm in right now.
posted by daHIFI at 2:16 PM on November 25, 2003



Joey: Woo Hoo! I'd forgotten about self flagellation and such. Oh well, guess that's gone the way of seppuku or I'd be able to buy cat-o-nine-tails at my local Christian book & gift store.


It may be extinct where you are, but there are some Christians who still practice it, at least on special occasions.

On preview: RavinDave, one of the wisest .sigs I've ever seen: "Suicide is the only way of telling God: 'You can't fire me, I QUIT!'"
posted by vorfeed at 2:16 PM on November 25, 2003


- Uh. Yeah. "33 years" is, of course, correct.
- Eiko Hosoe's "Trial by roses" series is the classic Mishima portaiture, St. Anthony posturing and all. I also like his beefcake.
- Yes, the movie is quite lovely. I'm particularly fond of the set design and Philip Glass' score.
- More YM nuttiness? Google "Black Lizard."

I'm in NYC now, no longer Ebisu, which should more or less explain the monthslong absence. Much driving was involved.

Nice of you to notice, BTW.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:19 PM on November 25, 2003


Spare us the cutter.

Thanks alot. Now I can't get that damn song out of my head. Nice song, but...
posted by damnitkage at 2:41 PM on November 25, 2003


no longer Ebisu

Well here's some MIDI JR train melodies if you're feeling natsukashi about the place.

Thanks alot. Now I can't get that damn song out of my head. Nice song, but...

"Couldn't cut the....."
posted by SpaceCadet at 2:49 PM on November 25, 2003


Best FPP in a while, you ask me.
Wonderful essays etc.
Thanks. :)
posted by kavasa at 3:06 PM on November 25, 2003


Merriweather Lewis of Lewis & Clark. Probably the oldest American famous suicides and missing from the list. I recently visited his place of death in TN. There is no mention of suicide. Since Lewis was a big practitioner of mercury as a cure-all, and mercury causes depression, I suspect that is what did it.
posted by stbalbach at 3:09 PM on November 25, 2003


Mishima's suicide was much more interesting than is apparent from the FPP - to call one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century a "nutbar" is cute, but doesn't really approach the subject. For one thing, that morning he had dropped off at the publishers the final installment of his great tetrology 'The Sea of Fertility' (chosen for the irony in the name of an absolutely lifeless lunar plain) - this is stylistically and thematically his master work, a multi-faceted romantic-existentialist saga of 20th-century Japan. He then picked up several members of his 'shield society', a paramilitary group which he had invented several years previously, including his widely-presumed homosexual lover (he was also married with children - yukio swung both ways baby) - and proceeded to the headquarters of the Japanese "self-defence-force" (couldn't call it an "army", part of the conditions of surrender in 1945), where he was to present the highest-ranking general with a 16th century samurai sword. Being one of the most famous men in Japan (for eg. at the time of his suicide he was the subject of a major career retrospective exhibit at one of Tokyo's largest department stores) he was able to gain entry to highest level of the Japanese military, armed with a deadly weapon (he was also a master swordsman) and 4 accomplices. He then proceeded to take the astonished general hostage, and demanded that the entire regiment be assembled in the parade grounds beneath their window so that he might address the troops. This demand having been met, he climbed onto the balcony rail dressed in his homo-erotic uniform and white hachimachi headband - what exactly he said is a subject of some confusion because the news and military helicopters hovering overhead tended to drown him out - another nice irony in that he apparently went to some length to ensure that his message would reach the maximum amount of people, but nobody is really sure what it was! What is known is that he re-entered the general's office and proceeded to strip to the waist and 'do the deed'. His "second" (the presumed lover) then decapitated him with the sword, and then also performed seppuku before being decapitated in turn by the "third", who along with the others had been ordered to refrain from any further bloodshed and to surrender themselves in order to 'take the rap.'

I would argue that the whole episode can only be understood as performance art - he wanted to go out with the biggest imaginable bang - and it would appear that he had planned it for years, perhaps even forming the 'shield society' (complete with absurd 'training exercises') for this purpose. He was theatrical and flamboyant, and avowedly dissatisfied with art as a passive and ineffectual activity - although he was a consumate artist - and stated that the "four rivers" of his life - Word, Spirit, Body and Action - could only be united at the moment of his death.

"nutbar" indeed.
posted by dinsdale at 6:14 PM on November 25, 2003 [1 favorite]


Oh dinsdale...you insult Mishima by presuming to understand the Shield Society as anything but what he insisted it was: a military organisation formed for the explicit purpose of the direct physical protection of the Imperial person, and by extension the ethos that had grown up around it.

He was no doubt complicated, but the unity of pen and sword is just that, a unity. You can't decompose it quite so easily, and simply call it "art." The seppuku was a desperate act of *military* honor with a strong aesthetic undercurrent, but it is clear that Mishima understood its primary purpose as the spark that would lead to a wider reinvigorization of an effete society.

Which is, of course, fucking nuts.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:44 PM on November 25, 2003


adam - or maybe just in the wrong context. Ibn Khaldoun was writing of similar cultural themes - the concept of the restoration of honor (by 'pure' rural elements) to an effete urban society - in the fourteenth century (in Morocco, that is).
posted by troutfishing at 9:46 PM on November 25, 2003


In Japanese, hara kiri (???) is a slang term: literally, "belly slashing". The formal term for honorable suicide, which should be used unless one is deliberately trying to be insulting, is seppuku (disembowelment) (??).

It's an insulting practice.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
Harakiri.
(I was about to add a "Fooly Cooly" to the end of that list when I realized that less readers would recognize it as a reference to a brilliant anime mini-series and more would think it was a very very very racist reference, even though I am perfectly aware that "Cooly" was a term used to insult Chinese, not Japanese. You may now return to your previously scheduled death march.)
posted by wendell at 1:46 AM on November 26, 2003


Oh dinsdale...you insult Mishima by presuming...

No, dinsdale put forward a thoughtful and constructive comment regarding a great but troubled man.

I may not agree with dinsdale's appraisal of the motivation behind Hiraoka's final act or some of the details provided regarding the events on November 25th, 1970, but I appreciate the time dinsdale took to contribute a good comment to your well-timed thread.

I also appreciate the fact that dinsdale has delved deep enough into the life and works of this remarkable man to politely object to the use of the term nutball when referring to a human being of Hiraoka Kimitake's talents, accomplishments and passions.
posted by cup at 5:01 AM on November 26, 2003 [1 favorite]



posted by mecran01 at 5:49 AM on November 26, 2003



posted by mecran01 at 5:52 AM on November 26, 2003


mecran01:


precisely.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:15 AM on November 26, 2003


A good post, and one that had me trailing through the wiki for hours, moving from suicides to punk rock.

For those who said they know fo more famous suicides - add them.

I think most of the metafilter community could probably make excellent contributions to the wiki. A group as intelligent and OCD as this about detail and explanation should eb able to generate some damn good entries.

Benefit your fellow man. Go add to your topic de jour.
posted by rich at 6:59 AM on November 26, 2003


precisely what?? (yukio == jacko)? Perhaps the comparison would be apt if MJ was standing on a balcony at the pentagon, having just dropped off the master tapes to his most popular and critically acclaimed album (a 4 cd set?) and then taken Colin Powell hostage under the guise of presenting him with a ceremonial civil war pistol (accompanied by faux-gestapo underlings) and then completed a suicide pact with his gay lover right there in his office. But on the other hand I dont think jacko was ever nominated for any nobel prizes.

To be fair, Mishima would almost certainly consider it an insult to think of his last act as "art" - which is something I didn't mean to say, exactly. Rather that he was striving for an act of creative expression that redeemed whatever compromises he felt he had made with his era - an act which fulfilled the exigencies of "art" (aesthetic harmony, the encapsulation, dramatization, and communication of fundamental "truths"...) while necessarily going beyond art as a *representation*. The performance artists of the seventies (like Chris Burden, who shot himself in the arm) were much more self-conscious about this process, and much less talented of course. Mishima's "performance" was closer in spirit to a Situationist provocation, (like the hijacking of Easter High Mass at Notre Dame - see Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces) - a conscious attempt to provoke a rupture in the 'matrix' of a corrupt and hypocritical society. And anyway I didn't mean to suggest that he thought of it in these terms, just advancing a *theory*: that Mishima quite deliberately "wrote" his final chapter, in blood no less - that it was a wilfill and *creative* act - an effort to "take his body with him" on his final flight of fancy ( - see "Sun and Steel" for an explication of this metaphor.)
posted by dinsdale at 10:06 AM on November 26, 2003


Well, I'll give you maximum points for audacity, surely. You're the only person I've ever known to deploy the proper nouns "Mishima," "Greil Marcus," "Situationist" and "Chris Burden" in the same paragraph.

I wonder what MY would have thought of Dick Hebdige's "Subculture: The Meaning of Style," a book with which I wager you are familiar.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:53 PM on November 26, 2003


er - yes indeed. (perhaps that second triple espresso wasn't such a great idea - speed kills!)

I always thought that the whole 'semiotics' fad of the 80s was kinda disappointing in that they had a lot to say about *reading* the social text, but seemed strangely uninterested in actually *writing it*. Hebdige being a notable exception. And of course the various flavours of pre-post-and-anti-Situs. Anybody else take these ideas any further?
posted by dinsdale at 2:11 PM on November 30, 2003


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