Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is a novel that gives the reader remarkable insights into the convoluted realm of the human psyche. The story of a Buddhist acolyte who burned one of Japan’s historical and cultural landmarks shortly after the Second World War gives us a glimpse of what an extreme instance of an individual’s failure of integration into society might bring.
One is never naturally born into reality. In order for one to live and act as a normal individual who interacts with others, one should first and foremost be properly installed in the social order. As a child, one needs to recognize one’s own image as oneself, as “I”, and later learn this “I”’s place in society with one’s acquisition of language.
In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mizoguchi’s ugly physical features and tendency to stutter prevented his assimilation into traditional Japanese society, a society which is especially obsessed with beauty and perfection.
My stuttering, I need hardly say, placed an obstacle between me and the outside world. It is the first sound that I have trouble uttering. This first sound is like a key to the door that separates my inner world from the world outside, and I have never known that key to turn smoothly in its lock. (5)
Mizoguchi’s severance from the social space was further escalated by his lack of a father figure. He perceived his own father, a lowly Buddhist monk, as physically and morally weak. Not only was Mizoguchi’s father sickly, his father also tolerated his mother’s having sexual relations with a visitor in their house in Mizoguchi’s presence.
Consequently, in relation to the loss of the biological father’s symbolic efficiency as father figure, we see the correlative rise of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion as a substitute symbol of authority. In the same breadth, we see how the temple becomes the central point of Mizoguchi’s mother’s desire in her wish to make Mizoguchi the head the temple. For Mizoguchi, the temple, which for him is the picture of perfection, beauty, and power, gradually occupied the place of the father.
Mizoguchi’s final act of burning the temple then can be interpreted as classic example of the oedipal imbroglio of killing the father, “the root of everyone else’s powerlessness.” He only wanted to get rid of the symbolic strictures (as crystallized in the figure of Temple of the Golden Pavilion) that blocked his access to his desires. He only “wanted to live.” ■