Purity Control*

A fantastic passage from Yukio Mishima’s Runaway Horses:

Isao looked into the inspector’s eyes once more, and the latter answered his unspoken question: “Yes. It’s a Red. Stubborn ones bring this kind of thing on themselves.”

Obviously the police intended to make him realize that, in contrast, he was being treated with the utmost gentleness, that the kindly law was showering benefits upon him. But it had the opposite effect. At that moment Isao felt a choking of anger and humiliation. “My ideas–what do they amount to?” he asked himself in a rage. “If real ideas have to be beaten like that, are mine supposed to be unreal?” Isao was vexed with frustration: despite the enormity of what he plotted, there had been no adequate reaction. If they realized the core of terrible purity within him, he thought, they would surely hate him. On the other hand, however, if their ignorance persisted, his ideas would never gain the weight of flesh, never grow wet with agonized sweat. And, as a consequence, they would never give out the loud cries of beaten flesh.

Isao glared at his cross-examiner and shouted: “Torture me! Torture me right now. Why can’t you do the same thing to me? Can you tell me why not?”

“Easy now. Calm down, don’t be foolish. It’s very simple. You don’t give us any trouble.”

“And that’s because my ideas are rightist?”

“That’s part of it. But rightist or leftist, anyone who gives us trouble is going to pay for it. Still, when all is said and done, those Reds…”

“Is it because the Reds won’t accept our national structure?”

“That’s it. In comparison to them, Iinuma, you and your friends are patriots. Your thoughts are in the right direction. It’s only that you’re young. The trouble is, you’re too pure, so you went to extremes. Your purpose is good. It’s your methods. What about making them more gradual, toning them down a bit? If you made them a little more flexible, everything would be fine.”

“No,” Isao retorted, his body trembling all over. “If we made them a little more flexible, it wouldn’t be the same. That ‘little’ is the point. Purity can’t be toned down a little. If you make it a bit flexible, just a bit, it becomes a totally different idea, not the kind we hold. So if our ideas can’t be watered down, and if they’re a threat to the nation the way they are, that means our ideas are just as dangerous as those of the Reds. So go ahead and torture me. You have no reason not to.”

“You’re quite a debater, aren’t you? Now, don’t get so excited. I’ll tell you just one thing that would be good for you to know. There’s not a man among those Reds who asked to be tortured, as you’re doing. They take it if they have to. They’re not like you, they don’t respond to us even if we torture them.”

The setting here is 1930s Japan. Mishima does two shrewd things in ideological comment: he shows the conservative nationalist interrogator’s relatively friendly attitude – even in the context of torture – to the fascist, Isao, as compared to the communists in the other room; and he shows that fascism is an idealistic, self-sacrificing death cult, its kernel a ruthless quest for purity. These are timeless truths.

Mishima ended his life – spectacularly – believing in an ideology very much like Isao’s. Every reference to Mishima in Vidal’s and Hitchens’s essays when I read them in my 90s youth were interesting so of course I saw Schrader’s excellent movie about the man; eventually I read The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, a stealthily creepy novel I more enjoy having read than I enjoyed reading. Coming across the above passage in the comment section of a shady blog (thus no link) reminds me that I should read more.

Obviously I don’t share his politics, but when my time comes (hopefully many decades in the future) I, too, hope to go out with an ostentatiously dramatic statement, a bang rather than a whimper.

*Cf.