Son of a bitch! Just thirteen pages into Mishima’s “The Temple of Dawn” and he forces me to underline, annotate, and share the entirety of two pages.
“Art is a colossal evening glow,” he repeated. “It’s the burnt offering of all the best things of an era. Even the clearest logic that has long thrived in daylight is completely destroyed by the meaningless lavish explosion of color in the evening sky; even history, apparently destined to endure forever, is abruptly made aware of its own end. Beauty stands before everyone; it renders human endeavor completely futile. Before the brilliance of evening, before the surging evening clouds, all rot about some ‘better future’ immediately fades away. The present moment is all; the air is filled with a poison of color. What’s beginning? Nothing. Everything is ending
“There’s nothing of substance in it. Of course, night has its own intrinsic nature: the cosmic essence of death and inorganic existence. Day too has its own entity; everything human belongs to the day.
“But there’s no substance in the evening glow. It’s nothing but a joke, a meaningless, but impressive joke of form and light and color. Look… look at the purple clouds. Nature seldom offers a banquet of such a lavish color as purple. Evening clouds are an insult to anything symmetric, but such destruction of order is closely connected with the breakup of something much more fundamental. If the serene white daytime cloud may be compared to moral exaltation, then these riotous colors have nothing to do with morality.
“The arts predict the greatest vision of the end; before anything else they prepare for and embody the end. Gourmets and good wines, beautiful forms and sumptuous clothes—every extravagance human beings can dream up in one era is crammed into the arts. All such things have been awaiting form. Some form with which to pillage and destroy in the shortest time all of human living. And that is the evening glow. And to what purpose? Indeed, for nothing.
“The most delicate thing, the most fastidious aesthetic judgment of the minutest detail—I refer to the indescribably subtle contours of one of those orange-colored clouds—is related to the universality of the vast firmament; its innermost aspects are expressed in color, and uniting with external aspects, they become the evening glow.
“In other words, evening glow is expression. And expression alone is the function of the evening glow.
“In it, the slightest human shyness, joy, anger, displeasure is expressed on a heavenly scale. In this great operation the colors of human intestines, ordinarily invisible, are externalized and spread over the entire sky. The most subtle tenderness and gallantry are joined with Weltschmerz, and ultimately affliction is transformed into a short-lived orgy. The numerous bits of logic which people have so stubbornly cherished during the day are all drawn into the vast emotional explosion of the heavens and the spectacular release of passions, and people realize the futility of all systems. In other words, everything is expressed for at most ten or fifteen minutes and then it’s all over.
“The evening glow is swift and possesses the characteristics of flight. It constitutes perhaps the wings of the world. Like the wings of a hummingbird which change into rainbow colors as it flutters about sucking the honey from flowers, the world shows us a brief glimpse of its potentiality for soaring; all things in the evening glow fly rapturous and ecstatic…and then in the end fall to the ground and die.”
Yukio Mishima, “The Temple of Dawn” (Chapter 1)