Remembering Names

I have mentioned in previous posts the remarkable novels of Yukio Mishima that form the “masterful tetralogy,”  The Sea of Fertility. I am still working my way through the third of the four novels and it is tough going: it incorporates a great deal of information about Eastern religious beliefs regarding reincarnation. Upon completing the four novels Mishima committed seppuku and I am beginning to understand why. He is fascinated with the question of death and the possibilities of lives being transmigrated into other bodies after death. His central character continues to meet the same person in different bodies throughout his own long life.

In any event, Mishima has extraordinary descriptive powers and waxes poetic from time to time. This makes for delightful reading and his characters jump from the pages and stand before the reader in sharp detail. One such character is “Former Baron Shinkawa” who appears at a party late in the third novel and is described as  “seventy-two, grumbling and complaining without fail whenever he left home” — which he did whenever he could, since he loved to attend parties and social gatherings of all sorts. Unfortunately, he was becoming boring, telling the same anecdotes but beginning to lose his ability to recall the names of the central characters who made up those stories. “His sarcasm had lost its bite, and his epigrammatic expressions had become long-winded and shallow. He was never able to recall people’s names.” Mishima then introduces a wonderful paragraph describing in metaphorical terms the problems the good Baron seems to be having:

“His listener could not help but recognize Shinkawa’s losing battle with the invisible monster of forgetfulness. This quiet, but tenacious animal would occasionally withdraw only to reappear at once, clinging to Shinkawa, brushing his forehead with its shaggy tail.”

Believe me, I know that feeling. I have known it all my life. And the fact that I have difficulty in remembering names (and dates) has always plagued me. I am a terrible joke-teller since I often forget the punchline. But as I grow older (and older) and may finally experience dementia I find solace in the fact that the people around me will never know! (Which raises an interesting question: how would doctors ever determine that a Tea-Party Republican who suffers from chronic dementia has Alzheimer’s?) Anyway, I have always been like Baron Shinkawa and know well the feeling of the quiet animal “brushing his forehead with its tail.” I suppose, however, that if and when dementia does visit the “quiet but tenacious animal” will not withdraw. He becomes a permanent visitor. Sad, indeed.

One reads fine literature in order to deepen one’s understanding of the  human condition. If the work is also beautifully written — even in translation — then this raises the work from the level of “good” literature to “great” literature. Such is the case with the novels of Yukio Mishima.


7 thoughts on “Remembering Names

  1. I know that I am not the only one dealing with, and caring for, aging parents. Mine will both be 90 yrs. old this year and one has already embraced Shinkawa’s “tenacious animal.” My mother still fights the good fight even though it exhausts her. I see up close what my own future will, perhaps, be. Your synopsis, the gentle words you have chosen in examining Yukio Mishima’s literature through the life of his Mr. Shinkawa…and our own [possible] future human condition is somehow…comforting(?)…I think your hand is on my shoulder at this moment and through your words I am sad…but comforted.

  2. Having lived here in Central Oregon since 1996 and at the age of 77, I couldn’t remember my zip code! Welcome to the club!

  3. I could always use ‘right-brained fog’ in explaining forgetfulness! This past week of painting has been intense, and when someone suddenly appears to visit/critique/check on me, I am in a fog for the next few minutes!

    I meet many old people in Ecuador, and few have problems with dementia.. those few have had strokes or perhaps where that way forEVER. the people are old yet still have all of their senses. i have started asking more about what their daily habits have been, what they do that is special.. i think a life of hard physical work (being outside in the sunshine) having a happy spirit/positive attitude are both very important. i recently visited the daughter of a lady who died at the age of 120.. we are trying to document that, as it seems odd that she ‘birthed’ that daughter when she was in her 60’s… anyway, she lived to be very old, and the daughter laughed and said that her mother drank coffee whenever she was hungry!

    i am enjoying thi research, and i meet lots of old people!

    the books sound very interesting, and i hope one day i can hold them in hand and savor the literature!


      • I suspect that many things play into that picture; diet, lifestyle (which is connected with diet), happiness level, which is connected to what one does with each day, lack of chemicals in the diet, though msg and aspartame is now tainting most of the every-day diet.

        i think that exposure to sunlight is important – it’s a good way to get vitamin d and who knows what else. it’s been pointed out that skin cancer is a recent problem, and man has gone for a long time living in the outdoors and staying healthy.
        We now depend on calculators to do our basic math skills, GPS robs us of navigation skills; cars take us from a to b instead of relying on the benefits of walking, tools and machinery replace load-bearing exercises like using a wheelbarrow and shovel…we pay to have someone cut and split firewood, if we still use firewood…

        i am glad to be learning a new language, as that keeps the brain fit, and i still try to race someone using a calculator – but there is such a mystery as to what keeps us healthy until our hearts finally grow weary of keeping us alive!

        well that’s enough for this reply.. i will continue my research and maybe up it a bit more.. there’s so much to find out from those who reach estreme old age and are well and fit and with sound mind.


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