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Setting It Straight

In response to:

Mishima from the December 16, 1971 issue

To the Editors:

The minimal requirement of a letter-to-the-editor,” writes Mr. Gore Vidal [NYR, December 16], “is to get the quotations straight.” He kindly suggests that, since I have failed to meet this requirement, I had better start sharpening my own knives (knives indeed!) and contemplate seppuku. But a glance at my alleged misquotation shows that it is not I but Mr. Vidal himself who raced “from a hasty first reading to letterwriting.”

In his penultimate paragraph Mr. Vidal accuses me of misquoting him when I say that he incorrectly placed Mishima’s suicide in the office of “Japan’s commanding general.” He then cites a passage from his article in which he refers to Mishima’s having submitted to decapitation before “the army chief of staff” and argues that this is an acceptable description of the officer in question. But that is not the passage from which I was quoting. If Mr. Vidal can bear to reread his article, he will find that in the second paragraph (lines 11-12) he refers to Mishima as having committed suicide “in the office of Japan’s commanding general.” Who, may I ask, is being “slapdash” and violating the requirements of the “sullen art” of literary criticism?

Mr. Vidal suggests that I have a vested interest in Mishima’s work and am desperately trying to protect this “investment” by defending him. If this is how Mr. Vidal believes that literary critics should go about their job, I am pleased that he has excluded me from their ranks.

Ivan Morris

Columbia University

New York City

Gore Vidal replies:

Mr. Morris has got the “chief of staff” business wrong but I am not about to set it straight. I will note that he has managed—incredibly—to misquote me yet again. I referred to literary criticism as a “sullen craft.” He makes this “sullen art.” In a curious way, his characteristic sloppiness has a certain inner logic: if craft and art are interchangeable as concepts then Mishima could very well deserve Mr. Morris’s adjective “great.”

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