Masks: Mishima, Bowie, Thompson, Crowley

bowie anthology

An anthology is in early development over at Modern Mythology, exploring the conundrums of identity, persona and presentation in the arts through the lives of four unique figures: Yukio Mishima, David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, and Aleister Crowley. It will be open for submissions in 2017, but we have asked writers to start pitching now.

The objective of this anthology is philosophical, if not traditionally academic. That is to explore the mask as a metaphor re: identity and society. That metaphor at once pertains to aesthetics and value, politics and our concept of the world. Because this is such a broad topic — the results of which could only be overreach or empty abstraction — and “mask” as a symbol or literary device is so well trodden ground on its own — these 4 artists can be used as a way to drill down into specifics.

They weren’t selected at random. Yukio Mishima, David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, and Aleister Crowley all used a double, an invented simulacra in the mind of the public, as a means of exploring personal mythology through fiction. Thereby they created a public, shared myth.

Each had an alias:

Yukio Mishima was Kimitake Hiraoka

David Bowie — David Jones

Raoul Duke — Hunter S Thompson

Aleister Crowley* — Edward Alexander Crowley

Yet there is a difference between Raoul Duke and Hunter Thompson, Aleister and Edward. Between Bowie and Jones. So it is not merely an alias, or a pen name. When you wear a fiction, it starts to wear you.

We can catch a glimmer of it in how each died. Mishima desperately wanted it to make the mask real, starting even before his first semi-autobiographical Confessions of a Mask. The myth he created for himself ultimately resulted in his dramatic suicide. “I want to make a poem of my life” he said, in preparing his body to be killed. (He committed seppuku. Watch his dramatization “Patriotism”, if you have the stomach for it).

In Bowie’s case, his death was immortalized in an 8 track swan song that in many ways encapsulated the arc of his prolific career. In the two videos released along with it, he explores the schism of Bowie and Jones, much as cancer would do to his physical body a mere 4 days after their release. Bowie was ultimately a master of using the superficial surface to allude to almost boundless depth. His doubles became Russian nesting dolls, Aladdin Sane as mask atop Ziggy as mask atop Bowie. And who was Jones, then?

Finally, the myth of Hunter Thompson’s double threatened to overtake his personal life, and the second half of his career was lived mostly in its somewhat oppressive shadow, until — for debatable reasons — he shot himself in the head. (Though it might be incidental, Hunter was the only of the three who didn’t use an invented name for his works, and yet everyone that met him, he once complained, were looking to meet Duke, not Thompson.)

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