AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 29

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Session 29: Japanese Commentarial Traditions and the Shaping of Women

Organizer: Christina Laffin, University of British Columbia, Canada

Discussant: Joshua S Mostow, University of British Columbia, Canada

This panel will present four perspectives on literary commentaries and their role in canonizing women writers and educating female readers. What works and genres were seen as appropriate for the edification of women? What role did popular tales and anecdotes (setsuwa) about writers play in socializing women? How were specific female authors presented alternately as exemplaries worthy of emulation or temptresses leading others astray? How and why were female authors, like Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 970-ca.1015) and Sei Shōnagon (ca. 966-after 1017), pitted against each other in presenting ideals for women? These will be among the questions taken up by presenters, who will draw from commentaries of the twelfth through nineteenth centuries in considering representations of Heian-period (794-1186) poets and writers. Anne Commons will examine the role that anecdotes played in the poetic education of women, as seen in the Toshiyori zuinō (Shunrai’s Poetic Essentials, ca.1115). Satoko Naito will consider the representation of Murasaki Shikibu in the Edo-period (1603-1868) educational texts for women known as jokun. Gergana Ivanova will take up shifting constructions of Sei Shōnagon in early-modern adaptations of Makura no sōshi (The Pillow Book, 11th c.). Jamie Newhard will compare the views of Lady Ise’s (ca. 870-ca. 940) role in writing Ise monogatari (The Ise Stories, mid-tenth century) presented in Edo-period popular commentaries, jokun, and kokugaku (nativist) commentaries. Joshua Mostow will open our discussion, drawing from his knowledge of the commentarial traditions associated with Ise monogatari and Hyakunin isshu (The One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, 1230s).

Poets and Poems of the Past in the Toshiyori zuino
Anne Commons, University of Alberta, Canada

The Toshiyori zuino (Shunrai’s Poetic Essentials, ca.1115), a Japanese poetic treatise by the influential and innovative poet Minamoto no Shunrai (also known as Toshiyori, ca.1055-ca.1129), was written as an introduction to poetry for Yasuko (1095-1155), a daughter of the regent Fujiwara no Tadazane (1078-1162) who went on to become consort to Emperor Toba (1103-1156). Written at a time when Japanese court poetry (waka) was seeing the development of what would come to be regarded as characteristically medieval modes of thought and practice, the Toshiyori zuinō builds on earlier critical works by Fujiwara no Kinto (966-1041) and also anticipates the poetic thought of Fujiwara Shunzei (1114-1204). In addition to setting out Shunrai’s views on the history, nature, and ideal form of waka, the Toshiyori zuino is notable for its inclusion of a large number of anecdotes (setsuwa) on famous poems and poets, including such well-known female poets as Izumi Shikibu (ca. 966-?) and Akazome Emon (?-ca.1041). These informal, anecdotal accounts not only served as a medium for the canonization of famous poets and poems, but were also used for pedagogical purposes, being employed as part of a poetic education for the Toshiyori zuino’s original reader. In this paper I will be examining Shunrai’s use of the poets and poems of the past as educational tools, against the larger background issues of female readership and education and the role of marginal, less prestigious texts such as setsuwa in the process of literary canon formation.

The Role of the Author: Images of Murasaki Shikibu in Eighteenth-Century Educational Texts for Women
Satoko Naito, University of Maryland, College Park, USA

In the long history of the reception of The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, ca.1000), numerous, disparate identities of its author Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 970-ca.1015) have been constructed. The “Murasaki Shikibu icon” is a critical player not only in the popularization and canonization of The Tale of Genji, but its legitimization as well. One dominant Murasaki Shikibu myth that developed in the late twelfth century responded to the popular belief that the tale violated the Buddhist precept against “wild words and fancy language” (kyōgen kigo). It claimed that the tale was written under the auspices of the imperial family and the Bodhisattva Kannon at the Ishiyama temple. This presentation will follow the reverberations of this narrative both in its iconographic visual representations and as the basis for Murasaki Shikibu’s so-called biographies. I will focus on how Murasaki Shikibu is presented as a feminine ideal and educator and consider the crucial discursive and physical space that the authorial icon held in jokun, or educational texts for women. I will look at examples from the mid to late eighteenth century and examine shifting attitudes regarding problems of fiction writing, fiction reading, and gender.

Gender, Genre, and Canonization: Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book in Edo Literary Thought
Gergana E. Ivanova, University of Cincinnati, USA

The attribution of Sei Shonagon’s Makura no sōshi (The Pillow Book, 11th c.) to the zuihitsu (“following the brush”) genre and the shaping of its author as a saijo (a woman possessing literary talent and intelligence) in the early modern period (1603-1868) have been crucial to the reception of the work through the present. Forced to compete with male-authored texts within this categorization, and with other Heian classics of female authorship, The Pillow Book has been often relegated to an inferior position. This paper takes up the reception of Makura no soshi in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the text spawned a large number of adaptations and parodies. I will examine three illustrated “versions” of Sei Shōnagon’s work—a textbook for letter writing (ōraimono), an erotic book (ehon), and an educational text for female readers (jokunsho). Although none of these texts was based on the “original” Pillow Book, all claimed to have been written as supplementary texts to the work and authored by Sei Shonagon. I will show how these adaptations focus on sexuality and displays of women’s learning while constructing Sei Shonagon as an exemplary figure, and consider the factors that made the popularization of Makura no soshi desirable. This presentation will reveal ways in which the literary past arrives into the present in multiple versions, constructed to perform specific functions in various cultural, social and political contexts, and suggest how this historical process allows us to better understand the contemporary evaluation of literature from the past.

Lady Ise and the Gendering of Ise monogatari
Jamie L. Newhard, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Although Lady Ise (ca. 870-ca. 940) is no longer quickly identifiable as one of the “big names” among Heian-period women writers, she loomed large in the medieval and early modern periods as both a poet and the putative co-author/editor of Ise monogatari (The Ise Stories), the tenth-century poem-tale that gives an account of the life and loves of the male poet and courtier Ariwara no Narihira (825-880). This paper explores the conflicting views of Lady Ise’s role in the creation of Ise monogatari that emerged in the Edo period and their significance in the history of its—and her—reception. In the medieval view, Lady Ise had revised and expanded upon a text originally written by Narihira. Commentaries produced for popular audiences in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries adopted this view. Educational books for women, however, tended to efface Narihira and attribute sole authorship to Lady Ise as part of a project to construe her as a model for contemporary women to emulate. Meanwhile, nativist scholars such as Kada no Azumamaro (1669-1736) and Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769) attempted to take Lady Ise entirely out of the equation, and argued that Ise monogatari was written in a style that could only have been the work of male hands. Lady Ise thus becomes either a casualty or a beneficiary of scholarly endeavors that are fundamentally not about her, but about whether Ise monogatari should be considered part of a “feminine” or “masculine” literary tradition.