Thursday, September 6, 2007

Notes on Richard Bowring’s "Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji"-- from the chapter, “The Cultural Background.”

According to Richard Bowring, Minamoto no Takaakira (914-82) was most likely the “historical figure who Murasaki had in mind when she created her hero [Genji].” Made a commoner in 920, Minamoto no Takaakira “rose to the position of Minister of the Left, incurred Fujiwara displeasure and, as we have already mentioned, was exiled in 969, accused of plotting against the government.”

Bowring also notes in this essay that Murasaki’s technique is to give the story legitimacy by beginning it in the style of the Nihongi. But “as we progress through the work this historical crutch become less and less important, and indeed less and less tenable, as Genji eventually fathers an emperor, but in the early stages it certainly plays its part . . . [it is a] technique designed to increase the verisimilitude of the fictional work; it is a matter of legitimization, of filling it with so many signs of the public domain that the illusion is created that the fiction itself is of the same ilk.” It might be interesting to compare this with Tanizaki`s own ideas on giving fictional works a kind of legitimacy by presenting them as fact (嘘を本当らしく書く).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary, Ryan. Have you looked at Thomas J. Harper's“The Tale of Genji in the eighteenth century: Keichū, Mabuchi and Norinaga" from 18th Century Japan: Culture and Society,” ed. C. Andrew Gerstle, in which he discusses the new radical interpretations of Genji in the 18th century.

Also, the "Old commentaries” (up through Kitamura Kigin’s “Genji monogatari Kogetsushō” (1673) vs. New Commentaries (from Keichū’s “Genchū shūi” (1696) on)— Are they really that different?


Anonymous said...

Also, one more thing. Have you read
A Genji Concert-- The Confessions of Lady Nijō 『とわずがたり』? It's the diary of Gofukakusa in nijō, b. 1258. concubine of Gofukakusa. She also had other lovers, most notably Yuki no Akebono, and Ariake no Tsuki. Ends up a nun. Insider to Kamakura bakufu. covering events from 1271-1306. possibly fake. Here are my notes on it.


11 (1277): first party: retired emperors Kameyama and Gofukakusa have archery bet. Gofukakusa loses, has to show all his court ladies. Sukesue suggests a kickball game with all the girls dressed as men.

Second part: concert modeled after Tale of Genji: Wakana chapter. Takachika throws hissy fit about seating arrangement; Lady Nijō overreacts, flees scene, joins nunnery.

Anonymous said...

Genji! I remember reading Genji back in high school I think we used "The tale of Genji" as translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker in my sophomore humanities class.

Boy, there were lots of examples of involution in that book! Self-referentiality, involution, all of it. I remember one chapter -- Wakana, or “New Herbs”-- in which there's a spring music concert, spontaneously put on by the Suzaku emperor.

Genji arrives in style, and comments on the others’playing, talking of the old masters, and of the decline in the arts today (604).

Other guests included Prince Hotaru , the Third princess, Murasaki-- who was making preparations for the New Year in her house, the Akashi lady, Tamakazura’s elder son, Yūgiri’s eldest (on flute). Yūgiri was also there, I think.

But getting back to all that involution . . . I think there was an abundance of it in the“Hotaru” (“Fireflies”) chapter as well, when Genji and Tamakazura have a chat on merits of fiction, while making a move on her.

“Murasaki too had become addicted to romances. Her excuse was that Genji’s little daughter insisted on being read to,” I think the narration reads.

There were also examples from the“Eawase” chapter, in which two sides-- left (Akinomu, Genji) and right (Kokiden faction) have a picture contest. Akinomu and Genji’s side triumphs, but much of their victory had to do with politics, namely the rivalry between the Fujiwara vs. Royal Family.

The paintings are based on old monogatari, and jugdged by content and the morality of the story rather than the technical merits of the paiting.

I think there were also examples from the“Broomtree”chapter, in which“someone misquoted a poem he had sent to his cousin Asagao, attached to a morning glory.”

In“The Morning Glory” (Asagao) chapter, it is winter. Genji, now 30, leaves a sulking Murasaki in Nijō Palace to seek the High Priestess of Kamo and the Fifth Princess (at Momozono?). If my memory serves me right, the High Priestess is cold and rejects him.

Genji is also reunited with old granny Naishi in this chapter. Yet he is still tormented by longing for his dead stepmother, Fujitsubo, and, as a result, begins to neglect Murasaki.

Finally, I think I remember Genji musing in one particularly scene about the merits of winter.“People make a great deal," he said, "of the flowers of spring and the leaves of autumn, but for me a night like this, with a clear moon shining on snow, is the best— and there is not a trace of color in it. I cannot describe the effect it has on me, weird and unearthly somehow. I do not understand people who find a winter evening forbidding” (357).

-Jill M.