Thursday, October 27, 2005

Course Outline

Japanese Women Writers: Æsthetic of the Erotic Politic

One of the supreme works of world literature, and plausibly regarded as the world’s first novel, is the genji monogatari by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. Written in the tenth century at the Heian court in Japan and at a length great than War and Peace, Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji is nonetheless almost immediately accessible and perfectly delightful to modern readers– Japanese and Western both. In this course, using the superb Penguin Classics Deluxe translation by Royall Tyler, we will take a groundbreaking approach to Shikibu’s work. We will approach the text as an elaborate expression of a singular Japanese female eros by means of which the Lady Shikibu creatively represents in the fictionalized life and legacy of her “shining prince Genji” a normative standard of male virtue and behavior that directly resists the warrior militarism of the nascent samurai upper-caste. More than this, Shikibu – with a unique command of the æsthetic potentiality of Japan’s landscape, folklore, fashion and high culture – delivers a new literary form that contributes through subsequent centuries to the development of the Japanese artistic and intellectual systems known as wabi and sabi.
Additional readings will support our approach to The Tale of Genji. Extracts from Shikibu’s contemporary and rival Sei Shonagon and Enchi Fumiko’s short 1958 retelling of an episode from Genji will put Shikubu’s Japanese influence in context. And John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly – the source for Puccini’s opera as well as (more recently) the Miss Saigon operetta – along with Winnifred Eaton’s A Japanese Nightingale, will suggest that Genji suffered appropriation as mere exotic material for re-interpretation within Western imperialist conceptions of the Orient.

This course will be blogged at

Shikibu, Murasaki The Tale of Genji Penguin
Shonagon, Sei The Pillow Book Columbia
Enchi, Fumiko Masks Vintage
Long, John Luther Madame Butterfly Rutgers
Eaton, Winnifred A Japanese Nightingale Rutgers

10% Class Participation
10% Research Presentation
20% Group Project
20% Term Paper (approx, 2500 words)
40% Final Paper (approx. 3500 words)


Ray said...

sounds like fun, i'll probably buy genji and read it over the xmas holidays!

kristal said...

i am super excited about the class! it sounds super interesting! i have already read masks and quite enjoyed it... im planning to start on the tale of genji shortly (as it looks like quite a long read).... looking forward to seeing everyone soon!