Gender and Cultural Space in Premodern Japanese Texts

Christina Laffin (University of British Columbia)
Robert Khan (Univ. of London SOAS)
Pre-modern Literature
Torre B, Piso 1, Auditório 1
Start time:
2 September, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel discusses the ways in which gender appears as a defining cultural category in Japanese literary works from the 8th to 14th centuries. How is gendered space delineated in poetry, script, and travel narratives? Three position papers will be followed by a brief response and discussion.

Long abstract:

This panel bring together four scholars working in Canada, France, Japan, and the UK to consider the relationship between space, gender, and writing. How has literary writing been shaped by the gendered spaces in which it was produced? How do the acts of writing, reading, or reciting define spaces as gendered? Michel Vieillard-Baron examines the functions and roles that women played in the Poetry Contest of the Year 960 (Tentoku yonen dairi utaawase). What physical spaces did they occupy in the staging of the contest and how was the event a “gendered performance”? Drawing from kanbun and kana sources, this paper will consider the process by which the ceremony, renowned for its splendor in décor and costume, took place. Christina Laffin reconsiders the problem of women and script through a sociohistorical overview of the places and spaces in which women engaged with kanbun and kanshi, specifically as educators, in court work, and in their religious lives. Her paper will attempt to foster a new discussion on women and script by placing greater focus on the particular social and political contexts in which women’s writing functioned at court in Heian and Kamakura Japan while drawing from new scholarship on “reading” and literacy. Kimura Saeko examines border-crossing and gender in the diary Towazugatari (The Unrequested Tale, ca. 1306). The narrator, GoFukakusa Nijō, literally traverses space through the act of travel, while overcoming religious barriers for women through the production of her narrative. This paper will show how language and socioreligious space are intertwined in Nijō’s recounting of meetings with courtesans (yūjo) and shirabyōshi dancers, and in her retelling of stories associated with the temples and shrines she visits. Discussant Robert Khan will open up the conversation on premodern space, gender, and text through a short response.