Rethinking the Tale of Genji in Japanese Dream Culture and its Representations
(International Research Center for Japanese Studies)
Paper short abstract:
How are dreams depicted in Heian period texts, what can we extrapolate from those representations to understand how dreams were functioning culturally within Heian society, and how does this compare cross-culturally? I will use as a case study several examples of dream phenomena in Genji monogatari.
Paper long abstract:
Various kinds of "dream visions" can be seen in nearly every culture around the world, appearing thematically in images, literature and the performing arts. The concrete ways in which dreams are represented varies considerably across cultures, yet scholarship on dream vision phenomena in Western art and literature tends to take the Western case as universal. The general questions that I wish to investigate in this paper are: how are dreams represented in Heian period texts, what can we extrapolate from those representations to understand how dreams were functioning culturally within Heian society, and how does this compare cross-culturally? To do so, I will begin by briefly reviewing the historical development of the representation of dreams in Japanese classical texts. I will then turn to an analysis of several examples of dream phenomena as narrated in Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), focusing on a group of interrelated dreams that are centered both structurally and thematically around a sense of guilt felt by the dreamer. Specifically, I will be examining the dreams experienced by the characters Hikaru Genji and Kashiwagi after they commit adultery and get their illicit lovers pregnant, and dreams in which the deceased Emperor Kiritsubo appears to his two sons, Emperor Suzaku and Hikaru Genji, to indicate his displeasure about their misdeeds. How do these "guilt dreams" function to propel the plot in ways that might be similar or different from, say, Hamlet's dream vision of his father in the opening scene of Hamlet? How do they work to legitimate both Genji's political downfall, and his political comeback from exile? In making this argument I intend to demonstrate certain distinctive characteristics of how dreams functioned within Heian period Japanese culture, which can then be used be used to think productively against the grain of current scholarship on dream culture in premodern Western literature.
Dream Vision in Premodern Japan