Spellbound by Blossoms: Dream Vision Noh as Political Allegory
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines several dream vision Noh plays based on Heian period tales such as Ise Monogatari or Genji monogatari, to show how they might be seen as allegorical rewritings of a lost classical past, rewritings that would have nevertheless resonated ideologically for their Muromachi audience.
Paper long abstract:
In "dream vision" (mugen) Noh, a ghost appears to a traveling priest in a dream and reenacts the memory that keeps it attached to this world; it does so in order to obtain assistance in achieving enlightenment and release from that attachment. Dream vision plays, especially those composed by Kanze Zeami and Konparu Zenchiku, are generally considered to be the finest embodiment of the aesthetic of yūgen (ineffable beauty) and as such resistant to allegorical and/or historical analysis. This paper will examine examples of Noh plays that incorporate stories from Heian period court culture such as Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise) and Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji), to show how they might be seen as allegorical rewritings of a lost classical past, rewritings that would have nevertheless resonated ideologically for their audience. On the one hand, this allegorical rewriting can be seen as an attempt to nostalgically recuperate Heian culture for the Muromachi present. That nostalgia is ambivalent, however; dream vision Noh can also be seen as the Muromachi attempt to cut loose from a Heian past that has held it culturally in thrall. One might argue that the dynamics of enlightenment in Noh equals the abolishment of memory: enlightenment creates a resolution (however temporary) of allegorical attachment to the past in favor of non-allegorical detachment. At the end of the play, the court culture that might have been threatening to the power of the shogunate is exorcised; although like all forms of the repressed, it will return again and again.
Dream Vision in Premodern Japan