The Aesthetics of Discontent: Politics and Reclusion in Medieval Japanese Literature

By Michele Marra | Go to book overview

Introduction

Since the evolution of modern aesthetics, literature has been seen as an autonomous discipline shaped by rules of its own. The science that has taken literature out of its pragmatic discourse was prompted by an infinite series of historical reasons, not least the need to deal with an enormous amount of written material that had neither historical reliability nor the cognitive function of philosophical writing. The value of the literary act came to be seen in its absence of immediate purpose, in its total estrangement from any pragmatic role. While history teaches young generations the lessons of a glorious past and philosophy helps to create the frame of human knowledge, literature is asked to please the mind and to carry it into the realm of the sublime through a decontextualizing process. The literary act and its consumption are acknowledged worthy practices inasmuch as they escape the here and now, succeeding in satisfying what Immanuel Kant called the "purposiveness without purpose." As the German philosopher put it, the experience of the beautiful originates from the ability to represent an object "by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction."1

By following the aesthetic approach, it becomes immediately clear that the literary act can only be conceived in an a-historical, a-political setting that justifies the difference between a historical record, a political statement, and a "literary" text. The line separating political and metaphorical language is sharp and clear. Two different bodies of epistemological assumptions fill the rubric of politics and literature, excluding through the differences involved all possibilities of contamination between the two fields. Literature becomes the "pure" realm of fantastic gratification, superreal creation, and imaginative endeavor. The development of modern aesthetics has thus brought about the tendency of de-contextualizing, de-pragmaticizing, and de-politicizing the literary text.


The Depoliticizing Act

The move toward the creation of a new rubric for literature was not limited to the Western world. While Kant was working toward a new organization of human knowledge, a Japanese scholar of ancient literature, Motoori Norinaga ( 1730-1801), was going in a very similar direction. The historical

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