Dangerous Women, Deadly Words: Phallic Fantasy and Modernity in Three Japanese Writers

By Nina Cornyetz | Go to book overview

TWELVE
Tracing Origins: Landscape and Interiority

The celebrated medieval poet Matsuo Bashō is most famous for his accounts of his travels. What appear to be realistic representations of topoi or event in these accounts, on closer examination have been shown to be variously embellished or transformed. As Donald Keene holds, in order to write better poetry, Bashō "changed the order of places visited, or turned rainy days into sunny ones . . . the literal truth was of little interest to him, and he did not hesitate to embroider."1Bashō's subordination of realistic description to narrative and poetic concerns exemplifies the foremost conceit of Japanese premodern landscape, in which the requirements of a variety of rigid rhetorical forms dictated the description and appreciation of famous sites previously celebrated in the literary canon. Thus, Karatani has described the premodern landscapes of the classical texts as "a weave of language" which is given signification by poetry.2 Landscape, as described in medieval travel diaries, shared with the visual arts a transcendental vision of space. Artists and writers sought to transcribe the conceptual place rather than to realistically portray a particular site. According to Karatani, in order for Meiji-period artists to see an actual landscape as the subject of artistic production, "this transcendental vision of space had to be overturned."3

This chapter will argue that Nakagami's narratives stand in defiance of the modern, separated, realistic landscape as Karatani has defined it, partly by excavating landscape's oral origins. Karatani has argued that Japanese modern depictions of landscape represented a transformation of subjectivity made possible by new relationships of the self to language and this

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