16:217:570/16:195:521 The Tale of Genji as World Literature

Description: In this seminar we will read the unabridged translation by Royall Tyler (2001) of The Tale of Genji, a fictional work by the Japanese court lady Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 978-1015), as well as several critical essays that shed light on it. Completed somewhere around the year 1010 C.E., during the Heian period (795-1185), in the imperial court of Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto), the work is considered to be, in the words of Donald Keene, “the supreme masterpiece of Japanese literature.” Keene goes on to assert that this work in the monogatari (tale) form is “not only the quintessence of the aristocratic culture of Heian Japan, but has affected the aesthetic and emotional life of the entire Japanese people for a millennium.” But The Tale of Genji is also a major work of world literature. Sometimes compared with the Western novel form due to its intense focus on the internal lives of its many characters, the work has similarities also with the European medieval romance in its presentation of a court-based society and its extreme focus on love in its various manifestations. We will study this work in detail, as a text embedded in the framework of world literature, as a courtly romance—and also as a masterpiece created by the mind of a woman writer. All readings are in translation.

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Prerequisites: None