Friday, December 16, 2005

Buson and Chinese Poetry IV

Been reading through Eri Yasuhara's dissertation on Buson's haishi, called Buson and Haishi: A Study of Free-form Haikai Poetry in 18th Century Japan (1982). If you're interested in haiku, and have read most of the easily available books out there but want to learn a bit more, I really recommend it. College or university libraries can get dissertations with no problem, but if you are not affiliated with such a library, ask your public library's reference desk for some help. Dr. Yasuhara's writing is really wonderful for its sheer clarity, and she covers a huge amount of information that isn't available anywhere else in English. I just loved reading it, even though it was on microfilm and I seldom use microfilm.

Title of my talk:

"Haikai and Kanshi: Yosa Buson's Haishi" (I know that's pretty unspectacular, but I hope it is at least serviceable)

Here's how my talk starts:

Yosa Buson (1716-1783) was famous for both his painting and his poetry. In a period of Japanese history when the impact of Chinese discouse was prarticularly strong, Buson presents an especially interesting subject for study. The genre of painting with which he is most commonly associated is nanga (literally, "southern" painting), a Japanese form of Chinese literati landscape painting. Whie he did not write kanshi (Japanese poetry in Chinese), his haikai verse is often compared to Chinese poetry; indeed, no less an observer than Ueda Akinari described Buson's verse as "kanagaki no shi", Chinese shi poetry written in Japanese.

While the majority of Buson's poetic output took the form of conventional haikai--he composed about 2,800 hokku (17-syllable verses) and participated in some 120 linked verse sequences, he also wrote three verses that were highly unconventional and exceptional--Hokuju Rôsen o itamu [Mourning for the Sage Hokuju] (1745? published 179?), Shunpû batei no kyoku [Song of the Spring Wind on the Kema Embankment] (1777), and Denga ka [Yodo River Songs] (1777). While haikai was typically short and kept to the 5-7-5 or 7-7 syllable structures that had formed the foundations of Japanese poetry for centuries, these three verses follow entirely different and largely unprecedented formats: they mix phrases of standard Japanese poetic vocabulary with relatively straightforward literary Chinese, and these are combined with hybrid passages that bring together elements of both.

How are we to read Buson's haishi? What sorts of insights can they offer into not only the development of Japanese poetry in this period, but into the way that Japanese artists and intellectuals like Buson understood the relationship between Japan and China? I will argue that Buson's haishi offer a glimpse into a way of conceptualizing China that emerged during the eighteenth century--of China as home, rather than Other, a site of nostalgia and longing for an imaginary past.

Concepts of landscape and human beings' place in it were fundamental to haikai. The genre's greatest proponent, Matsuo Bashô, was quoted as saying "One cannot have confidence in the fûryû (poetic sensibility) of those who do not know some part of the Tôkaidô [Great eastern highway] (Honchô monzen). His most famous works are poeticized accounts of journeys, like Nozarashi kikô [Record of a weather-beaten skeleton] and Oku no hosomichi [Narrow road to the interior]. That Bashô was able to make such a close identification beween travel and haikai was facilitiated by the improvements in travel-related infrastructure (bad phrasing I know) that were made during the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate. Once extremely dangerous and restricted, travel in the 17th and 18th century began to take on a different character, and was accessible to a different class of person. Travel especially for the purpose of pilgrimage--often more like modern tourism than expressions of religious devotion--came within the reach of increasing numbers of commoners. Historian Peter Nosco has argued that these changes led to a new way of conceptualizing Japan, a change in attitude that people--that is to say, commoners--had in their ideas of Japan as a nation. He argues that a new "spatial orientation" began to become more general in Japan. a view of the country that "transcended the boundaries of village, kuni (province) and sub-region as a whole.

Nosco argues that this is connected to another change in this period—a concept of Japan as a place that was part of an international order. It is common to characterize the spatial orientation of Japan as one of "center and periphery," with two focii—a cultural one in Kyoto and a political one in Edo, beyond which radiated circles of kuni and regions. Beyond this, however, "periphery" in the early modern period extended to include Ezo, the Ryûkyû Islands, Korea, and beyond them, China. Even the most distant area included in that periphery, China, was space that has lost its foreignness; it was an idealized place, one that the Japanese only imagined through texts and paintings. As Nosco writes, "China began to function less as someplace 'real' and more at the level of metaphor, as an expression of that which was deemed to be mature, wise, rational, and grandiose—a perfect Other against which a new sense of Japaneseness could be constructed."