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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Zoom [Registration link available soon]
Event date: 
Monday, 15 February, 2021 - 18:00


Miyako no Nishiki’s Theory of Authorship (Or, Why Did Ihara Saikaku Go to Hell?)

The early eighteenth century marks a turning point for early modern Japanese commercial authorship. Where the authorship of vernacular print fiction had remained largely anonymous for much of the seventeenth century, the success of the books of Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693)—and the elevation of Saikaku himself to a degree of popular celebrity—suggested that an author’s name and style could prove powerfully attractive to readers. This possibility raised new questions for writers and publishers alike: about imitation and innovation, profit and risk-taking, plagiarism and self-promotion. In this talk, I examine the characterization of authorship in the fiction of Miyako no Nishiki (1675-?), one of the most controversial writers to follow in Saikaku’s wake. Scholars have prized his Genroku Taiheiki (The Epic of the Genroku Era, 1702) for its detailed information about the contemporary publishing world; but they have critiqued the writer himself for his apparent self-promotion at Saikaku’s expense—most notoriously, in his depiction of Saikaku’s postmortem banishment to hell. I will suggest, however, that we should understand the controversial aspects of Miyako no Nishiki’s writing less as crude self-promotion than as a sophisticated attempt to theorize commercial authorship in the post-Saikaku moment, an attempt that offers—through a series of dialogues, self-representations, and the depiction of Saikaku himself—answers to the new questions Saikaku’s success had raised.

David Atherton is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. He is currently completing a monograph titled Writing Violence in an Age of Peace: Form, Fiction, and the Work of Popular Literature in Early Modern Japan. He is also in the early stages of a second project on early modern commercial authorship.