3/5/21 at 5:30 pm New Books in East Asian Literature: Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan

New Books in East Asian Literature

The 2020-2021 theme: Kinship, Sexuality, and Emotions


Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan

Friday, March 5, 5:30 pm to 7 pm (EST)

Takeshi Watanabe (Wesleyan University)



Telling stories: that sounds innocuous enough. But for the first chronicle in the Japanese vernacular, A Tale of Flowering Fortunes (Eiga monogatari), there was more to worry about than a good yarn. The health of the community was at stake. Flowering Tales is the first extensive literary study of this historical tale, which covers about 150 years of births, deaths, and happenings in late Heian society, a golden age of court literature in women’s hands. Takeshi Watanabe contends that the blossoming of tales, marked by The Tale of Genji, inspired Eiga’s new affective history: an exorcism of embittered spirits whose stories needed to be retold to ensure peace. Tracing the narrative arcs of politically marginalized figures, Watanabe shows how Eiga’s female authors adapted the discourse and strategies of The Tale of Genji to rechannel wayward ghosts into the community through genealogies that relied not on blood but on literary resonances. These reverberations, highlighted through comparisons to contemporaneous accounts in courtiers’ journals, echo through shared details of funerary practices, political life, and characterization. Flowering Tales reanimates these eleventh-century voices to trouble conceptions of history: how it ought to be recounted, who got to record it, and why remembering mattered.

Takeshi Watanabe is an associate professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University. He received his B.A. in 1997, and his Ph.D. in 2005 in pre-modern Japanese literature from Yale University. He has taught as Visiting Assistant Professor at Connecticut College from 2007-2014, and at Wesleyan University from 2012-2014. His current book project is on representations of food and consumption in pre-Edo Japan. He is also starting a translation of The Tale of the Hollow Tree, which contains descriptions of banquets and is one of the earliest, lengthy monogatari predating The Tale of Genji. Although he is pet-less now, he likes corgis and, similarly, likes to eat.

** New Books in East Asian Literature is a forum to explore issues, concepts, and theories related to the study of East Asian literature. We are not only asking how to study East Asian literature beyond the paradigm of area studies, which originated from and is still often being linked to Cold War politics, but also seeking to look beyond the Euro-centric frame of traditional comparative literature. In other words, how can we decolonize the study of East Asian literature?

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