RELIGIOUS AWAKENING STORIES IN LATE MEDIEVAL JAPAN: THE DYNAMICS OF DIDACTICISM

MARGARET HELEN CHILDS, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Modern scholarship on Japanese medieval (fourteenth through mid-seventeenth centuries) short stories (otogizoshi) has been hampered by two problems. Categorization schemes now in use are inconsistent and arbitrary and recent work avoids the issue of classification by focusing on single features of individual texts. An inadequate understanding of didacticism as evidenced by the pejorative use of this term has led to facile evaluations of many of these texts.^ This study therefore analyzes a specific body of texts in order to confront the problem of categorization and explore the concept of didacticism to establish a framework for that analysis.^ I argue that we may identify didacticism as (1) the presence of qualities in a text which impose limited meaning, specifically, authoritative and interpretive narration and redundancy, and as (2) the reader's approach to a text when he seeks the author's intended meaning and overlooks formal and symbolic qualities and potential multiple meanings.^ In analyzing four texts in which religious awakening occurs, Gemmu monogatari (The Tale of Monk Gemmu), Hatsuse monogatari (The Tale of Events at Hatsuse), Akimichi (Akimichi), and Shichinin bikuni (The Seven Nuns), we see that three are textually didactic, that is, the narrator's stance is interpretative and advocatory, his status is authoritative, and both story and discourse exhibit high levels of redundancy. However, these didactic texts also show significant literary quality, particularly in imagery, characterization, and structure and are amenable to varying interpretations. Functions of instruction and pleasure are seen to be integrated, not alienated, as modern, western literary theorists and critics have assumed. Literary qualities associated with the pleasures of cognitive play do not compete with or compensate for a didactic message, but instead complement and enhance it.^ As an introduction to Japanese medieval religious and literary conventions, this study also surveys the practice of renounciation of the world (shukke-tonsei) and the concepts of transience (mujo), revelation (zange), and of the religious meanings of secular literary activity (kyogenkigo).^ In conclusion, I suggest that formal didactic features constitute appropriate criteria for conceptualizing a genre of religious awakening stories and may lead to a rational classification of Japanese medieval short stories.^ Translations of the four stories listed above are included.^

Subject Area

Literature, Asian

Recommended Citation

MARGARET HELEN CHILDS, "RELIGIOUS AWAKENING STORIES IN LATE MEDIEVAL JAPAN: THE DYNAMICS OF DIDACTICISM" (January 1, 1983). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI8315998.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8315998

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