The Power of Fiction: The Nameless Book and the Birth of Literary Criticism in Japan

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Author: Joseph T. Sorensen, University of California, Davis, United States of America
Email: jsorensen@ucdavis.edu
Published: November 2015
https://doi.org/10.22492/ijl.4.1.05

Citation: Sorensen, J. T. (2015). The Power of Fiction: The Nameless Book and the Birth of Literary Criticism in Japan. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijl.4.1.05


Abstract


The Nameless Book
(Mumyōzōshi, ca. 1200) is frequently cited as the first work of prose criticism in the Japanese literary tradition, in part due to its author’s sensitive treatment of several vernacular tales (monogatari) composed between the early tenth and late twelfth centuries. The author is generally assumed to be the poet known as Shunzei’s Daughter (ca. 1171–1252), and the text can be seen as part of a larger movement on the part of her father’s Mikohidari House to promote monogatari fiction as essential to poetic training at court. This paper explores possible models the author may have considered in constructing this work, the
first of its kind. An analysis of the text’s rhetorical strategies reveals several of its implied objectives, including the promotion of literary women, and the elevation of vernacular fiction itself to the same critical level as the more-esteemed genre of traditional waka poetry.

Keywords

literature, criticism, monogatari, tales, fiction, Japan, waka, poetry