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  • 1 Autour du Genji monogatari, a special number of the journal Cipango (Paris: Publications Langues O’ (...)
  • 2 Terada Sumie et al., eds., 2008 nen Pari sinpojiumu: Genji monogatari no tōmeisa to futōmeisa—bamen (...)

1On behalf of the Genji monogatari Group of Paris, I am pleased to present English-language readers with our research results on this extraordinary work. We have selected articles that were originally presented in workshops and colloquia between 2004 and 2008, and published in French in 20081 and in Japanese in 2009.2 From among the many areas addressed, we have selected principally articles on literary aspects of the Genji: some concern the role of poetry in the Genji and the influence of the Genji on subsequent poetic activity (waka and renga); others address questions of narrative structure.

  • 3Écriture” here refers to a concept of literary language in which style is seen as inseparable fro (...)
  • 4 This name appears in Chapter 26 of the Eiga monogatari 栄花物語 (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes, attribu (...)

2In 2004 we began a collective translation of the Genji into French; we will complete Chapter 2, “L’arbre mirage” [The Broom Tree] in 2015. It has taken us ten years to translate the first two chapters. By working at so slow a pace we are able to experience directly the exceptional complexity of this work. The Genji incorporates the three great styles of écriture3 known to Heian-period Japanese: prose in Japanese (wabun), written in a simple, allusive style which was further developed in poem tales (utamonogatari); waka, a short, highly allusive, dense poetic form; and poetry written in Chinese, a genre as dense as waka but far more descriptive and less elliptical. Certainly such late tenth-century narrative works as The Tale of the Lower Room (Ochikubo monogatari) and The Tale of the Cavern (Utsuho monogatari) laid the groundwork for fiction with multiple characters and a complex plot. But above all, it was poetic écriture in its diverse forms that helped forge the unparalleled style of the Genji, a style at once complex and supple, allusive and precise. This style was created by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu 紫式部,4 whose dates are not known but who was active from the end of the tenth century to the first quarter of the eleventh.

  • 5 150 to 200, according to Katō Masayoshi in his Yureugoku Genji monogatari (Tōkyō: Bensei Shuppan, (...)

3The popularity of the Genji led to the production of countless manuscript copies5 over the course of Japanese literary history. Those versions of the text that are considered most faithful to the original are all probably composite texts whose contents were altered to varying degrees, deliberately or accidentally, in the act of recopying. The Genji thus owes the complexity of its écriture in part to the transmission process. By dedicating our present number to the question of écriture, we wish to stress its importance and pay homage to all those who ensured the textual transmission of the Genji by copying it with passion, patience, and care.

  • 6 See Christina Laffin, “Chūsei joryū nikki to Genji monogatari,” in Terada Sumie et al., eds., 2011 (...)

4The life of a dazzlingly handsome prince who cannot succeed to the throne despite his matchless abilities, the destinies of the women around him, the refined settings: as the author of The Sarashina Diary (Sarashina nikki) fervently attests, the Genji, with its combined themes of power and romantic love, has always inspired yearning.6 The pleasure of reading the Genji deepens when the text transmits a critical stance: the narrator distances herself by commenting on the very world she is describing. The author was familiar with the ways of the ruling class, having lived in close proximity to Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027), the embodiment of Heian aristocratic power and grandeur. In her youth, Murasaki Shikibu traveled with her father to the province of Echizen (now Fukui Prefecture) after he was appointed its governor, and became acquainted with life in the provinces. For many years she led the secluded life of a noblewoman, but later became a Palace lady in waiting, constantly subjected to comments and criticisms from colleagues and male officials. All these experiences gave the author perspective in observing the world around her. In addition, thanks to her knowledge of Chinese literature and especially of Bai Juyi’s critical poems on social issues, she was fully able to frame her complex vision of humanity. Her culture permitted her to explore the depths of a woman’s feelings, a subject she engages with unprecedented veracity.

5We have also selected two articles, unrelated to poetics, which directly address human destiny and society. The first discusses the importance of Buddhism in the Genji, a somewhat neglected subject in Japanese scholarship. The second looks at historical reality at the time of the Genji monogatari by focusing on provincial governors (zuryō 受領), a section of the middle-ranking nobility to which Murasaki Shikibu herself belonged.

6The Genji has been a constant object of study since its first commentary (Genji shaku) was compiled in the mid-twelfth century. Over five hundred articles are written on the Genji every year in Japan. What more is there to say?—one might ask. And yet this work of amazing density and richness continues to attract us: we wish to understand it for ourselves, from our own point of view. Here is our own modest contribution.

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Notes

1 Autour du Genji monogatari, a special number of the journal Cipango (Paris: Publications Langues O’, 2008). 411 pp. (Available on the Internet at http://cipango.revues.org/577).

2 Terada Sumie et al., eds., 2008 nen Pari sinpojiumu: Genji monogatari no tōmeisa to futōmeisa—bamen, waka, katari, jikan no bunseki o tōshite (Tōkyō: Seikansha, 2009). 233 pp.

3Écriture” here refers to a concept of literary language in which style is seen as inseparable from the content of the discourse.

4 This name appears in Chapter 26 of the Eiga monogatari 栄花物語 (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes, attributed to Akazome Emon, a renowned poet and Shikibu’s contemporary). The sobriquet “Murasaki” probably comes from the name of the principal heroine in the novel, Lady Murasaki (Murasaki no Ue), while “Shikibu” refers to the position held by the author’s father, a third-class official in the Ministry of Personnel (Shikibu no jō). The personal names of Heian women were customarily used only in private; in the public sphere women were designated by the name of the office held by a male family member.

5 150 to 200, according to Katō Masayoshi in his Yureugoku Genji monogatari (Tōkyō: Bensei Shuppan, 2011), p. [1].

6 See Christina Laffin, “Chūsei joryū nikki to Genji monogatari,” in Terada Sumie et al., eds., 2011 nen Pari sinpojiumu: monogatari no gengo (Tōkyō: Seikansha, 2013), p. 292.

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References

Electronic reference

Sumie Terada, « Foreword », Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies [Online], 3 | 2014, Online since 12 October 2015, connection on 29 August 2016. URL : http://cjs.revues.org/643 ; DOI : 10.4000/cjs.643

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About the author

Sumie Terada

CEJ/INALCO

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