A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji by Doris G. Bargen

By Doris G. Bargen

During this sophisticated and hugely unique interpreting of Murasaki Shikibu's eleventh-century vintage the story of Genji (Genji monogatari), Doris G. Bargen explores the function of owning spirits (mono no ke) from a feminine standpoint. in different key episodes of the Genji, Heian noblewomen (or their mediums) tremble, converse in unusual voices, and tear their hair and garments whereas below the spell of mono no ke. For literary critics, Genji, the male protagonist, is principal to choosing the function of those spirits. From this male-centered standpoint, lady jealousy offers a handy reason for the emergence of mono no ke in the polygynous marital process of the Heian aristocracy. but this traditional view fails take into consideration the work's woman authorship and its mostly woman viewers. depending upon anthropological in addition to literary facts, Doris G. Bargen foregrounds the explanations of the possessed personality and found mono no ke in the politics of Heian society, reading spirit ownership as a feminine technique followed to counter male thoughts of empowerment. Possessions turn into "performances" via girls trying to redress the stability of energy; they subtly subvert the constitution of domination and considerably modify the development of gender.

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Extra resources for A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji

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Heian women were not in a position to substitute—or appropriate—others with the same facility. 107 Murasaki Shikibu’s Demons in the Heart Does the mono of mono no ke refer to the stuff of which the material world is made or is it im-material? Physics or metaphysics? If we rephrase the question in terms favored in Heian times, is the mono reality or dream? To these questions there are no simple answers. Possessing spirits, whether they appear in fictional or in historical narratives, can be “real” in the sense of an actual presence, natural or supernatural, external to the possessed character.

It is frequently difficult to tell from their rendering of the scene whether the fan, the gourd flower, and the poem are presented by the hero, which would have been expected of a Heian courtier, or to him, which would have been a breach of etiquette. What seems to be, on the surface, a stereotypical episode from aristocratic court life is in fact a disturbing departure from Heian courtship conventions. It is clear from Murasaki Shikibu’s text that it is not Genji who courts Yûgao with a poem, elegantly written on a fan and accompanied by a beautiful flower, but rather the conventionally reticent woman who, although unintentionally, makes the first move.

It should be noted that the term “mono no ke” was used neither for the protective nor for the vengeful spirits of pre-Heian Japan. The latter in particular, like the avenging ghosts of ancient China, had a strong moral impact as they straightforwardly acted out their vengeance for the atrocities committed against them. 90 Heian mono no ke were quite a different kettle of fish. Anything but straightforward, they commanded respect precisely through their inscrutability. They did not appear as such until the ninth and tenth centuries91 when women developed an indigenous style of writing and created, almost single-handedly, an intense interest in private matters of the psyche that supplemented when it did not replace political and religious concerns.

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