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Sharebon and the Courtesans: A Phase of Edo Aesthetics as the Dispersal of Ideology.

By Nahoko Fukushima

Abstract

The dissertation deals with one aspect of Edo aesthetics in 18th century Japan that is often described as the juxtaposition of refinement and vulgarity. I explore the system of this aesthetics through the examination of the literary genre of sharebon, whose subject matter is exclusively demimonde visits. The works designate a corpus of booklets produced almost anonymously in vernacular language, but with a cover that resembles a serious classical Chinese text. Sharebon content features caricatured characters, jokes, and anecdotes around a visit to the courtesans, and produces a form of literary entertainment designed for occasional consumption and performance. Its cover, including the preface and postscript, in contrast, assumes a lofty and universal appearance written in Chinese characters. The booklets present a contrast between the refined and the mundane or vulgar, and this juxtaposition generates an ironic beauty. This study views the courtesans and the demimonde from the cultural as well as socioeconomic perspective, paying particular attention to how they were articulated within contemporaneous public discourses. It analyzes the dual reception of Chinese culture and literature in Edo Japan. One layer is a solid function of the Tokugawa feudalism founded on Neo-Confucianism and the other culls from the Chinese literati tradition, while resonating with the Heian Japanese courtly tradition of poetry and eros. I argue that this literary genre was originally produced by the samurai military class, and not by the merchant class as asserted by the majority of the present scholarship in the U.S. I also examine the materiality of these sharebon texts, seeing the front page, preface and postscript as a kind of wrapping using Chinese classical texts in Japanese transcription in order for the authors to playfully parody their own status. Moreover, the multiple meanings generated by the reading of Chinese graphs in the Japanese pronunciation are meant to undermine or destabilize the Edo official culture of refinement. The mixing of literary levels of high and low culture suggests the Bakhtinian concept of the carnivalesque that in European culture served as a critique of the feudal class structure through the dispersal of stable social identities and proprieties

Topics: Sharebon and Edo Aesthetics, Demimonde and Courtesans, Samurai Dandyism and Courtly Elegance, Mateliality of the Text, The Reception of Chinese LIterature and Culutre in Japanese Aesthetics
OAI identifier: oai:deepblue.lib.umich.edu:2027.42/89808

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