Parody as Key: Interpreting the Inconsistent Narrative Voice of Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Man

Parody as Key: Interpreting the Inconsistent Narrative Voice of Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Man

David Gundry - Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Davis

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Room 203, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

The fiction of the popular early-Tokugawa writer Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693) is noteworthy for the tension between its narrator’s stern moral pronouncements regarding characters’ transgressive behavior and sympathetic, even heroic portrayals of these same characters. The resulting ambiguity has led scholars to radically differing interpretations of the ideological stance of these texts. This presentation will elucidate as a key to interpreting this ambiguity chapters in Saikaku’s first published work of fiction in which the narrator’s condemnations of hubristic behavior on the part of characters of commoner status is undermined by parodic elements in the surrounding narrative that make these chapters guilty of the rhetorical equivalent of that which they condemn: the appropriation of artifacts of elite culture and their outrageous redeployment in ostensibly vulgar contexts. It will examine the implications of these passages for the interpretation of later works by Saikaku, and propose that rather than, as has been asserted elsewhere, evincing either contentment with the social hierarchy imposed by the Tokugawa or an urge to overturn all hierarchy, the passages in question and much of the rest of Saikaku’s fiction partake of a parvenu sensibility informed by a desire to rise in society rather than to level social distinctions.

A California native who grew up in the Chicago area and received a B.A. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, David Gundry first became acquainted with Japan during a three-year stint on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program in the temple-studded lakeside town of Otsu, Shiga. After earning an M.A. in Japanese Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara he pursued a Ph.D. in Japanese Literature at Stanford University, spending four of his Stanford years in Japan, first in Yokohama at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies and then conducting research at Waseda University in Tokyo. After graduating in 2009 he taught for one year at Harvard as a College Fellow, then took a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis, where he currently works. His article “Samurai Lovers, ‘Samurai Beasts’: Warriors and Commoners in Ihara Saikaku’s Budō denraiki” is forthcoming in Japanese Studies; he is now writing a book tentatively titled Fleeting Pleasures: Irony and Ideology in the Fiction of Ihara Saikaku.