David Lurie - Assistant Professor of Japanese History and Literature, Columbia University
Of crucial importance to the history of literacy in Japan is the complex of writing and reading practices known as kundoku, whereby strings of characters are associated with actual or potential utterances in Japanese. These practices have profound implications for the study of Japanese culture and broad significance for the world history of writing, but this talk focuses on their role in the creation of differing written styles in 7th and 8th century Japan. Two sets of parallel texts will be juxtaposed: dedicatory inscriptions on two Buddhist images in the main hall of Hôryûji, and the well-known historical classics, the Kojiki (712) and the Nihon shoki (720). Rather than an untenable opposition between ‘foreign’ Chinese writing and ‘native’ Japanese speech, these works reveal complex interactions between spoken readings and written forms, in which parallel efforts at royal legitimation produce dramatically contrasting texts.