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  • Kanazōshi Revisited:The Beginnings of Japanese Popular Literature in Print
  • Laura Moretti (bio)

Relire ce qui a été écrit, relire des textes sul lesquels on a écrit et sur lesquels se sont exercées la reflection et la lecture est un entreprise critique que chacun mène plus ou moins à son insu. C'est une épreuve qui peut conduire, dans le meilleur des cas, le temps aidant, à la mise en question d'un parti pris ou d'un choix.

Geneviève Bollème1

An examination of literary histories reveals that scholars often try to convey the "development" of literature in terms of a simple and compelling idea or interpretation, but in the process sometimes neglect the complexities of the material under consideration. This is certainly true of the way literary histories and critical studies have treated the Japanese popular prose of the early seventeenth century: typically, they have sought out texts deemed to have the characteristics of a "shōsetsu" and either ignored or condemned as failures those that lacked such traits.2 Scholars working in this area have held that the "shōsetsu-like" prose of this particular period constitutes a specific genre known as kanaz&o macr;shi 仮名草子. This supposed genre is the subject of this article.

Kanazōshi are part of an orderly and clear-cut evolutionary pattern in which rigid literary genres develop and succeed one another. First there were the otogizōshi [End Page 297] お伽草子, a popular form of prose circulating in the Muromachi period by means of manuscripts and oral narration or performance; at the beginning of the seventeenth century this genre faded away, to be replaced by kanazōshi, which itself is thought to have lasted only until 1682, when publication of Ihara Saikaku's 井原西鶴 Kōshoku ichidai otoko 好色一代男 launched the new genre of ukiyozōshi 浮世草子. In this scheme kanazōshi are considered a literature of transition, having little intrinsic value and constituting merely a preparatory phase for the mature prose of Saikaku and later ukiyozōshi writers. Although, as discussed below, some doubts have been raised about these specific categories, they remain the established view both in Japan and in the West of the development of Japanese popular prose in this period.

Challenging that view, this article offers a new, alternative perspective. The methodological approach adopted here is to consider seventeenth-century popular prose production within its own context, looking for internal and contemporaneous evidence and avoiding any ahistorical discourse that imposes later or foreign concepts, such as "shōsetsu" and "novel," or that defines genres in an acritical and retrospective a posteriori fashion. Following this approach, we shall discover that the literary panorama of seventeenth-century popular prose in print and the development of this prose are considerably different from what has been accepted to date. The case for this alternative perspective will be made in several stages.

The first stage is a condensed discussion of the scholarship produced to date. While the aim is certainly to provide the context for my arguments, I shall also show that the conception of the "shōsetsu-like kanazōshi genre" is an anachronistic and inconsistent label produced in the Meiji period but nonexistent as such in the Edo period. [End Page 298] The outcome of this analytical journey through the secondary literature will be a proposal that we abandon the view that the genre named kanazōshi exists or ever existed. This will allow us to recover the original ground against which popular prose literature in print actually came into being at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The proposal to remove kanazōshi as a genre from literary histories might appear at first sight identical to that already made by Konishi Jin'ichi 小西甚一 in 1986.3 Despite their superficial similarities, however, these two proposals lead to different results, particularly with respect to the shaping of a new system to give order to the production of popular literature in the early Edo period.

As a second stage, I analyze the real boundaries of the popular prose of this time, when printing techniques were applied in the Kamigata 上方 region in order to address a wider public. I identify a much broader target...


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pp. 297-356
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