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  • Appraising Genji: Literary Criticism and Cultural Anxiety in the Age of the Last Samurai
  • Thomas J. Harper
Appraising Genji: Literary Criticism and Cultural Anxiety in the Age of the Last Samurai. By Patrick W. Caddeau. State University of New York Press, 2006. 212 pages. Hardcover $65.00.

In the late 1960s, when I first began to prowl the bookshops of Jinbōchō in search of printed texts of medieval and Edo-period commentaries on Genji, one book in particular caught my eye. This was the 1909 edition of Hagiwara Hiromichi's (1815-1863) Genji monogatari hyōshaku (1854-1861). The soiled olive covers of the volume gave no hint of any particular excellence; and its price, about half that of other publications of the same vintage, suggested it might possess none at all. But what lay within those covers seemed pure gold. The introductory sections dealt with many of the same matters as did the "Old Commentaries"-the author, her times, historical precedent, previous scholarship-but rather than simply repeating what early scholars had said, it engaged with its more immediate predecessors as well, and in a spirit of genuine debate. Then, in the manner of Kitamura Kigin's Kogetsushō, it gave the full text of each chapter, equipped with a panoply of interpretive aids even more complete than Kigin had provided-commentary gleaned not only from the distant past, but also from the "New Commentaries" by Keichū, Kamo no Mabuchi, and Motoori Norinaga; interlinear glosses, furi-kanji, subject identifications, and the like; as well [End Page 425] as notations to indicate structural breaks, shifts in narrative voice, syntactic flow, and even the widely separated components of kakari-musubi constructions. And following all of this were detailed discussions of the multiple meanings and nuances of key words in the text as well as definitions of the critical terminology Hiromichi himself used in the critiques that preceded each chapter.

Why, I wondered, was this clearly superior commentary so little consulted, so little studied-so cheap? The only answer that made any sense seemed to be contained within the book itself. It went only as far as the eighth chapter of Genji, "Hana no En," hardly one-sixth of the entire tale. The author had died prematurely, his magnum opus only just begun. Now, however, we realize that the neglect of Hiromichi's Hyōshaku is far more complex a matter than first impressions would suggest. Patrick Caddeau of Princeton University has written the first book-length study of Hagiwara Hiromichi in any language, and the unfortunate fate of Hiromichi's Genji monogatari hyōshaku is one of his underlying themes.

Alas, Caddeau begins by attempting to situate Hiromichi's Hyōshaku in a (post-?) modern context of "nationalism and nostalgia in the reading of Genji" (p. 9). This chapter, it must be said, gives the impression of a hastily written afterthought, based upon poorly digested secondary material and fanciful flights of cultural criticism. It is fraught with errors of both fact and judgment (as well as far too many needlessly split infinitives), and is only marginally relevant to the main argument of the book. We are asked, for example, to attribute the success of the most recent Takarazuka version of Genji, in part at least, to the nostalgic consolation it offered a nation suffering from a decade of economic malaise, terrorism, and political scandal (p. 13). As a hardcore fan of that theater company (though, admittedly, not an anthropologist), I find it utterly impossible to imagine my fellow occupants of the first balcony having a single thought for such matters; nor can I see what it might have to do with Hiromichi if they did. This is the sort of thing that too often originates in marketing departments; or with "peer reviewers" who hide behind their anonymity to demand books of the sort they think they themselves would have written (but didn't).

In substance, therefore, Caddeau's book really begins in the middle of chapter 2. Here, in far more confident tones, he sketches the early years of Hiromichi's life. It is a tale at once heart-rending and uplifting. A precocious child (Hiromichi claims he could...


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pp. 425-428
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