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  • Bashō and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai
  • Lawrence E. Marceau
Bashō and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai. By Peipei Qiu. University of Hawai'i Press, 2005. xiv + 248 pages. Hardcover $55.00.

Peipei Qiu's Bashō and the Dao appears at a juncture in English-language scholarship on Japanese literature when scholars are increasingly utilizing proficiency in multiple languages to enrich their research.1 In Qiu's case, the languages include classical Chinese and Mandarin as well as classical and modern Japanese. Her access to primary and secondary sources, translations, and studies in these languages enhances her work. It also raises the reader's expectations concerning what she might teach us about haikai interactions with Chinese literature and thought, as well as the specific issue of Bashō's enigmatic relationship with philosophical Daoism, often referred to as Lao Zhuang thought, those perspectives expressed in Warring States period Chinese Daoist texts, most prominently Laozi's Dao de jing and Zhuang Zhou's Zhuangzi. Bashō and the Dao serves as a welcome advance toward refining our readings of Bashō and his poetics; at the same time it opens up new possibilities for delving more deeply into early modern Japanese haikai.

In the introduction to her study, Qiu first declares that in the latter part of the seventeenth century, haikai poets "enthusiastically drew upon the Chinese Daoist texts, namely the Zhuangzi," and that this "Daoist classic became one of the cornerstones of haikai theories and its intertextual structure" (p. 1). She goes on to state that she has organized the study to explain the reasons behind this phenomenon and to explore its parameters. She also sets out what she does and does not intend to do:

When using "Daoist" to designate [certain] tendencies . . . in Japanese poetry, this work does not treat the subject matter primarily as a philosophical issue. [End Page 190] Rather, it places emphasis on clarifying the processes through which Daoist tenets were turned into poetic principles and affected poetic practices. Moreover, the investigation into such processes is not intended to outline a Daoist tradition in Japanese poetics, but to provide a meaningful frame of reference for the understanding of haikai.

(p. 4)

In other words, the author seeks to clarify haikai practice and the means by which images or notions perceived as "Daoist" affected such practice. By keeping the effort limited, and the focus on haikai rather than on Daoist thought, the book generally succeeds in its aims.

Organized into five chapters, the book focuses on three important schools of haikai thought and practice. The first chapter examines the Teimon and Danrin schools. Qiu argues that Teimon school poets followed a Confucian moralistic approach toward haikai poetics, infusing images and metaphors from the Zhuangzi in support of their didactic project. In reaction, Danrin poets took the Zhuangzi one step further, essentially equating the iconoclastic elements of the work with the haikai project itself and distancing both the Zhuangzi and haikai poetics from Confucian didactic trajectories. Qiu asserts convincingly that Teimon poets saw the notion of yuyan (Jp. gūgen, metaphor, parable, etc.) as meaning that the Zhuangzi and other Daoist works were in accord with the Confucian way (zaidao, Jp. saidō). Danrin poets, however, including the founder, Nishiyama Sōin (1605–1682), and particularly his disciple Okanishi Ichū (1639–1711), focused on a "spirit of gūgen" in haikai, situating "the essence of haikai in the unrestrained imagination and the deliberate reversal of conventional meanings of the Zhuangzi [in order to] break the conventionalized poetic essence (hon'i) found in Teimon and earlier haikai language" (p. 33). Qiu's analysis of Danrin poetics provides a helpful perspective on the parameters of haikai, relevant not only to Bashō (1644–1694) and his Shōfū "style," but also to a fuller appreciation of such writers of yuyan-inspired fiction as Sōin disciple Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693), Issai Chozan (1659–1741), and Ueda Akinari (1734–1809).2

The remaining chapters of the book focus on Shōfū poetry, or that of Bashō and his Shōmon school. In chapter 2 the author argues that haikai poetics underwent a transition in the 1670s...


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