- Knowing the Amorous Man: A History of Scholarship on Tales of Ise by Jamie L. Newhard
Jamie Newhard’s important new study provides an oblique look at the Ise monogatari through the lens of more than eight centuries of scholarship on the text, from the Kamakura period to the dawn of modernity. The Ise has circulated over the centuries in various guises, first [End Page 176] in the form of manuscripts copied, edited, and shared among a relatively small group of courtiers in the Heian capital, later in the form of movable type and woodblock printed texts in wide circulation, and ultimately in the modern print editions circulating today. In these different incarnations the Ise would become known as a famously difficult text, and readers in each generation puzzled over its form, words, and meaning. Simple on the surface, the Ise was at the same time elusive and strangely profound. In every respect (in terms of authorship, genre, and moral and political stances), the text defied easy comprehension and categorization. Given these complexities, commentaries served as an important apparatus for scholars to answer basic questions raised by the text. Both the questions and answers shifted over time in response to sociopolitical and literary developments. Perhaps this is the Ise’s genius: its qualities have allowed it to be invested and reinvested with meaning through long centuries of literary and political change.
Newhard, to her credit, carves out a manageable task for herself: “I do not attempt to put forth a reading of Ise monogatari, definitive or otherwise, in these pages. Nor is it my goal to assess the persuasiveness or credibility of others’ views. Rather, the object of this study is to trace scholars’ use of Ise monogatari as a vehicle for advancing a variety of personal or institutional agendas that go beyond interpretation of the text” (p. 2). By and large, she stays true to this goal. And yet, the ongoing concern of commentators of the Ise, as a rule, has been to distinguish right readings from wrong, and inevitably Newhard reveals her sympathies in the course of her discussion. Consequently, a productive tension between poststructuralist theory and old-fashioned literary appreciation runs through the book.
In theorizing her history of scholarship on the Ise, Newhard draws on Norbert Elias’s concept of “literary knowledge” (the title of her opening chapter), by which she means “the information or competencies beyond mere literacy that a reader needs in order to perform as a skilled reader within a particular literary milieu” (p. 7). Newhard argues that commentaries on the Ise are fundamental agents in constructing and disseminating literary knowledge. She also adopts Pierre Bourdieu’s position that texts are part of a field of cultural production that is essentially social. Texts like the Ise thus function as objects that have been manipulated, first by members of court society and later by [End Page 177] other elites, to assert their status, authority, or influence within their respective societies. The Ise circulated as cultural capital in the hands of those who would claim it for their own throughout the Heian, medieval, and early modern periods, and its value was determined by producers (elite writers of commentaries) and consumers (elite and non-elite readers) in each stratum of society. Working within this theoretical frame, Newhard elucidates the complex interrelationships that ebbed and flowed over the course of several centuries between readers (consumers of commentaries on the Ise) and scholarly elites (producers of those commentaries). Following Gerard Genette, Newhard theorizes commentaries as “paratexts” that help stage the base text in a form recognizable to readers. The tradition of “secret teachings” (hiden 秘伝 or denju 伝授) of the medieval courtier is analyzed as one of several tactics for asserting ownership of cultural capital represented by the Ise and other texts produced at court.
In Chapter 2, Newhard discusses the Old Commentaries (kochūshaku 古注釈) that began appearing in the second half of the thirteenth century. To situate them, she provides a cursory discussion of the early origins...