- Itineraries of Power: Texts and Traversals in Heian and Medieval Japan by Terry Kawashima
Itineraries of Power: Texts and Traversals in Heian and Medieval Japan appears to be a modest book: despite the word "power" in its title, the dust jacket is sea green with a delicate painting of the traveling poet Ariwara no Narihira 在原業平 (825–880) and his attendants fording a flower-strewn stream. The length is modest for a Harvard East Asian Monograph (in 2016, the average length was slightly over four hundred pages; three volumes are over five hundred pages long); the author modestly acknowledges her debts to and inability to equal the late H. Richard Okada (1945–2012) in scholarship. One might even say that the texts under discussion—Yamato monogatari 大和物語 (Tales [End Page 358] of Yamato), portions of Heike monogatari 平家物語 (The tale of the Heike) concerning Taira no Shigehira 平重衡 (1157–1185), and Suwa engi 諏訪縁起 (The origins of Suwa), among others—are modest, if measured by their roles in the core literary canon. When it comes to the intellectual territory of this monograph, however, we would be hard-pressed to call it modest. The book has ambitious goals, which include overturning premodern gender hierarchies as we have understood them with relation to place, further complicating the functions that poetic place names serve for the elite and resituating exile once and for all as a literary practice with political meanings.1
Terry Kawashima has written about gender and movement before in a nuanced study of so-called marginal figures.2 She describes an insight she had while writing that book: the gap between the dynamic way that certain people's movement is figured in texts (as actors who travel the periphery) and the much more sedentary image we can recover of their historical conditions identifies motion as "an explicit, purposeful trope" (p. xi) in those texts. Motion, in other words, is not about getting from point A to point B; it is about turning the meanings of A and B into something entirely other. The introduction to Itineraries of Power sets out this argument succinctly. Focusing on the varieties and frequency of movement in Heian and medieval Japan, the author stipulates that in addition to physical transfers of people and goods, symbolic motion—such as that encoded in texts as shifts in genre, linguistic register, or narrative—was endemic. Coexistence of both kinds of motion, the literal and the literary, raises anticipation that we will find hints to uncover how power is constructed.
Power and authority for Kawashima are imagined from texts and jolt our expectations—expectations that are built up through modern scholarly practice that both assumes and confirms platitudes such as "the court was the heart of privilege" or "women were marginalized" in [End Page 359] premodern times. Kawashima dutifully invokes the frames (rather past their expiration dates) of kishu ryūritan 貴種流離譚, the term used by Orikuchi Shinobu 折口信夫 (1887–1953) for tales of nobility set wandering in exile, and hyōhaku 漂白, a tag for a broader class of footloose poets and performers that Japanese researchers once enshrined. Sidestepping the nostalgia and nationalism that tended to contaminate those formulations, Kawashima sets her work outside discourses that pretend Japan is a unified entity with distinct center-periphery divides. Instead, she invokes specific "nodes" (p. 1) of motion, operating differently in different texts, and asks us to discard preconceptions that mobile people inevitably subvert the values of the fixed-status majority population. The first node is a metanarrative space peculiar to Yamato monogatari, a text of courtly literature that reserves room for gendered inversions. The second node is the familiar convention of utamakura 歌枕 (lit. poem pillows), words that are or tie to place names. Utamakura are traditionally viewed as signs of courtly centrality despite many of these places being far from the capital. The third and fourth nodes feature jumps and repetitions that are sometimes read as traces of inept storytelling fostered by the new world of warriors in the fourteenth century. The diversity of texts...