Uncovering Heian Japan: An Archaeology of Sensation and Inscription

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The poetry of the Heian court of Japan has typically been linked with the emergence of a distinct Japanese language and culture. This concept of a linguistically homogeneous and ethnically pure “Japaneseness” has been integral to the construction of a modern Japanese nation, especially during periods of western colonial expansion and cultural encroachment. But Thomas LaMarre argues in Uncovering Heian Japan that this need for a cultural unity—a singular Japanese identity—has resulted in an overemphasis of a relatively minor aspect of Heian poetry, obscuring not only its other significant elements but also the porousness of Heian society and the politics of poetic expression.
Combining a pathbreaking visual analysis of the calligraphy with which this poetry was transcribed, a more traditional textual analysis, and a review of the politics of the period, LaMarre presents a dramatically new view of Heian poetry and culture. He challenges the assumption of a cohesive “national imagination,” seeing instead an early Japan that is ethnically diverse, territorially porous, and indifferent to linguistic boundaries. Working through the problems posed by institutionalized notions of nationalism, nativism, and modernism, LaMarre rethinks the theories of scholars such as Suzuki Hideo, Yoshimoto Takaaki, and Komatsu Shigemi, in conjunction with theorists such as Derrida, Karatani, Foucault, and Deleuze. Contesting the notion that speech is central to the formation of community, Uncovering Heian Japan focuses instead on the potential centrality of the more figural operations of poetic practice.
Specialists in Japanese history and culture as well as scholars working in other areas of cultural criticism will find that this book enriches their understanding of an early Japan that has exerted so much influence on later concepts of what it means to be Japanese.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“‘The line,’ wrote William James, ‘is the relation.’ In a study of stunning originality, Thomas Lamarre gives us the brushwork line, the line of poetic gesture—and through it, the relation between nation and sensation. Uncovering Heian Japan combines an exquisitely researched archeology of Japanese writing with far-ranging reflections on race, nation, and collective expression. A major contribution not only to Japanese studies, but to the interdisciplinary realm of cultural theory as a whole.”—Brian Massumi, State University of New York at Albany

“A vivid reading of Heian court poetry that removes the interpretive screen later imposed in the name of national identity and modernity to reveal a richly expressive world. Here calligraphy, composition, and community combine in a ‘song machine’ that links poetics and politics and seeks, quite literarily, to calibrate the cosmos. After this book the poetry of ‘old Japan’ will never be the same.”—Carol Gluck, Columbia University

"Thomas LaMarre has written a fascinating archaeology of how the national imagination of modern Japan has colonized ancient scriptures of the archipelago to fabricate a glorious lineage and cultural ancestry for itself. Uncovering Heian Japan also recovers the rich prehistory of cosmopolitan poetic exchanges between the archipelago and the Middle Kingdom that is foreclosed by state-sanctioned cultural histories of both modern Japan and China."—Pheng Cheah, University of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Thomas LaMarre is Professor of East Asian Studies at McGill University.

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Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration and Illustrations
Introduction: Unstating Heian Japan 1
Pt. 1 The Interpretation of Rebuses
1 Revising the Rebus 13
2 Kana Inscription and Stylistic Differentiation 26
3 Composition and Competition 50
Pt. 2 Inscription and Sensation
4 Toward a History of Styles 77
5 Heian Calligraphy 93
6 The Multisensible Figure: Ashide Shita-e Wakanroeisho 116
Pt. 3 The Song Machine
7 Two Prefaces, Two Modes of Appearance 143
8 Tsurayuki's Song Machine 161
Notes 189
Works Consulted 207
Illustrations 217
Index 229
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2004

    An Excellent Book

    Lamarre dies a fine job of explaining the complexities and artistry of Heian poetry. His explanation of how calligraphy combined with poetic images to create an artistic experience is especially good. This is the best study of Heian poetics that I have read.

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