The Power of Fiction: The Nameless Book and the Birth of Literary Criticism in Japan


Mumyōzōshi (The Nameless Book, ca. 1200) is frequently cited as the first work of prose criticism in the Japanese literary tradition, in part due to the author’s sensitive treatment of several vernacular tales (monogatari) composed between the early tenth and late twelfth centuries. The author is generally assumed to be the poet known as Shunzei’s Daughter (ca.1171-1252), and the text can be seen as part of a larger movement on the part of her father’s Mikohidari House to promote monogatari fiction as essential to poetic training at court. This paper explores possible models the author may have considered in constructing this work that was the first of its kind. Furthermore, an analysis of text’s rhetorical strategies reveals several of the implied objectives of the text, including the promotion of literary women, and the elevation of vernacular fiction itself to the same critical level of the more esteemed genre of traditional waka poetry.

Author Information
Joseph T. Sorensen, University of California at Davis, USA

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2015
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

This paper is part of the ACAH2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon