Skip to Content

"Murasaki and Metaphysics: The Thinking Female Author as Buddhist Icon"

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
12:00 AM
180 Tappan Hall, 855 S. University, Ann Arbor

Given the status of the 11th century Tale of Genji as Japan’s most celebrated work of fiction and the world’s first novel, studies of the numerous paintings depicting its female author in the act of the composing her tale are surprisingly few. This paper argues that such paintings of Lady Murasaki, far from being simple emblems of the story’s genesis, provide an untapped source for understanding premodern notions of authorship that gesture toward a nascent theory of the novel. A close look at key portrait icons will show how such ideas were articulated by situating Murasaki’s creative power within a Buddhist philosophical framework. In the process we will see how one imaginary portrait of the author can unlock other images, revealing Murasaki’s spectral presence in other paintings, which then open themselves up to allegorical and metaphorical readings on par with interpretations of the Genji itself.