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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The dynamics of intertextuality: nise monogatari in Edo period literature

10. November 1999

Laura Moretti, University of Venice

A prominent feature of Edo-period literature is its intertextuality, namely in the sense that a text presents itself as a melting pot of allusions, quotations, or parodies of previous texts. Intertextuality as literary technique was employed for two centuries and a half in all the genres of Edo literature. My research argues that in the case of Japan, intertextuality exceeds the dimension of a simple narrative construction. Rather, it becomes a particular epistemology of creation, where to create does not involve an act of individual geniality, but that of taking tradition and changing it, of making the new from the old, or of renewing paradoxically through repetition. It is an epistemology of creation which is in itself parodic if we take Linda Hutcheon’s definition of parody as „repetition […] which includes difference“. This form of creation first appeared during the early Edo period within a group of texts called kanazoshi (lit. texts written in kana) – i.e. heterogeneous prose works composed between 1600 and 1682 – and in particular, in the subcategory of texts called nise monogatari. Nise monogatari, literally „fake texts“ is generally translated as „parodic texts“. My research focuses on this latter group and deals with the four texts which Japanese critics recognize as its core – Nise monogatari, Inu makura, Inu tsurezure, Inu Hojoki – and in addition, a fifth one entitled Chikusai. In these five works, we can trace the conceptual evolution of specific intertextual practices which provided the models for all subsequent types of intertextuality.
In my paper, I will give an outline of my research project (texts and methodological choices); then, with the aid of practical examples taken from the aforementioned texts, I shall divide the intertextual forms used in the nise monogatari into three categories: mojiri (minimal parody), general parody and pastiche. My aim is to show how these types of intertextuality constitute prototypes for later developments. At the same time, my presentation will include a discussion of the problems which the study of intertextuality of the nise monogatari entails: the possibility and the ways of translating works which use a large amount of puns; the relation between the parody of the Edo period and the much debated issue of postmodern parody and finally, the humor which emerges from these textual practices.