Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature

Michael Emmerich
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 512
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/emme16272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Tale of Genji
    Book Description:

    Michael Emmerich thoroughly revises the conventional narrative of the early modern and modern history of The Tale of Genji. Exploring iterations of the work from the 1830s to the 1950s, he demonstrates how translations and the global circulation of discourse they inspired turned The Tale of Genji into a widely read classic, reframing our understanding of its significance and influence and of the processes that have canonized the text.

    Emmerich begins with an analysis of the lavishly produced best seller Nise Murasaki inaka Genji ( A Fraudulent Murasaki's Bumpkin Genji, 1829--1842), an adaptation of Genji written and designed by Ryutei Tanehiko, with pictures by the great print artist Utagawa Kunisada. He argues that this work introduced Genji to a popular Japanese audience and created a new mode of reading. He then considers movable-type editions of Inaka Genji from 1888 to 1928, connecting trends in print technology and publishing to larger developments in national literature and showing how the one-time best seller became obsolete.

    The study subsequently traces Genji's reemergence as a classic on a global scale, following its acceptance into the canon of world literature before the text gained popularity in Japan. It concludes with Genji's becoming a "national classic" during World War II and reviews an important postwar challenge to reading the work after it attained this status. Through his sustained critique, Emmerich upends scholarship on Japan's preeminent classic while remaking theories of world literature, continuity, and community.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53442-0
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction Replacing the Text
    (pp. 1-40)

    The late Mitani Kuniaki, one of the most astute contemporary readers of the early-eleventh-century classic Genji monogatari, or The Tale of Genji, once suggested that no first experience of the tale will ever be more than preliminary; that in order to begin making sense of all it presents to us we must, having finished it, return to the beginning. “Genji monogatari,” he observes, “is literature that demands to be read again.”¹ Reading Genji now, at this juncture, prepares us for some potential future rereading; and by the same token, each subsequent rereading is an elaboration of those that came before....

  6. PART I Ninety-Nine Years in the Life of an Image

    • TOUCHSTONE 1 Reimagining the Canon
      (pp. 43-46)

      “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” And it is an extremely familiar question, of course—so much so that it is tempting to read it as a meta-commentary on the canonicity of the play it calls to mind. For just as Hamlet’s survival until the closing lines of act 5 depends on his willingness to keep wrestling with this dilemma, so the play Hamlet continues to be recognized as a classic in part because a sufficiently large number of people remain interested in the line “To be, or not to be” and what it represents—Shakespeare’s...

    • CHAPTER 1 A Gōkan Is a Gōkan Is a Gōkan Inaka Genji Beyond Parody
      (pp. 47-108)

      You couldn’t escape it: the book had ignited a craze. People papered their walls with prints of its scenes and characters, and wore kimono with patterns it had inspired. Competing publishers copied the style of its covers. Questionable knockoffs appeared. Nise Murasaki inaka Genji had emerged as an unprecedented best seller, and it was moving so swiftly that no other work of early modern popular fiction in Japan would ever rival its success. Estimates of its sales per chapter range from an already staggering ten thousand to more than fifteen thousand copies in an age when five thousand was good...

    • CHAPTER 2 Reading Higashiyama Image, Text, and Book in Inaka Genji
      (pp. 109-170)

      Chapter 1 called on various types of evidence, both external and internal, to argue that Inaka Genji was probably not appreciated by the majority of its early readers as an adaptation of Genji monogatari. No doubt, even minimally educated townspeople had some inkling that a work called Genji monogatari existed, but at least early on, before Inaka Genji’s attractions began to reflect back onto the Heian classic, this link was, at best, one relatively insignificant factor among many that combined to make Inaka Genji an unprecedented best seller. The book succeeded not as an adaptation, and still less as a...

    • CHAPTER 3 Turning a New Page Bibliographic Translation and the Yomihonization of Inaka Genji
      (pp. 171-226)

      “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” And it is a question that must be repeated. It returns at intervals to the questioner until at last he settles on an answer or until some sea change in the world abroad forces an answer on him.

      Translation, the replacement of a text or a book by a new form of itself, has frequently been described in English, in the wake of “The Task of the Translator,” Harry Zohn’s translation of Walter Benjamin’s essay “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” (1923) as the “afterlife” of the original. Zohn writes, with Benjamin,...

  7. PART II In Medias Res

    • TOUCHSTONE 2 The Triangle
      (pp. 229-236)

      On February 11, 2008, Yomiuri shinbun (Yomiuri Newspaper) ran an editorial titled “Genji monogatari: A Masterpiece of World Literature Turns One Thousand.”¹ “This, surely, is one masterpiece worthy of the ‘World Heritage’ name,” the article begins, and then goes on to rehearse the standard talking points about its canonical value: “Genji monogatari is said to be ‘the world’s oldest novel’ ”; “most of us have an image of it as a romantic novel [ren’ai shōsetsu] centered on Hikaru Genji, but it is actually a deeply profound work that touches on a variety of themes”; “scholars note that if Genji monogatari...

    • CHAPTER 4 The History of a Romance Genji Before Waley
      (pp. 237-314)

      Arthur Waley’s much celebrated and much criticized English translation of Genji monogatari, The Tale of Genji, published simultaneously in England and the United States in six volumes between 1925 and 1933, is generally considered to have laid the foundation on which all subsequent replacements of Genji in the English-language context, and even beyond it, would build.

      To a certain extent, this view is accurate: The Tale of Genji represented a new discovery for most of its earliest readers, and with the publication of the translation’s first volume, critics began to describe the tale in terms now so familiar as to...

    • CHAPTER 5 From the World to the Nation Making Genji Ours
      (pp. 315-362)

      Earlier I suggested that Genji’s contemporary existence might be envisioned as a triangular field delimited by three conceptual lines: Genji as a work of world literature, Genji as a work that exists first and foremost in translation, and Genji as a work that is discursively figured as participating in world literature through translation. I sketched the slow emergence of this field through a transnational, translingual, and translational process of discursive turns and returns whose origins can be traced back to the United States and Europe in the mid-1870s, then back to early modern Japan—and from there, if one is...

    • CHAPTER 6 “Genji monogatari: Translation and Original”
      (pp. 363-382)

      May 30, 1955. Ten years to the day after Henry L. Stimson, then secretary of war, insisted on scratching Kyoto from the top of the list of potential targets for an atomic bomb, Okada Ikunosuke, professor at the Tokyo University of Fisheries, published an article in Asahi shinbun introducing research on one possible “side effect of the peaceful use of nuclear energy.” Maguro sashimi wrapped in tin foil and exposed for forty hours to cobalt-60 gamma rays lasted at room temperature, it turned out, for two or three months even in the full heat of summer. “Someday,” Okada said, “sashimi...

  8. Conclusion Turning to Translation, Returning to Translation
    (pp. 383-404)

    This book has traced a vast history, beginning in early-nineteenth-century Edo and pushing ahead, and around the globe, to settle in the postwar era. We have seen how Nise Murasaki inaka Genji emerged as the first genuinely popular replacement (adaptation, translation expansively defined) of a tale composed for a narrow aristocratic audience at the Heian court—how Inaka Genji in fact created the notion of such a replacement for a popular audience. We have seen how, in the wake of Suematsu Kenchō’s Genji Monogatari and, most significantly, of Masamune Hakuchō’s discovery of Arthur Waley’s The Tale of Genji and the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 405-468)
  10. Index
    (pp. 469-494)