A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji by Doris G. Bargen

By Doris G. Bargen

During this refined and hugely unique interpreting of Murasaki Shikibu's eleventh-century vintage the story of Genji (Genji monogatari), Doris G. Bargen explores the position of owning spirits (mono no ke) from a feminine perspective. in numerous key episodes of the Genji, Heian noblewomen (or their mediums) tremble, communicate in unusual voices, and tear their hair and garments whereas lower than the spell of mono no ke. For literary critics, Genji, the male protagonist, is significant to settling on the position of those spirits. From this male-centered point of view, girl jealousy offers a handy cause of the emergence of mono no ke in the polygynous marital process of the Heian aristocracy. but this traditional view fails take into consideration the work's girl authorship and its principally girl viewers. depending upon anthropological in addition to literary facts, Doris G. Bargen foregrounds the reasons of the possessed personality and found mono no ke in the politics of Heian society, examining spirit ownership as a feminine approach followed to counter male innovations of empowerment. Possessions develop into "performances" by way of ladies trying to redress the stability of energy; they subtly subvert the constitution of domination and considerably modify the development of gender.

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Extra info for A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji

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In short, we can resolve with certainty neither the question of Murasaki Shikibu’s private beliefs nor that of the Heian audience’s beliefs. What we can do, however, is retrace the author’s literary process in constructing mono no ke. Surely it is no accident that she repeatedly situates the phenomenon of spirit possession at crucial moments in her narrative and elaborates on variations of the phenomenon with a psychological complexity and sophistication unprecedented in her day. Nonetheless, mono no ke exist in the Genji only to the extent that they serve Murasaki Shikibu’s literary purposes.

A reading of the relevant portion of Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji text (S:958–959; 6:66–67), however, corrects this visual impression of exemplary behavior. It reveals that Nakanokimi, no longer immersed in the tale, is absentmindedly noting a resemblance between Ukifune, the newly discovered half-sister facing her, and Òigimi, her recently deceased older sister. One wonders what motivated dreamy reflections such as these. Is Nakanokimi bored by the narrative, or does some element of the unidentified monogatari speak with unexpected power to the sisters’ own melancholy condition?

Dutifully acting upon the Shinto imperative to purify pollution and pacify wronged spirits, people were reassured that they exercised a degree of control over the invisible world. 18 A Woman’s Weapon With the arrival of Buddhism in 538, mainland cultural lore about the spirit world greatly complicated indigenous Japanese views. 82 The Japanese appropriated elements of this systematic approach to the art of controlling resentful and harmful spirits through “exorcistic weapons,” “magical binding,” and “oaths and spells,”83 but the Japanese also contributed to the syncretic result.

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