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Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of GenjiPhilosophical Perspectives$
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James McMullen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190654979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190654979.001.0001

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The Epistemology of Space in The Tale of Genji

The Epistemology of Space in The Tale of Genji

(p.68) Chapter 2 The Epistemology of Space in The Tale of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji

Wiebke Denecke

Oxford University Press

Although The Tale of Genji is today the quintessentially Japanese national classic, its engagement with China shapes the tale on virtually every page. This essay argues that Murasaki Shikibu was keenly interested in philosophical questions of how humans experience space and that China played a pivotal role in formulating and engaging these questions. As a Heian woman she had no access to the world of Chinese-style poetry composition or the Confucian Academy, but she deploys China as a marker of spatial or temporal difference that inspires her probing of fundamental questions: How can spaces convey moods and structure human experience? How can a woman narrate inaccessible male spaces? This essay shows how philosophical questions about the experience and description of space drive the tale’s plot and character portrayal and how this “epistemology of space” is predicated on the manifold presences of China at the heart of the Genji’s brilliant narrative art and psychological depth.

Keywords:   epistemology of space, narratology of space, chronotope, Nishida Kitarō, wa-kan dialectic, Chinese poetry, Genji and China, Heian women writings, Sinographic Sphere, Sinitic poetry in Japan

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