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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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Ritual, Moral Personhood, and Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji

Ritual, Moral Personhood, and Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji

(p.101) Chapter 3 Ritual, Moral Personhood, and Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji

James McMullen

Oxford University Press

The eponymous hero of The Tale of Genji has been frequently described as promiscuous and morally reprobate. This essay explores the construction of selfhood in the novel and suggests that Genji goes on a moral journey. It draws on the work of the American philosopher Herbert Fingarette, whose classic analysis of the Analects of Confucius posits ritual as the main influence in the construct of the person in the tradition associated with his name. The present essay uses the youthful Genji’s precocious achievements as a performer of ritual, music, calligraphy, and dance as a starting point. It suggests that initially his reflexes reflect concern with his own reputation and shame at discovery of transgression rather than inwardly directed guilt. As he grows older, however, partly under Buddhist influence, gradually he becomes more introspectively concerned with the impact of his behavior on others. The essay identifies several agencies that structure the moral world of the novel, including Buddhist notions of predestination, retribution, and spirit possession.

Keywords:   Tale of Genji, ritual, spirit possession, Heian period, Japanese Buddhism, shame and guilt, Herbert Fingarette

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