Magic as advanced technology

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Mon Sep 20 11:27:11 EDT 2004


On Mon, 20 Sep 2004 09:25:14 +0800 (WST), Paul Andinach wrote:

>On Fri, 17 Sep 2004, Margaret Ball wrote:
>
>> But then there's Genji, which I've heard tell is the first Oriental
>> novel, or anyway the first Japanese novel, or the first
>> somethingorother, and it doesn't strike me that way. Though I've
>> read it only in translation, and I suppose it's possible the
>> translators took a lot of liberties. Anybody know?
>
>Is it actually the *first*, or just the *earliest surviving*?

I don't remember.  I know that the noblewomen of that era were well-known
for their literary skills, and that writing such works was common--they were
passed around court, read by others, etc.  What I don't recall is whether
Lady Murasaki was doing anything so remarkably different from her peers as
to constitute an entirely new art form.  My guess is that _Genji_ is both
one of the few extant manuscripts of that type, as well as being outstanding
in its content.  But that's a guess.  Of course, when you're talking about
ancient texts, "first" is almost always "earliest surviving" because you
have no idea what's been lost over the years.

The problem for some scholars today lies in whether or not the term "novel"
can legitimately be applied to a text that predates the modern invention of
the form.  Richardson and Defoe were not harking back to Murasaki in writing
_Pamela_ and _Moll Flanders_; _Genji_ arises not only from a different
culture but from a different mindset.  Some people argue that it's
Anglocentric to more or less co-opt a 12th century Japanese art form as part
of a more recent tradition.  I tend to be on the other side--I figure that
"novel" now refers to how modern-day readers perceive and relate to a
text--but it does raise some interesting questions about how an
English-speaking culture relates to literature that comes from other
mindsets.

Melissa Proffitt

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