By Patrick Schwemmer
Paper given at the Association for Japanese Literary Studies Annual Conference (2013)
Introduction: The early-modern, Portuguese-sponsored Jesuit mission to Japan left behind a body of Christian literature in Japanese whose alphabetic texts have been a treasure trove for linguists, its existence a point of pride for Christian sectarians, and its content rich material for historians. However, linguists have been content to describe static forms, religious commentators have addressed only such data as they find inspiring, and historical treatments rush by design to the content, so that most of this material has yet to be read closely as literature. As literature it is one of many unrecognized offspring of the kōwaka, the lost ballad genre of medieval Japan. The kōwaka rivaled the noh theatre for patronage in the sixteenth century but failed to survive the seventeenth-century transition to early modernity. However, as I argue in my forthcoming dissertation, this event of generic death is best understood as a multidirectional process of dispersal consisting of shifts in medium, theme, performer, or patronage. As Elizabeth Oyler has demonstrated,the kōwaka was a cloth first woven from strands of early-medieval ballad traditions, and I will likewise show how its unraveling provided material for new weaves in turn: a nostalgic genre of lavish picture books which, despite their turn from performativity to materiality, launched anti-shogunal screeds from a newly–de-capitalized Kyoto; a puppet theatre designed to circumvent restrictions on the performing body while appealing to the concerns of a newly-ascendant urban commoner class—and, finally, a dialectic of Christian and anti-Christian literature which took the old ballad stories as a starting point for debate about the proper basis of authority and obedience in society.
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