Book Talk--Waka and Things, Waka as Things
This new book (Yale University Press, 2017)probes the profound and intimate relationship between classical Japanese poems (waka) and material things. In addition to and as an alternative to the notion that waka originate in sensory or emotional experience and take shape as verbal expressions thereof (as, of course, poems do in other cultures), this book demonstrates that the signifying powers of poems in the Japanese tradition are often rooted in their co-generation, presentation and transmission with or in things: painted screens and scrolls, landscape models, copies of Buddhist sutras, and other cultural artifacts. Thus, the book shows how discourse on the characteristics of waka culture can move beyond the dynamics of “text and image” as such toward perceptions of this poetry’s intricate engagements with things and, further, to an understanding of poems as things in and of themselves. In doing so, it offers in-depth analyses of poetry composed for a key royal ritual, the Daijōe, as a form of and with other forms of tribute goods; in coordination with the production and presentation of elaborate miniature landscape representations, suhama; in iterations of an invented and naturalized poetic and pictorial topos, “The Eight Views of Ōmi”; and for inscription in an illustrated memorial copy of the Lotus Sutra. In this talk, Professor Kamens will review his aims in this project and explore future directions toward which such treatment of waka culture might lead.
Professor Kamens is the Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies and a member of Yale’s East Asian Languages and Literatures (EALL) faculty since 1986. He has served as the EALL Chair as well as the Master of Saybrook College. His teaching covers Japanese literature from the earliest periods into the 19th century; his research interests focus primarily on the poetry and prose genres of the Nara, Heian and Kamakura periods. Major publications include Utamakura, Allusion and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese Poetry (1997); The Buddhist Poetry of the Great Kamo Priestess: Daisaiin Senshi and Hosshin wakashū (1990); and The Three Jewels: A Study and Translation of Minamoto Tamenori’s Sanbōe (1988); Heian Japan, Centers and Peripheries, ed. with Mikael Adolphson and Stacie Matsumoto (2007); and articles in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and Journal of Japanese Studies.