This week we are grappling with the tradition of zuihitsu: a singular genre of Japanese literature (translated literally as “following the brush”), which “has no close European counterpart” but is usually termed “essay” or “miscellany” (Keene 1993). The genre provides an analogue for our attempts to classify the multivalent genre of the essay and its anglophone iterations so far since the zuihitsu similarly encompasses “everything from reportage and travelogue to poetry, literary criticism, biography, confession, journalism – and so on, almost ad infinitum” (Carter 2014). Drawing on The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays (ed. Steven D. Carter, 2014), we begin with Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, a tenth-century lady-in-waiting whose writings are oft-credited as being at the forefront of zuihitsu. We will also consider Ishiwara Masaakira’s self-reflexive reflections on the genre in Year by Year: A Miscellany (c.1804-05) and the “confessional” mode espoused by twentieth-century writer Mukōda Kuniko in Looking for Gloves (1976).
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