Friday, February 11, 2011

For Credit: Framing the Story

Statue of Cao Xuequin in Beijing
The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber or A Dream of Red Mansions), has a cast of hundreds, but it mostly concerns itself with the fortunes of Jia Bao-yu, who  "at the moment of his birth...had a piece of beautiful, clear, coloured jade in hiw mouth with a lot of writing on it" (Longman 82).  That piece of jade is the same piece of jade that the Taoist and the monk call an "absurd creature" (p. 78) and take to earth to so that it can experience mortal life.  The same piece of jade, " the size of a fan-pendant" (74), had once been the stone that the goddess Nu-wa rejected as unworthy for patching the sky.

What functions does this elaborate frame (which I have greatly abbreviated and related in reverse) serve?  How does it shape or guide your reading of the narrative of more ordinary human life that follows? 

You don't have to stick to my boiled-down version above in your response--feel free to discuss other details, twists, and significant features of the novel's opening!

Deadline: Monday (2/14), start of class.

For Credit: Love Suicides Debriefing

What reflections or observations on this play do you have that you did not think of (or have the opportunity to voice) in class today?

Feel free to offer them here, or to expand, question, or push further someone else's ideas.

Also, for what it's worth, there has been a film version of this play (see picture at left). 

Deadline: Saturday (2/12), midnight.

For Credit: Unfinished Joruri Business

Discussion was so lively today  (Friday) that we never got to a couple of important topics. Feel to address either of the two following issues in your response to this post:

1. Chikimatsu's dramatic theory (which can be found on p. 68 - 71 of your Longman anthology), particularly
"The words of joruri depict reality as it is, but being a form of art it also contains elements that are not found in real life.  Specifically, female characters often say things a real woman would not say, but such instances are examples of art.  Since they speak openly of things that a real woman would not talk about, the character's true feelings are revealed. Thus, when a playwrigght models a female character on the feelings of a real woman and conceals such things, her deepest thoughts will not be revealed, and contrary to his hopes, the play will not be entertaining. It follows that when one watches a play without paying attention to the artistry, one will probably criticize it on the grounds that the female characters say many discomfiting things that are inappropriate for a woman to say.  However, such instances should be regarded as art" (69).
Statue in Chikamatsu Park, Amagasaki City

Reflect here on this remark tracks with The Love Suicides at Amijima.  Try to be specific and cite a particular instance or passage to illuminate your claims.

2. Religion. We don't have the background (or time) to do justice to the rich religious context of this play, yet as the introduction to the play in the Longman anthology and the footnotes indicate, the third act has a great deal of religious imagery and allusion in it. Given that our familiar Judeo-Christian understanding of suicide is alien to this play, what cues do you get from the play itself about how suicide fits into the religious assumptions of the viewers for whom it was written?

Deadline: Saturday (2/12), midnight.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

For Credit: The Third Act

How does this play hold the audience's interest throughout the third act? What kinds of emotions or reaction does this part of the drama seem designed to elicit from the viewer?

Deadline: Friday (2/11), start of class.

For Credit: Into the Dark

Comparing the C18 and the present day should always be attempted warily. Such comparisons can, without meaning to, distort the past--unless we recognize that (a) our familiarity with the present will always make the present seem better (more natural and reasonable) and (b) there are so many differences between past and present that one can, without noticing, be comparing apples and oranges. Moreover, it's easy to get sidetracked. Talking about the present is so much easier than talking about the past that it can be hard to stay focused on the reason why you're making the comparison in the first place: to understand the past better.

THAT SAID, sometimes taking a minute to articulate and recognize present-day beliefs and assumptions can help to show how ideas in an older text are distinctive, interesting, counter-intuitive, or otherwise worth exploring further. It's sometimes easier to articulate what seems peculiar or worthy of mention in an older text if you can contrast it with ideas we take for granted.

So, how is the companionable suicide being offered in this song similar to or different from the suicide pact between Koharu and Jihei? How does the view of death or suicide offered in this song differ from the attitudes we encounter in The Love Suicides of Amijima? Both of these texts seek to make death seem like an attractive option--but do they do so in similar ways? What interesting differences do you perceive?

Deadline: Friday (2/11), start of class.

Monday, February 7, 2011

For Credit: What Have We Learned?

A few fun links: Here are some Japanese fifth graders performing joruri (with a chorus of chanters). In the embedded video below, you can see some good footage of a bunraku performance (though since I don't read Japanese, I can't tell who is doing the performing, or where, or what the play is):

How did today's exercise in performing The Love Suicides at Amijima change how you understand the play? What observations do you have about the dramatic power of puppets, the role of the chanter, or the expressive power of gesture and body language?

Deadline: Wednesday (2/9), start of class.

For Credit: What Does Koharu Want? (SPOILERS)

Koharu tells Monzaemon (disguised as a samurai) that she wants out of her suicide pact because she is concerned about her mother and wants to live; later we learn that she wants out of the suicide pact because it is what Osan has asked of her, woman-to-woman, in order to protect Jihei and his family.

What do you think: Does Koharu want out on her own behalf--or only because Osan has asked her to help Jihei alive?

Cite some text to support your position (or to disagree, kindly and collegially, of course) with a classmate.

Deadline: Wednesday (2/9), start of class.