Cover of Emptiness and Temporality by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen
Emptiness and Temporality
Buddhism and Medieval Japanese Poetics
Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen

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2008
224 pages.
$57.50

Cloth ISBN: 9780804748889

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Emptiness and Temporality is an account of classical Japanese poetics based, for the first time, on the two concepts of emptiness (J.) and temporality (mujō) that ground the medieval practice and understanding of poetry. It clarifies the unique structure of the collective poetic genre called renga (linked poetry) by analyzing Shinkei's writings, particularly Sasamegoto. This book engages contemporary Western theory, especially Derrida's concepts of différance and deconstruction, to illuminate the progressive displacement that constitutes the dynamic poetry of the renga link as the sequence moves from verse 1 to 100. It also draws on phenomenology, Heidegger's Being and Time, Bakhtin's notion of the dialogical, Gadamer's Truth and Method, hermeneutics, and the concept of translation to delve into philosophical issues of language, mind, and the creative process. Furthermore, the book traces the development of the Japanese sense of the sublime and ineffable (yūgen and its variants) from the identification, by earlier waka poets like Shunzei and Teika, of their artistic practice with Buddhist meditation (Zen or shikan), and of superior poetry as the ecstatic figuration of the Dharma realm. Emptiness and Temporality constitutes a radically new definition of Japanese poetry from the medieval period onward as a symbolist poetry, a figuration of the sacred rather than a representation of nature, and reveals how the spiritual or moral dimension is essential to an understanding of traditional Japanese aesthetic ideals and practices, such as Nô performance, calligraphy, and black-ink painting.

About the author

Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen is Professor of Japanese Literature at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Heart's Flower: The Life and Poetry of Shinkei (Stanford, 1994), and the co-editor of The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (2001).

"Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen has offered a compelling study of the position of Buddhism within Shinkei's poetics. Building on her great project of studying the life and writings of Shinkei, she has given us a window into a world where the lines between religion and artistic practice were blurred—and, in the case of Shinkei, ultimately disappeared. Ramirez-Christensen's study is an important contribution to comparative poetics and to the ongoing discussions of the subtle relationship between religion and the arts in the medieval world."

—Brian Ruppert, Journal of Japanese Studies

"[Emptiness and Temporality] is an example of impeccable scholarship by an author with a through knowledge of source materials and a broad, interdisciplinary theoretical background, scholarship that is beautifully supplemented by deep and precise reading of poems in excellent translation."

—Rein Raud, Monumenta Nipponica

"The most notable contribution Ramirez-Christensen makes for western audiences is her introduction and illumination of renga verses as an expression of Buddhist awakening . . . She offers readers a much-needed study in Japanese literature, examining what can be a rather inaccessible poetic form with great skill and clarity."

—Victor J. Forte, H-Net Reviews

"In addition to her groundbreaking Emptiness and Temporality, which itself constitutes a major contribution to the fields of waka and renga studies, she has published a 416 page annotated translation of the poet Shinkei's fifteenth-century Sasamegoto, Murmured Conversations (2008) . . . These two new volumes confirm their author as one the world's leading authorities on Shinkei, renga, and medieval Japanese poetics."

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies