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The core works that collect early Japanese myths (the 712 CE Kojiki and 720 Nihon shoki) contain numerous references to male and female beauty, usually in the context of courtship narratives. Reliant on abstract aesthetic terminology from classical Chinese, these references involve few surprises: physical beauty consistently serves as a reason for amorous interest in a potential sexual partner or spouse. However, in the same texts there is a more interesting negative discourse, in which ugliness is connected with spiritual or political power. Through an analysis of the vocabulary of negative aesthetic judgement in Japanese mythology, this presentation considers how and why ugliness is portrayed in such a complex and ambivalent manner.
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About the speaker:
David B. Lurie is Associate Professor of Japanese History and Literature, Columbia University'. His research interests include: the history of writing systems and literacy; the literary and cultural history of premodern Japan; the Japanese reception of Chinese literary, historical, and technical writings; the development of Japanese dictionaries and encyclopedias; the history of linguistic thought; Japanese mythology; and the comparative history of philological practices. His first book investigated the development of writing systems in Japan through the Heian period. Entitled Realms of Literacy: Early Japan and the History of Writing, it received the Lionel Trilling Award in 2012. Along with Haruo Shirane and Tomi Suzuki, he was co-editor of the Cambridge History of Japanese Literature (2015), to which he contributed chapters on myths, histories, gazetteers, and early literature in general. He is currently preparing a new scholarly monograph, tentatively entitled The Emperor’s Dreams: Reading Japanese Mythology, and is also co-editing Local Legends of Ancient Japan: A Fudoki Reader.