A woman's weapon: spirit possession in the Tale of Genji

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University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1997 - Literary Criticism - 379 pages
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In this subtle and highly original reading of Murasaki Shikibu's eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), Doris G. Bargen explores the role of possessing spirits (mono no ke) from a female viewpoint. In several key episodes of the Genji, Heian noblewomen (or their mediums) tremble, speak in strange voices, and tear their hair and clothing while under the spell of mono no ke. For literary critics, Genji, the male protagonist, is central to determining the role of these spirits. From this male-centered perspective, female jealousy provides a convenient explanation for the emergence of mono no ke within the polygynous marital system of the Heian aristocracy. Yet this conventional view fails to take into account the work's female authorship and its largely female audience. Relying upon anthropological as well as literary evidence, Doris G. Bargen foregrounds the motives of the possessed character and located mono no ke within the politics of Heian society, interpreting spirit possession as a female strategy adopted to counter male strategies of empowerment. Possessions become "performances" by women attempting to redress the balance of power; they subtly subvert the structure of domination and significantly alter the construction of gender.

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Spirit Possession in Cultural Context
Spirit Possession in The Tale ofGenji

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The Tale of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu
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