Organized Panel Session
The late 17th century saw rapid transformations in the Japanese literary landscape, as dramatic changes in the shape of popular narrative fiction were accompanied by shifts in the organization of the publishing industry and the nature of the literary canon. Existing narratives of this transformational period center on the impact of the groundbreaking writer Ihara Saikaku, whose aesthetically sophisticated “books of the floating world” wrought lasting changes on prose narrative in both form and content. Our panel seeks to decenter this understanding by foregrounding other writers and publishers who worked alongside Saikaku or innovated in his wake. Our papers share a revisionist concern with literary history: does the late 17th or early 18th century mark a fundamentally new paradigm of literary production? If so, how and where is the line drawn between old and new, and is their relationship one of continuity or rupture? To explore these issues, we focus on how new writers positioned themselves and their work in relation to 17th-century texts and traditions—how their work processes and theorizes its own history. Did writers see themselves as extending, updating, reinventing, or casting off existing literary styles? Did recent works come to constitute a contemporary “canon”? If so, what was included and what was excluded, and how did the contemporary canon differ from the classics—at what point did a new text become “old”? And how were these issues related to shifts in the structure of the publishing field and the evolution of the reading audience?