The large corpus of literary works by accomplished and highly educated women writers that emerged during the Heian period (794–1185) in Japan played an important role in the creation of a national literary tradition. Despite their seeming timelessness, these texts have elicited severe criticism and received intense praise over the centuries. Although written over a thousand years ago, they continue to inform contemporary cultural production.
This talk considers the fixed images of Japanese women writers of the distant past and the constructed nature of their literary works. Focusing on one text, The Pillow Book (Makura no sōshi, early eleventh c.), it examines interpretations of the work and images of its author Sei Shōnagon (964?–after 1027) that emerged in the years between the seventeenth and the early twentieth century. Ivanova shows that although these views of the literary work and its author were not shaped through references to historical documents and direct interactions with Sei Shōnagon’s writing, they still linger in contemporary scholarship and popular culture.
Gergana Ivanova is Associate Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at the University of Cincinnati. She holds a PhD in Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include the reception history of Japanese classical literature, early modern erotic and didactic literature, and present-day manga representations of the past. Ivanova is the author of Unbinding the Pillow Book: The Many Lives of a Classic (Columbia University Press, 2018).
The Chi Lung Kang Endowed Lecture Series
This lecture is one of the serial events of the 2022 Chi Lung Kang Endowed Lecture Series. The Chi Lung Kang Endowment was established to honor the memory of Chi Lung (Charles) Kang, a PhD graduate of UIUC’s electrical engineering program. Its purpose is to promote dialogue and understanding about China, within the University and in the wider community.