Unbinding The Pillow Book

The Many Lives of a Japanese Classic

Gergana Ivanova

Columbia University Press

Unbinding The Pillow Book

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Pub Date: November 2018

ISBN: 9780231187985

240 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£50.00

Pub Date: November 2018

ISBN: 9780231547604

240 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£50.00

Unbinding The Pillow Book

The Many Lives of a Japanese Classic

Gergana Ivanova

Columbia University Press

An eleventh-century classic, The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon is frequently paired with The Tale of Genji as one of the most important works in the Japanese canon. Yet it has also been marginalized within Japanese literature for reasons including the gender of its author, the work’s complex textual history, and its thematic and stylistic depth. In Unbinding The Pillow Book, Gergana Ivanova offers a reception history of The Pillow Book and its author from the seventeenth century to the present that shows how various ideologies have influenced the text and shaped interactions among its different versions.

Ivanova examines how and why The Pillow Book has been read over the centuries, placing it in the multiple contexts in which it has been rewritten, including women’s education, literary scholarship, popular culture, “pleasure quarters,” and the formation of the modern nation-state. Drawing on scholarly commentaries, erotic parodies, instruction manuals for women, high school textbooks, and comic books, she considers its outsized role in ideas about Japanese women writers. Ultimately, Ivanova argues for engaging the work’s plurality in order to achieve a clearer understanding of The Pillow Book and the importance it has held for generations of readers, rather than limiting it to a definitive version or singular meaning. The first book-length study in English of the reception history of Sei Shōnagon, Unbinding The Pillow Book sheds new light on the construction of gender and sexuality, how women’s writing has been used to create readerships, and why ancient texts continue to play vibrant roles in contemporary cultural production.
Meticulously researched and persuasively argued, Unbinding The Pillow Book offers a dynamic portrait of one of the most important works of world literature and of the woman who wrote it more than a millennium ago. The Pillow Book has long been one of my favorite books; now, having read this engaging, wide-ranging exploration of the different meanings it has come to embody in everything from seventeenth-century commentaries to twenty-first-century popular culture, I see it as I have never seen it before. Michael Emmerich, University of California, Los Angeles
Ivanova’s work is a fascinating exploration of the reception, reproduction, and reimagination of Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book over time, focusing in particular on book history and publishing cultures of the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Keller Kimbrough, University of Colorado, Boulder
In this exceptionally clear and clear-headed work, Ivanova tells us exactly how and why we are able to read The Pillow Book today. Tracing the ways in which the ‘three commentaries’ of the Edo period elevate the work to a genre (while also relegating that genre to the sidelines), she makes a firm case for a much overdue new reading. Linda H. Chance, University of Pennsylvania
Unbinding The Pillow Book is an erudite and often entertaining guide to the persona of Sei Shōnagon and her peripatetic text, The Pillow Book. Ivanova elucidates the complex reception of the text as an ongoing dialogue between the irretrievable past and the dynamic present. I cannot think of a better match between a scholar and her subject. It is a dazzling accomplishment. Paul Schalow, Rutgers University
Acknowledgments
1. What Is The Pillow Book?
2. (Re)constructing the Text and Early Modern Scholarship
3. From a Guide to Court Life to a Guide to the Pleasure Quarters
4. The Pillow Book for Early Modern Female Readers
5. Shaping the Woman Writer
6. New Markets for Japanese Classics
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Gergana Ivanova is associate professor of Japanese literature and culture at the University of Cincinnati.