The Worlds and Devices of Popular Vernacular Literature
I took up the post of specially appointed assistant professor in the International Research Planning Office at Nichibunken in March 2023. Originally hailing from London, I was previously based at Waseda University in Tokyo, and Columbia University in New York.
My research centers on late 18th and early 19th century popular vernacular literature (gesaku bungaku), focusing on the cluster of texts surrounding Jippensha Ikku’s Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige (Along the Eastern Seaboard Highway by Shank’s Mare), first published in 1802. Until now, I have investigated issues of genre, humor, translation, print culture, textuality, performativity, and the interactions between prose, poetry, and image.
While at Nichibunken, I want to take the opportunity to develop my research on the interlinked concepts of sekai (literally, “world”) and shukō (more roughly, “device”) that sit at the heart of gesaku composition. We tend to use genre terms to categorize works of gesaku literature. However, those often constitute anachronistic, etic groupings, that can limit our understanding and appreciation of these rich texts by marginalizing works not deemed to fit within these imposed categories. The concepts of sekai and shukō, by contrast, originate in Japanese poetry and dramatology and began to be explicitly invoked by gesaku authors in the Edo period to explain their process of composition. I believe that drawing upon these concepts would offer an emic and more fruitful approach to understanding this diverse and hugely enjoyable body of texts.