Speaker: Professor Melissa McCormick (Professor of Japanese Art and Culture, Harvard University)
“Calligraphy and Haptic Poetics in the Art of Ōtagaki Rengetsu”
Discussant: Professor Chelsea Foxwell (Associate Professor of Art History and the College, The University of Chicago)
Friday, March 12th, 2021
4:45 – 6:45 pm CST, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)
The early modern Japanese nun-artist, Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875), left nearly one thousand waka poems, a number multiplied by their repeated inscription on all manner of surfaces, from pottery to poem sheets to hanging scrolls with accompanying paintings. This vast body of poetic work speaks to Rengetsu’s use of the ancient thirty-one syllable form as her primary mode of creative expression and intellectual ordering of the world. The vitality and social immediacy of the nun’s poetry open up onto a vibrant world of waka, and its theorization in the Tokugawa period, countering notions of waka’s stagnation since the medieval period, when it gave way to forms such as renga, and subsequently haikai in the early modern era. Although Rengetsu left no poetic treatises or theoretical texts of her own, her vast oeuvre of verses and inscribed art works in their totality amount to a waka poetics of practice that rewards analysis for its richness and complexity of allusion, subject position, and medium specificity.
This talk offers a meditation on the embodied qualities of Rengetsu’s work, from her use of a subject position in which the presence of the poet seems to dominate, to the haptic presentation of her waka calligraphy incised into her pottery. It then turns to an analysis of one of Rengetsu’s most famous poems, instantiated in word and image, to show the multiplicity of poetic subject positions she employs, as well as, ultimately, an embodied self rhetorically undermined.
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Professor Melissa McCormick is the Professor of Japanese Art and Culture at Harvard University, earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan (1990) and her Ph.D. in Japanese Art History from Princeton University (2000). Before moving to Harvard, she was the Atsumi Assistant Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University (2000-05) in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Much of her research focuses on the relationship of art and literature, as well as forms of visual storytelling, and their integration with social and intellectual history. Her first book, Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan (University of Washington, 2009), argued for the emergence of a new picto-literary genre around the fifteenth century, and it used a methodology of envisioning the intellectual horizons of real or hypothetical viewers in the circle of the artist Tosa Mitsunobu and the scholar-courtier Sanjōnishi Sanetaka.
Several articles reconstruct the interpretive communities of female readers, writers, and artists in the late medieval period by focusing on ink-line (hakubyō) narrative paintings, which Professor McCormick argues, functioned as an alternative space for creative expression from a female gendered subject position. Her ongoing work on the eleventh-century narrative The Tale of Genji has resulted in over a dozen publications in both English and Japanese. Her research on the Genji Album in the Harvard Art Museums was featured on an NHK documentary (2008), and became the basis for her book, The Tale of Genji: A Visual Companion (Princeton University Press, 2018), which provides fifty-four essays on each chapter of the tale. In 2019 she guest curated the international loan exhibition The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Professor Chelsea Foxwell is the Associate Professor of Art History and the College at The University of Chicago. Her scholarship ranges from the medieval through modern periods of Japanese art with special emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. She is the author of Making Modern Japanese-Style Painting: Kano Hōgai and the Search for Images (2015). In 2012 she co-curated the exhibition Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints with Anne Leonard at the Smart Museum of Art.
Her work focuses on Japan’s artistic interactions with the rest of East Asia and beyond, nihonga and yōga (Japanese oil painting); “export art” and the world’s fairs; practices of image circulation, exhibition, and display; and the relationship between image-making and the kabuki theater.
A member of the Committee on Japanese Studies and the Center for the Art of East Asia, she is a contributor to the Digital Scrolling Paintings and the Reading Kuzushiji projects.