Would anyone be interested in reading The Tale of Genji,
and getting together on Zoom to discuss its Buddhist qualities?
In broadest outline, this is a novel about the pathos of transience (in Japanese, "mono no aware, ") ; and this runs through the fine detail of every chapter. Too, Buddhist ritual is the religious framework of the characters’ lives.
This would have to be in Arthur Waley’s translation, which remains unsurpassed.
Although the book, which weighs in a 1327 pages in Waley’s translation, might be a sufficient demand to make on the patience and energy of readers, I am in principle enthusiastic about such a perspective. The subtle feminism of the book, and the gender fluidity of its central characters, make such a perspective indispensable.
I may as well here reiterate that Waley’s translation is the only one that is easy to follow, by his careful ongoing identification of the characters. His translation is available in a 1327 page hardcover edition
which can possibly be had for even less than listed (check ebay & addall)
A relatively brief time frame would probably be best: perhaps 100 pages a week? Despite its grand reputation, its a fun book, no harder to read than novel by Austen or George Eliot. But still, if we dawdle, we’ll never get through it.
And of course, it’s unparalleled as in introduction to the Japanese Buddhist aesthetic sensibility.
There is a vast secondary literature on Genji, and anyone who is interested in dipping into it would have much to offer to our discussion of the book. I would suggest however that our proposed read-through would have its best chances of success if we were to read for pleasure, using the Buddhist background we have to note and enjoy the rather explicit Buddhist elements in it, and discussing the way the book speaks to us personally. The venture is meant to be fun, not a graduate seminar.
I would however, very tentatively suggest, that a book such as
could be an agreeable enhancement of our experience, particularly after we have already read volume one and have some idea of the world we have entered.
I am in the NYC area, which is EST, however I will attempt to schedule it so as not to exclude anyone. Australia is roughly twelve hours ahead of me, England five hours ahead. In another week I will ask everyone interested their location, and we’ll try to sort it out.
I would like to begin the reading of the Tale of Genji by the 16th of April. The book is available without charge at archive.org,
in more than one copy, so there should be no trouble reading it online if there are delays in obtaining a hard copy. One of the great advantages of this large version of Waley’s translation is that each volume/section is preceded by a list of characters, which you will need to refer to regularly. The cast of characters is large, and the Japanese names can be difficult to remember. The character lists are far superior to genealogical charts for keeping straight who’s who and who they’re related to.
I very strongly recommend having a look at Morris’s “The World of the Shining Prince” (link above). Although you can get a lot out of Genji with no background, since the timeless human qualities and Murasaki’s genius make the book compelling and credible, the background Morris provides helps one appreciate that in some ways 11th century Japan was very unlike our world—or any other, for that matter!
Please message me with the times that work for you. Please include your time zone so I can harmonize them. I shall endeavor to accommodate everyone.
Hi I studied the Genji in school a long time ago, so I won’t be joining the reading group. We used Seidensticker’s translation, which is also available on Internet Archive and can be downloaded. I had to read the entire Genji as one of many Heian period literary works in a single course, so I can honestly tell you that reading it to power through just because you have to read it is not fun.
The Genji was written in serial form over a fairly long period of time. Most people discover they are coming from a very different world when they approach it, so it can take a bit to enter into. I was lucky to be guided by a visiting Japanese professor from Todai on parts of the Genji, so I had someone before me who was steeped in Japanese aesthetics and could bring that whole experience and understanding in his physical presence. Maybe I feel a bit of sadness for you guys, because he was invaluable in opening up the Genji for me.
The famous and most memorable chapters are in the first part of the book. Myself, I would just enjoy the chapters as they come to you - even if you don’t understand anything much at all - it probably will happen - and not worry so much about finishing the whole book. Though please don’t take my comments as trying to restrain you from that. Having read the entire Genji is an accomplishment.
But take it easy and take your time. Give yourselves a chance to be steeped.
On a Buddhist theme, here’s part of a chapter from a book on the Genji’s massive influence over art in Japan that deals with Murasaki Shikibu’s legend.