The Aesthetics of StrangenessEccentricity and Madness in Early Modern Japan

The Aesthetics of StrangenessEccentricity and Madness in Early Modern Japan

W. Puck Brecher

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824836665

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


Eccentric artists are “the vagaries of humanity” that inhabit the deviant underside of Japanese society: This was the conclusion drawn by pre-World War II commentators on most early modern Japanese artists. Postwar scholarship, as it searched for evidence of Japan's modern roots, concluded the opposite: The eccentric, mad, and strange are moral exemplars, paragons of virtue, and shining hallmarks of modern consciousness. In recent years, the pendulum has swung again, this time in favor of viewing these oddballs as failures and dropouts without lasting cultural significance. This book corrects the disciplinary (and exclusionary) nature of such interpretations by reconsidering the sudden and dramatic emergence of aesthetic eccentricity during the Edo period (1600–1868). It explains how, throughout the period, eccentricity (ki) and madness (kyō) developed and proliferated as subcultural aesthetics, and it demonstrates that individualism and strangeness carried considerable moral and cultural value. The book concludes that a confluence of intellectual, aesthetic, and social conditions enabled multiple concurrent heterodoxies to crystallize around strangeness as a prominent cultural force in Japanese society. Its coverage of the entire Edo period and engagement with both Chinese and native Japanese traditions reinterprets Edo-period tastes and perceptions of normalcy.