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Strange Interpretations

Strange Interpretations

(p.3) Chapter 1 Strange Interpretations
The Aesthetics of Strangeness
W. Puck Brecher
University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter sets out the book's purpose, which is to examine aesthetic eccentricity as an emergent feature of identity formation during this new age and traces its trajectory throughout the Edo period (1600–1868). Aesthetic eccentricity refers not only to deviant cultural forms—mainly within the visual arts—but also to subjectivities that privilege individuality, emotion, and intuition over conventional behavior. It tends toward egocentrism and often conveys a subject's desire for detachment from occupational responsibilities, ideological constraints, or commercial pressures. The remainder of this chapter first situates the topic within existing English and Japanese scholarship by examining how others have approached eccentricity as a field of study. It then offers a genealogy of the terms commonly used to signify aesthetic eccentricity in the Edo period. Next, it introduces some of the historiographical issues that have guided inquiry into aesthetic eccentricity in early modern Japan, including the favored tendency to equate it with later avant-garde movements. The chapter concludes by advancing several counterintuitive arguments that collectively demonstrate how strangeness, particularly during the last century of the Edo period, permeated mainstream ethical values to assume an inviolable position within mainstream culture.

Keywords:   Edo period, aesthetic eccentricity, identity formation, deviant cultural forms, egocentrism, early modern Japan

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