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Contexts of Strangeness in Seventeenth-Century Japan

Contexts of Strangeness in Seventeenth-Century Japan

(p.24) Chapter 2 Contexts of Strangeness in Seventeenth-Century Japan
The Aesthetics of Strangeness
W. Puck Brecher
University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter examines how strangeness was received in the early Edo period and how three key tropes of eccentric behavior—reclusion (insei; inton), madness (kyō), and uselessness (muyō)—were successfully inserted into this culture of intolerance and came to infiltrate the arts. It shows that as urbanization, economic prosperity, and cultural liberalism generated an explosion of popular cultural forms, a nascent bunjin ethos struggled to preserve amateurism and artistic purity. Detached, aesthetically minded individuals like Jōzan, Bashō, and Hyōta negotiated a culture of intolerance by turning to fūryū, kyō, and muyō as tried-and-true aesthetic principles. In this sense, aesthetic eccentricity was a consciously adopted taste, a set of conventions that established strangeness as a recognized style. This convergence of developments helped permanently to anchor individuality, originality, and emotion as aesthetic ideals within Edo culture.

Keywords:   Edo period, strangeness, eccentric behavior, reclusion, madness, uselessness, social intolerance, Ming period, Qing period

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