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Eccentrics of Recent Times and Social Value

Eccentrics of Recent Times and Social Value

Biography Reinvents the Eccentric

(p.116) Chapter 5 Eccentrics of Recent Times and Social Value
The Aesthetics of Strangeness
W. Puck Brecher
University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter introduces and compares three of the earliest biographical compilations of eccentrics:Hōsa kyōshaden (Biographies of Nagoya madmen, 1778); Ochiguri monogatari (Fallen chestnuts tales, 1780s); and Kinsei kijinden (KKD, Eccentrics of recent times, 1790). It examines how these publications, KKD most prominently, adapted eccentricity to contemporary conditions by conflating Daoist with Confucian ethics and ultimately (and ironically) establishing eccentrics as archetypes of moral virtue. Collectively, these works reveal a repositioning of biography in Edo period popular literature. Though embracing a newfound secular eclecticism, biography inserted itself into popular literature while preserving its traditionally didactic function. Its reinvention of the eccentric was also a repositioning in the sense that it brought socially marginalized individuals directly into the public spotlight. The result was a literary turn toward production and consumption of strangeness for commercial purposes.

Keywords:   eccentrics, aesthetic eccentricity, biography, Edo period, popular literature, secular electicism, Hosa kyoshaden, Ochiguri monogatari, Kinsei kijinden

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