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Reevaluating Strangeness in Late Tokugawa

Reevaluating Strangeness in Late Tokugawa

(p.172) Chapter 7 Reevaluating Strangeness in Late Tokugawa
The Aesthetics of Strangeness
W. Puck Brecher
University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter takes stock of the preceding chapters with a view toward revisiting and revising certain faulty assumptions that have surrounded eccentric art in the Edo period. It revisits structures (ga and zoku) that have generated historiographical biases against the playful nature of late Edo urban culture, as well as reevaluates vestiges of modernization theory—specifically, the view that eccentric art drives historical change. It finds, first, that kijin not only opened up liberated spaces in which the amateur arts could function separately from officialdom, but that they expanded public faith in and tolerance for strangeness, which in turn acquired considerable cultural capital. Second, it shows that strangeness, which had long occupied a niche in premodern Japanese culture, rejected wanton wildness in favor of shrewd—not timid—experimentation positioned between the acceptable and unacceptable. That is, aesthetic eccentricity tended to be an inwardly directed interrogation of self rather than an externalized form of sociopolitical dissent. Implementation of a prudent “best practice,” then, fostered a discovery and celebration of strangeness that indeed exerted lasting impacts on Japanese culture. Finally, an examination of self-portraiture in the Edo period serves as a retrospective, a means of reviewing some of the artists and themes showcased in this study.

Keywords:   aesthetic strangeness, eccentricity, Edo period, eccentric art, urban culture, modernization theory

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