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Unformatted text preview: geois Culture 183 tions like the pleasure quarters, offering escape from the heavy responsibilities of family and occupation, were almost essential safety valves
against overt social unrest. Although the shogunate always maintained
careful surveillance over them, the quarters were to a great extent selfgoverning. Social distinctions based on birth or status meant little within their precincts: it was money, not pedigree, that usually carried the day
in the floating world.
One of the first and greatest chroniclers of townsman life was the
poet and author of prose fiction Ihara Saikaku (1642–93). Born into a
merchant family of Osaka, Saikaku did not begin to write the fiction that
brought him his most lasting fame until he was past forty. His main
literary interest during his earlier years was devoted, rather, to the composition of haikai, a form of poetry derived from the linked verse of
medieval times. As a result of the efforts of various innovating schools
(to be discussed later), haikai had been freed from the stylistic and topical
restraints that had rendered linked verse, like the classical waka before
it, virtually devoid of the potentiality for original expression. And, in the
hands of a facile manipulator of words like Saikaku, it served as an effective device for lively and witty poetizing. Saikaku the poet, however,
seems to have been more interested in quantity than quality. Engaging
in one-man poetry marathons, he composed the staggering total of
23,500 haikai in a single twenty-four-hour period, and thus established
a presumably unbeatable, if not necessarily enviable, record for concentrated poetic output.
Frivolous as they appear, the poetry marathons may still be interpreted
as an effort by the exuberant and energetic Saikaku to overcome the
limitations of even the liberated haikai form of poetry, and thus to have
been a kind of prelude to the prose writing that took up the last decade
or so of his life. Saikaku’s firm background in haikai is evident in his
prose works, which are replete with poetic passages o...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13