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In Session: Transmedia Communality: “The Peony Lantern” as Space, Medical Discourse, Visual Objects, and Performance
3: Of Skulls and Peonies: Ryūtei Tanehiko’s Participation in the Peony Lantern Storyworld
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Cambridge, United States
In 1822 the prolific writer of popular fiction Ryūtei Tanehiko (1783-1842), in tandem with a formidable team including artist Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825), published the six-volume picturebook (gōkan) Ukiyo Ikkyū kuruwa mondō (The Fashionable Ikkyū, Dialogue in the Pleasure Quarter). Whilst this title firmly situates Tanehiko’s text in the rich textual lineage inspired by the figure of the Zen priest Ikkyū, the alternative title Fūryū botan dōrō no ki (A Contemporary Record of the Peony Lantern) complicates the picture by invoking the storyworld of the Peony Lantern. This paper, the first study of this gōkan, explores the rich intertextual web created by Tanehiko to narrate a tale of loyalty and devotion. I examine how Tanehiko creatively adapted Santō Kyōden’s Honchō suibodai zenden (Drunken Enlightenment in Japan, Complete; 1809) and explore how the reference to skeletons and skulls allows for two storyworlds to coalesce. In the process I argue that for Tanehiko the Peony Lantern is not so much a story as a storyworld, reduced to visually recognizable object replete with what I call intertextual thickness. The peony lantern is only one of such objects. I also explore how skeleton and skulls are replete with further intertextual layers to Nozarashi Gosuke and Ono no Komachi. Altogether this paper prompts re-evaluations of how we view narratives and reassesses the central role of objects in them. It also probes how storyworlds can be successfully employed to create connections, embracing change to enable continuity.