Textures of Mourning
Calligraphy, Mortality, and The Tale of Genji Scrolls
University of Michigan Press 2018
New Books in ArtNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society August 2, 2018 Carla Nappi
Reginald Jackson’s inspiring new book takes a transdisciplinary approach to rethinking how we read, how we pay attention, and why that matters deeply in shaping how we understand the past, live in the present, and imagine possible futures. Textures of Mourning: Calligraphy, Mortality, and The Tale of Genji Scrolls (University of Michigan Press, 2018) explores the relationship between reading, dying, and mourning across three central texts: the Heian period The Tale of Genji; the twelfth century Illustrated Handscrolls of the Tale of Genji (or, Genji Scrolls); and the twenty-first century Resurrected Genji Scrolls exhibition. The book’s analysis pivots on some key questions, including: “How does the desire to observe dying bodies potentially damage them?”; and “how do these deteriorating bodies in turn alter the texture of linguistic and visual representation?” The book addresses these questions while helping readers understand and appreciate calligraphy as a “kinetic medium” through which we might “chart the shifting contours of mortality’s link to legibility between terrains of written text and painted image.” In tracing Genji’s decompositional aesthetics across the four major parts of the book – Dying, Decomposing, Mourning, Resurrecting – Jackson’s writing simultaneously helps us to understand how mourning can itself be a kind of reading (and how “dwelling with the dead” can be a critical practice) at the same time that his writing becomes itself a form of mourning. As he reminds us in the book, mourning is not simply about experiencing loss: it can also be a resource for thriving. Textures of Mourning demonstrates what that might look like both when studying the medieval past, and when using it as a resource to inform the contemporary present and its many forms of violence. Ranging across art history, Japanese studies, and performance studies, this is a movingly and gorgeously composed book that should serve as a model for what transdisciplinary scholarship can be, and a reminder of the importance of performing and supporting more work that dances across disciplinary boundaries.
Carla Nappi is the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh. You can learn more about her and her work here.