Jamie Edgecombe


This novel and critical dissertation explore one of the central characteristics of Japanese aesthetics, that of suggestion and how suggestion can interconnect with ekphrasis. Although Bone Painting is a complex work, one with two distinct view point characters – the doctor, Seichiro, and the artist, Kasumi – my writing of it was very much influenced by my understanding of the Japanese aesthetic category of yūgen. Yūgen, the kanji of which can be directly translated as dark and dim, is often considered one of the most recondite and ineffable categories of Japanese aesthetics. Often translated as ‘subtlety and depth,’ or ‘mystery and depth,’ yūgen promotes attention to the depths of the world we live in, as aided by a cultivated imagination: an approach to life, art and the world that favours allusiveness over explicitness. Ekphrasis, on the other hand, in its original conceptualisation, celebrated vividness and clarity. As such, ekphrasis could then be taken as the antithesis of the yūgen sensibility. However, as both Bone Painting and the critical dissertation demonstrate, the two concepts can be brought meaningfully together through ekphrasis’s rejection of mimesis, and its exploration of a dynamic relationship between various agents and mediums, and yūgen’s invigoration of ‘emptiness,’ through a similar emphasis on dynamic interplay. Bone Painting dramatises the importance of interplay through the artistic practices of Kasumi, the artist, as informed by own reading of modern Japanese writers who include ekphrasis within their fiction. The critical dissertation pursues this interest through the concrete examples, namely the prose fiction of Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927), both of whom imbue their ekphrastic practices with yūgen sensibility. These readings have allowed me to reflect on how the interplay between yūgen and ekphrasis is central to my own novel.

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