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An analysis of Torikaebaya monogatari: the heuristic potential of Judith Butler’s performative gender Imai, Kazuhiko

Abstract

Torikaebaya monogatari (The Changelings, the late 11th century) is a late-Heian court tale about a half-sister and half-brother whose gendered roles get switched when they are still a child. The story primarily features the female protagonist, who needs to keep her anatomy secret in the society of other male aristocrats and of her principal wife. Her hardships resulting from this secret and the threats of the scandal drive much of the plot forward. Ever since Fujioka Sakutarō, a Meiji-period scholar, judged this tale as perverse and decadent, modern scholarship on this work has been extremely limited both in number and in theme/approach. This trend changed, at least in Japan, with the emergence of gender and feminist studies in the 1980s, and in 1992, Gregory Pflugfelder wrote an article titled, “Strange Fates: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Torikaebaya monogatari.” After more than two decades since, this article still remains as one of the few English scholarly works that exclusively feature the tale. Written only two years after the publication of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Pflugfelder does not fully develop his own suggestion that the gender in the late-Heian period is perhaps better thought as performative. My paper takes this as the point of departure and attempts to apply Butler’s theory as a heuristic device. Butler’s performative gender deconstructs substantive identity and re-constructs it as produced by cultural intelligibility. This premise leads my paper to focus on the reception of Torikaebaya by its contemporaneous readers, represented by the author of Mumyōzōshi (An Untitled Book, 1196-1202). A close reading of the relevant section of Mumyōzōshi suggests an important conceptual distinction between the real and realistic that informs my textual analysis of Torikaebaya. And finally, this paper offers a close reading of Torikaebaya to argue that its female protagonist’s role as a male courtier is carefully sustained by the tale’s textual strategies, such as her interior monologues, to contain her presence on the margins of what is intelligibly feminine.

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