Leaves of Words: The Art of Surimono as a Poetic Practice
This dissertation challenges the conventional treatment of surimono as pictorial greeting/announcement cards comprising a subcategory of ukiyo-e, a definition based on shortsighted understanding of the genre?s history that derives from distorting projections of western social forms and interests onto a Japanese case. By examining surimono?s informing context and broader history, this study redefines the genre as an early modern variation on the rich traditions of ritual and seasonal poetic presentations in Japan. Such an approach allows us to understand the defining characteristics of surimono, their historical development, and social uses in symbolic exchanges in new ways, highlighting poetry as the key component that gives these works their unique form, function and semiotic significance. My study begins with a history of reception, contrasting surimono?s treatment as art historical objects in the west from the late nineteenth century with Tokugawa period definitions. I then examine the cultural background summoned up by the formats, content and methods of inscription and exchange employed by surimono?s makers to give significance to their form semiotically within the context of ritual poetic exchanges. Showing how surimono emerged as a latterday, woodblock printed version of the calligraphic poetic presentation, I look in detail at early surimono from the turn of the eighteenth century, only recently treated as part of this genre, and especially the role of illustration in such works. The nature of these initial haikai works is then contrasted with that of the better known ukiyo-e illustrated ky?ka surimono to reveal how poetry functions as a kind of genetic code, informing every physical aspect of surimono. Distinctions between word and image in surimono blur in the mutual interactions between these signifying systems. The result of the broad view taken in this study, which includes haikai and ky?ka practices, in relation to customs of composition, inscription and presentation established in waka and renga, is a new view of surimono as an art form defined by its poetry, in which, in keeping with the classical ideal of the poetic presentation, the work itself becomes a material manifestation of poetic ideas, tones, principles and approaches to representation.