Japanese long fiction in its formative aspects and for much of its tradition of nearly thirteen centuries may be treated basically as a recitative form, derived from the human impulse to tell a story, sing a song, do a dance, or paint a picture. As such, it may be readily related to the development of narrative prose elsewhere. In Japan, as in China, India, and Persia, however, the narrative, or recitative, mode became interpenetrated with both lyric and dramatic modes of projection. Thus, fiction and poetry, story and song, drama and recitation were frequently mixed. This was already true of the earliest texts, Records of Ancient Matters as well as the Nihon shoki, or Nihongi (720 c.e.; Chronicles of Japan, 1896), which was also presented to the court early in the Nara period; and the early eleventh century court romance Genji monogatari (c. 1004; The Tale of Genji, 1925-1933), by Murasaki Shikibu (c. 978-c. 1030), all of which combined narrative and lyric modes of representation. Poetic elements were harnessed to augment the narrative, as in long Chinese fiction and as discussed by Anthony C. Yu, the translator of Xiyou ji (pb. 1952; also known as Hsi-yu chi; The Journey to the West, 1977-1983), by Wu Chengen, in that book’s volume 1 introduction.
Typically, the lyric element in traditional Japanese long fiction served to project a character or person’s state of mind or emotion, and the narrative element provided description, something like a pattern inscribed on a vase or embroidered on a cloth background. A sense of drama and immediacy came from dialogue, which is found in the earliest examples of Japanese narrative prose.
Narration and dialogue in Records of Ancient Matters and in the Bible, for instance, afford a useful comparison. Both...
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