Perfumed Sleeves and Tangled Hair: Body, Woman, and Desire in Medieval Japanese Narratives
University of Hawaii Press, 2016.
Pandey suggests that “woman” in medieval Japanese narratives does not constitute a self-evident and distinct category, and that there is little in these works to indicate that the sexed body was the single most important and overarching site of difference between men and women. She argues that the body in classical and medieval texts is not understood as something constituted through flesh, blood, and bones, or as divorced from the mind, and that in the Tale of Genji it becomes intelligible not as an anatomical entity but rather as something apprehended through robes and hair. Pandey provocatively claims that “woman” is a fluid and malleable category, one that often functions as a topos or figural site for staging debates not about real life women, but rather about delusion, attachment, and enlightenment, issues of the utmost importance to the Buddhist medieval world.
Pandey’s book challenges many of the assumptions that have become commonplace in academic writings on women and Buddhism in medieval Japan. She questions the validity of speaking of Buddhism’s misogyny, women’s oppression, passivity, or proto-feminism, and points to the anachronistic readings that result when fundamentally modern questions and concerns are transposed unreflexively onto medieval Japanese texts. Engaging widely with literature, religious studies, feminism across medieval texts and genres, Pandey boldly throws down the gauntlet, challenging some of the sacred cows of contemporary scholarship on medieval Japanese women and Buddhism.