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Figures of Desire
Wordplay, Spirit Possession, Fantasy, Madness, and Mourning in Japanese Noh Plays
by Etsuko Terasaki, Cornell University

“This book is one of the most valuable contributions to the study of noh to appear in recent decades. Terasaki’s interpretations are among the handful, in any language, that actually reveal the complexity and richness of noh texts.”
Richard A. Gardner in Monumenta Nipponica

“An impressive study informed by modern critical and rhetorical theory. Focusing on such topics as the role of wordplay, apostrophe, and prosopopoeia, and the performative functioning of language, along with more traditional thematics topics in the tradition of Noh play, Etsuko Terasaki’s Figures of Desire will build bridges between the study of Noh plays and the vanguard of contemporary criticism in the field of comparative literature.”
Jonathan Culler,
Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University  

“Etsuko Terasaki’s investigation of Noh drama offers fresh perspectives on the important aspects of the canon from a variety of critical/historical viewpoints. Her accessible yet probing and well-documented writing freshly illuminates the plays and stimulates a desire to revisit them in performance. This book will prove enlightening to readers already familiar with Noh and to the many newcomers who will make good use of it.”
Samuel L. Leiter,
Editor, Asian Theatre Journal and Professor of Theatre, Brooklyn College, CUNY  

“Among theoretically informed readers familiar with Noh play, it has long been a truism that, while the texts of Noh persistently resist such facile psychologization as one may customarily find in modern theaters, they deserve the most serious kind of psychoanalytic reading. For the first time in North America, Western Europe, or Japan, a resolutely psychoanalytic analysis has been conducted by Etsuko Terasaki on the texts of the celebrated pieces, such as Sotoba Komachi and Matsukaze. The result is simply astounding: the book illuminates Terasaki’s extremely perceptive interpretive skills; it proves how fruitful a theoretically oriented reading of Noh texts can be.”
Naoki Sakai,
Professor of Asian Studies and Comparative Literature, Cornell University

Etsuko Terasaki considers the powerful religious-ideological role that Buddhism and the social and economic aspects of Kamakura and early Muromachi society played in framing the status of women in the Noh plays of the period. In a world where social norms break down, the identity of women is fragmented or divided (spirit possession), resulting in madness, being sold into slavery, torture, and even deification. Figures of Desire also examines earlier folk legends that were appropriated into the new construct of Noh as evidence of cultural and ideological shifts or displacements.

Through a close critical reading of the Noh texts, Terasaki deals with topics such as sexuality, desire, fantasy, madness, spirit possession, and mourning, aspects of Noh drama that have been ignored in previous commentary. With an analysis of the language of the plays, she examines the intricacy and complexity of the rhetorical presentation. The author also utilizes contemporary literary theory.

Figures of Desire opens up new perspectives on Noh drama that may be of interest to religious-cultural studies, feminist studies, dramatic literature, and literary history. The book will appeal to teachers and students of literature, theater, religion, to those in interdisciplinary and humanities programs, and to general readers interested in classical Noh theater of Japan.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 38
Published 2002, 347 pp.
ISBN 1 929280 08 4, hardback, £40.00