My dissertation explores the concept of midare (“tangle,” “disruption,” “disarray,” “cadenza”) and its performative significance in pre-modern Japanese literature, drama, and calligraphy. On paper and onstage, the midare moments of a work are temporal, linguistic, and spatial junctures wherein ink tones warp, tempos mount, and gendered bodies collapse and merge. Through investigation of these “disruptions,” I argue that midare gestures resonate with decompositional rhythms that are always arrestingly corporeal and virtuosic.
The main texts and performances I examine here are the examples of midare-gaki, or “tangled script” calligraphy in the Illustrated Handscrolls of the Tale of Genji (ca. 1140); the Noh play Dôjôji (early 16th cent.), distinct for its ranbyôshi (“aberrant rhythm”) dance; and the plays Shôjô (late 15th cent.) and Sagi (early 16th cent.).
“Choreographing Shadows,” sets the stage for the later chapters by introducing the texts and concepts motivating the project. Part One, “Scripting the Moribund: The Genji Scrolls' Aesthetics of Decomposition,” pivots on the axial, multivalent term “yami,” which signifies as “illness” in the Genji Scrolls. Here I consider both the engrossing narrative “interruptions” these scenes of ailing represent and the resonant “darkness” by which these scenes are cued and saturated. Progressing from an examination of midare as a multifaceted mode of performance in pre-modern calligraphy and narrative handscrolls, I then move to consider the heavily shadowed frames—corporeal and architectural—in which that disarray assumes its postures in Part Two, “Configuring Noh Bodies: ‘Aberrant Rhythms,’ Virtuosic Extensions, and Delimitations of the (Fugal) Subject.” Here, I extend the preceding discussion of the moribund body to theorize what I term “spectacular impairment,” whereby the performing body concentrates its intensities to display a constrained capacity for action. I argue that this constraint becomes a means of effecting a virtuosic range of movement, securing attention to the extent that it brandishes a body's stylized debility. Finally, in the Conclusion, “Adumbrating Midare’s Praxis” I employ this concept to examine the ideological, corporeal, and pedagogical limits and stakes of midare as a multidimensional mode of performance.