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Quaint, ExquisiteVictorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan$
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Grace E. Lavery

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691183626

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691183626.001.0001

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The Sword and the Chrysanthemum

The Sword and the Chrysanthemum

(p.138) 5 The Sword and the Chrysanthemum
Quaint, Exquisite

Grace E. Lavery

Princeton University Press

This chapter argues that representations of the Japanese sword exhibit that distinctively feminized type of exquisite aesthetics. Feminized, because although Victorians were already interested in swords by the publication in France of Pierre Loti's story Madame Chrysanthème, it was through Anglophone revisions of that story that the play of the sword, as an instrument of internal and external violence, has become most deeply entrenched. This chapter follows the Chrysanthème story's mutation into the Americanized story of Madame Butterfly, the Anglo-Chinese-Canadian auto-Orientalizing revision of the Butterfly stories in the work of Onoto Watanna/Winnifred Eaton, and then to cinema: a Japanese body-horror movie named Audition (1999) and a couple of American blockbusters made by Quentin Tarantino. The particular form of body horror that psychoanalysis refers to as “castration anxiety” inevitably permeates Western concern with the samurai sword. But the chapter shows how such an object as a sword is here understood as both feminine, and feminizing, rather than as a kind of phallic auxiliary.

Keywords:   Japanese sword, feminized exquisite aesthetics, Madame Chrysanthème, Madame Butterfly, Onoto Watanna, Winifred Eaton, Audition, body horror, Quentin Tarantino, samurai sword

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