Edwin "Gem-Glistening Cup" Cranston's 1993 "review" (really more of a page-by-page list of comments and corrections) of the Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature by Earl Miner, Hiroko Odagiri, and Robert E. Morrell is so impossibly learned that it's practically a course in Japanese literary history all by itself. Here's a short comment on mirrors from page 208; it goes off the rails a bit but I like it:

The article on Ōkagami [literally "the Great Mirror"] offers "a point of some comparative interest" concerning mirrors, suggesting the telescope as the Western counterpoint for the mirror as a device for seeing from afar. As an imaginary vehicle for getting around in the past, the time machine might be of more use to the historian. The thing about mirrors is that they look at you while you look at them. They are portals (portholes?) to a wish-world, East or West, but the vision they offer is mirror-reversed, as one might learn by stepping Through the Looking Glass. They are privy to the secrets of our vanity, ready to be consulted on who is fairest, to lure the Goddess from her cave, or return her Medusan image to the stone. They are the essence of bronze culture, Sun Kings, and crazy houses, and far too potent to be left to mere historiographers.

Cranston also quotes a great "Companion bon mot" on p212: "If Sei Shōnagon did not exist, there would be no one to invent her."

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Personally, I have to say that not only Cranston needs some chill regarding mirrors,* but he should have consulted what Classical Chinese sources had to say on "So, Why the Hell Do We Call These Historical Anecdote Collections Mirrors Anyway?"** (You'd think a guy who uses Latin with such frequency would be familiar with the literature, but perhaps I hang out with too many Jesuits.)

*I agree with him on many points, even so, and even have my own cranky opinions about the Companion that he left out. But I like to think I have slightly more chill, at least in print.

I also disagree with him on points not involving mirrors, but then scholarship has moved on (particularly on private or public as an issue).

**(Possibly that's one of the Seder questions, but I have to admit I'm unsure.)


The thing about it is that he doesn't really address their comment. It feels like an idea that he's had rattling around for a while but couldn't be bothered developing into a Festschrift paper. But I do like it as a mini-fantasia. (And yeah, this whole review is so odd -- I mean it is valuable to have a list of errata but I'm left wondering what I, less knowledgable than Cranston (to put it mildly) am to think of the book overall. Is everything except what he mentions here Cranston-approved? Is it ultimately a good source for Noh info or not? etc. Kind of academic (heh) in my case because I have access to Japanese sources directly, but it makes me wonder what people thought of it at the time.)

You should mail me in private about your cranky opinions! It's the closest thing I have to informal word-of-mouth transmission of academic metaknowledge.

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