Ōtagaki Rengetsu’s Haptic Poetics and the Non-Self

Melissa McCormick:  Ōtagaki Rengetsu’s Haptic Poetics and the Non-Self

The early modern Japanese Buddhist nun-artist, Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875), left nearly one thousand waka poems, a number multiplied by their repeated inscription on all manner of surfaces, from pottery to poem sheets to hanging scrolls with accompanying paintings. Although Rengetsu left no poetic treatises or theoretical texts of her own, her vast oeuvre of verses and inscribed art works in their totality amount to a waka poetics of practice that rewards analysis for its richness and complexity of allusion, subject position, and medium specificity. This talk attempts to articulate the haptic qualities of Rengetsu’s work as related to notions of embodiment, pertaining to Buddhist materiality as well as to feminist criticism. I explore the relationship between the haptic presentation of waka incised into her pottery and the phenomenological experience of the user, and ultimately posit the existence of a haptic Buddhist poetics that accommodates an embodied self, rhetorically negated.