In The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon uses several different types of writing to describe the world of the imperial court during Japan’s Heian period (794 – 1185 CE). These include:
Descriptions of social events, festivals, and daily life. See for example entries , , , , and .
Lists of things. See for example entries [10 – 19], , and .
Catalogues of likes and dislikes. See for example entries [21 – 28].
Directly political observations. See for example , , and .
As we saw in entry [S29], Shōnagon never intended for her observations to be read. But after Captain of the left Tsunefusa confiscated her ‘pillow book,’ it was suddenly out of Shōnagon’s control: it went from being a personal diary to a literary text, one that we still read and analyze today.
In this assignment, you will compose your own ‘pillow book,’ made up of observations about your life in Philadelphia, today. The assignment has two components:
Pillow book entries. These entries should be modeled on Shōnagon’s own entries in her journal. Try to include all four genres of writing listed above in your pillow book. You should compose 4 – 6 entries [about 4 – 5 pages, double-spaced].
Analysis of your pillow book entries. The second part of your project will be a 1 – 2 page analysis of your own entries. What does your choice of observations say about your personal political orientation, your view of others, or the social world you live in today? Please also list the specific entries in Shōnagon’s work that you chose to model your own pillow book entries on. So, for instance, if you write about a party you attended, you might say it was inspired by entry , and so on.
And that’s it! This assignment is designed to make you look at your world in a different way, and to help you in a process of ethical engagement with your own behavior and the behavior of others. I hope you enjoy taking a crack at this autobiographical form of writing.
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