Recent scholarship on Heian literature has tended to introduce the question of suffering from the angle of feminism and treats it as predominantly a female problem, focusing especially on the imbalance of power between noblemen and noblewomen in their experience of courtship. This talk seeks to shift and deepen that analysis to include male friendship and the suffering of men as a subject of inquiry.
Drawing examples from a diverse range of canonical and non-canonical works of poetry and prose, the talk demonstrates that the two-poled rhetorical structure of male friendship defined by the pronouns "you" and "I" (kimi to ware) was familiar to the court nobility from Chinese poetry. A three-poled structure involving a female figure that inspires or enables-and thereby triangulates-the friendship between two noblemen emerged later in prose contexts and introduced the important possibility of female agency in male friendship. Underlying the rhetorical structures is a concern for the experience of noblemen and how they suffer within the political constraints of court life. Two-poled depictions of male friendship create a forum of the imagination where noblemen might transcend these political constraints through the intimacy of friendship with another man; three-poled depictions acknowledge the possibility of a female role in enabling or disabling such intimacy.