Writing against Death: Reuse and Recycling in Japanese Buddhist Manuscripts


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


History of Art


In the epistolary culture of medieval Buddhist Japan, handwritten letters – reused, recycled, and reframed – figured prominently in private mourning rituals. Upon a loved one's death, family gathered the dead’s letters and transcribed scripture atop their surface, transforming missives into palimpsests. This book analyses these recycled letters as the key to uncovering the crucial relationship between handwriting and the very presence of the dead in the paper itself. It develops novel ways for Buddhist Studies to understand forgotten objects in order to bring to light the material performance of grief, the overlooked meanings and mechanics of medieval recycling, and the challenge that calligraphic compositions pose for art historical assumptions about visuality.