Draper Monogatari

When I was in college I read (in English translation) Genji Monogarati, or “The Tale of Genji”, a wonderful novel of imperial Japanese court intrigue written in the 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu. Her literary masterpiece was arguably the first novel, and it is completely absorbing not for what happens, but rather for the psychological insights and subtle shifts of power reflected in even the smallest conversations.

It also takes place in a highly refined world, where any deviation from social convention is verboten. Not that people don’t act inappropriately, but rather it is dangerous to appear to act inappropriately.

I am now watching Mad Men, and am struck by the similarities. There is enormous psychological conflict and tension beneath a veneer of absolute conformity to convention. Customs, manners, style of dress, social hierarchies, all are carefully adhered to, while just beneath the surface each character tries to reconcile this beautiful social prison with his or her own deep (and usually unmet) psychological needs.

Here we are, in 21st century America, essentially experiencing “The Tale of Genji”, with the stylized world of 1960 Madison Avenue standing in for the high court in Edo.

It would seem that the novel has gone full circle.

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