Word Embodied: The Jeweled Pagoda Mandalas in Japanese Buddhist Art

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract / Description of output

In this study of the Japanese jeweled pagoda mandalas, O'Neal reveals the entangled realms of sacred body, beauty, and salvation engendered through intricate interactions of word and image. Word Embodied unpacks the paintings' revolutionary use of text as picture to show how this visual conflation mirrors important conceptual indivisibilities in medieval Japan. The textual pagoda projects a complex constellation of relics, reliquaries, scripture, and body in religious doctrine, practice, and art. Important questions about the role of the written word in artistic production and what it can disclose about the expansive function of text in medieval Japan are at the heart of the book. The paintings exhibit a novel use of language that reveals texts as open and malleable, with functions far beyond that of reading material. Word Embodied also expands our thinking about the demands of viewing, recasting the audience as active producers of meaning and offering a novel perspective on disciplinary discussions of word and image that often presuppose an ontological divide between them. This examination of the jeweled pagoda mandalas, therefore, recovers crucial underlying dynamics of Japanese Buddhist art, including invisibility, performative viewing, and the spectacular visualizations of embodiment. Much of the previous scholarship on these paintings has concentrated on formal analysis and iconographic study of their narrative vignettes, ignoring the critical role that the central pagoda plays in the construction of the paintings' meaning. Such an approach marginalizes the intriguing interplay of text and image, precludes a holistic understanding of the mandalas, and dilutes their full import in Buddhist visual culture. Word Embodied offers an alternative methodology, developing interdisciplinary insights into the social, religious, and artistic implications of this provocative entwining of word and image. Word Embodied won the College Art Association Millard Meiss Publication Fund and the Japan Art History Forum First Book Subvention Prize. It has received five positive peer-reviewed journal reviews.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge, MA
PublisherHarvard University Asia Center
Number of pages310
ISBN (Electronic)9781684175888
ISBN (Print)9780674983861
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2018

Publication series

NameHarvard East Asian Monographs
PublisherHarvard University Press

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Japanese art
  • Japanese Buddhism
  • word and image
  • painting


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