Julie Nelson Davis

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20102011 Forum on Virtuality

Julie Nelson Davis

Associate Professor, History of Art

Producing the “Floating World”: Publishers, Artists, the Market and Ukiyo-e Print Culture

The city of Edo (present-day Tokyo) in late eighteenth-century Japan was strictly regulated by the shogunate in a system where status informed social roles. For those with capital and expertise, escape from the shogunate’s political reality was available in the “floating world” (ukiyo), as it was known, in the pleasures of the theater, licensed pleasure quarters, and city entertainments. Ukiyo-e, the “pictures of the floating world,” represented those diversions and illustrated the fantasies of that alternate reality to a broad audience. Through five case studies my project examines how that sphere was represented in print, demonstrating how the floating world — by definition and in practice an alternate and virtual reality — was produced for profit by artists, writers, and publishers for an increasingly urban audience.