This essay argues that Tawara Machi's poetry both sustains the intertextual bias of classical court poetry and uses it to incorporate some of the most ubiquitous texts of our age: advertising and other consumer discourse. Tawara's reinvention of contemporary tanka is based on the application of the conventional matrices of associations in classical poetic language to contemporary consumer-oriented intertexts. Foregrounding intertextuality provides a means of gauging premodern and modern texts in terms of multiple modes of textuality, canons, and cultural assumptions in Japanese verse.
Roland Barthes's analysis of fashion discourse provides a specific critical apparatus for situating Heian poetics and consumer discourse on common ground. I borrow his insights on how classes of commodities and language concerning their uses enter into creative cross-referencing, in a way that resembles how premodern tanka attributed qualities according to seasonal and other (formally and informally) classifiable associations. While the Heian mode forms the template, Tawara's poetics is shown to operate in precisely this ahistorical consumer mode, passively absorbing and reflecting dominant media-projected attitudes.
While thematically arranged, usually in sequences more or less centered on romantic entanglements, these poems reflect the rational, national, industrial capitalist environment and its totalizing effects. Critical lines of escape are left only in the force of fresh juxtaposition of words and consumer items, thus providing a contained sandbox for aesthetic play without endangering corporate decorum and sponsorship.
A running theme in her tanka is the ever-elusive partner in love, a motif providing the basis for the building up toward an always-deferred satisfaction, jouissance. By alluding to Heian serial relationships, she aestheticizes alienation from her partners on her dates. By echoing classical matrices of seasonal words, poetic places, and conventional associations in all stages of romance, her accounts of consumer objects carry their own advertised associations as well as a reified canonical force.
Thus her verses expand the intertextual modality in premodern Japanese poetry seamlessly into consumer culture, and one must examine the subject being reproduced here. Slavoj Žižek is helpful in understanding the appearance of passivity in her positioning. Jouissance, in Žižek's Lacanian usage, is used to understand the mechanism by which Tawara personally and socially excuses herself from having to engage her material in a more critical way that would alter rather than simply reflect her media- and advertising-defined environment. Jouissance is the key to her postponement of personal intimacy as well as public involvement and, ultimately, to understanding her ahistorical poetics.