China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Anti-Lyric: The Poetics of Exteriority in Early Medieval Zan

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 3, Exhibit Level

This paper examines the coherence of the Chinese verse genre known as zan 贊 (“appreciation”) in the third through sixth centuries CE. Later critics, based upon the influential sixth-century anthology Wenxuan and its successors, have conceived of zan as highly formalized, tetrametric verses pertaining to a few set topics, namely historical persons, paintings, and temples. In constrast, I demonstrate that earlier zan come in a variety of forms (pentameter, heptameter, fu-style mixed meter) and treat a wide range of topics (rivers, inkstones, bodhisattvas, religious teachings, etc.). As such, zan is, formally and thematically, nearly indistinct from other forms of poetry. Instead, what unites early examples of zan, as I show through a series of close readings of zan written by both secular literati and Buddhist monastic poets, is the relationship of exteriority between verse and topic. That is to say, zan takes whatever it is talking about, holds it up as an external object, and attempts to bring to light its full moral import, with the aim that the reader may learn from it a lesson and a new way of seeing. As such, zan is the opposite of lyric poetry in the classic sense: rather than a subject’s interior feelings externalized as a poem, zan places an object’s exterior virtues before the audience that they may interiorize them. Whereas lyric proceeds from the inside out, its shadow zan works from the outside in.

Thomas J. Mazanec

University of California, Santa Barbara, California


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2 - Anti-Lyric: The Poetics of Exteriority in Early Medieval Zan

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