China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Poetry as Epistemology: New Paradigms of the Twelfth Century

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

This paper demonstrates how twelfth-century poets redrew the generic boundaries of shi poetry by accommodating serious intellectual topics in poetic composition. These poets negotiated with the heretofore well-established generic and aesthetic values of classical Chinese poetry while simultaneously responding to the rising Neo-Confucians’ ambivalent attitude toward belles-lettres. This paper will compare two groups of texts—one in poetry and the other in prose— written on the epistemological theme of subject-object relationships by central figures from the “poetry” camp and the “Neo-Confucian” camp. I will demonstrate the differences between the former’s “observing objects” (guanwu) approach and the latter’s “investigating objects” (gewu) approach, and consider the role played by rules of genre in distinguishing the two approaches. I will then suggest that the poets neither followed the time-honored “stirring encounter” (bixing) tradition; nor did they, like the Neo-Confucian scholars, take the approach of “achieving knowledge” (zhizhi) in which the author discerns universal patterns behind the myriad phenomena. Rather, an implied individual author is foregrounded from the ostensibly objective, static observation of the natural world. Thus, the primary force driving these poems is no longer a fixed rhetorical formula or the goal of ultimate truth, but rather the highly subjective authorial presence that imbues the composition with abrupt twists, a surprising end, and infinite particularity.

Feiran Du

Harvard University, Massachusetts

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