Though some form of intertextuality is pervasive in Chinese literature, its ideological import is not necessarily the same as that suggested by the Western term. In particular, the interrelatedness of literary works is understood by reference to the polysemic wen, referring in the medieval period not just to literary works but also to culture in general and also to the inherent patterning of the natural order and entire cosmos.
It is from this point of view that I offer a new reading of Lu Ji’s difficult but essential fu poem, the “Wen fu” or “Essay on Writing as Manifestation of Cosmic Patterns.” Its true theme is the interrelations among self, world, Dao, mind, and text, as stated in the opening couplet: “Stand in the central compartment [of the universe] I gaze by means of the mystic [Dao]; nourishing passion and will out of canonical tomes.”
The argument proceeds by close reading of the metaphors and allusions of the “Wen fu,” showing how they refer to the generic expectations of the fu and so build a narrative of the spiritual journey of the author. Literary devices drawn from “canonical tomes” are used to convey the self’s experience of the universe in accordance with the “mystic Dao,” dramatizing a conception of intertextuality as an essential facet of experience. But literature itself is only a single potential model for the universal underlying order as it is manifested throughout nature and culture.