Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pleasure Reading: The Manuscript Found at Saragossa

This map of Spain shows the mountain ranges off, making it convenient as I read this amazing book

My notes on the book so far.


Intimate Publics: Reading 2

Lauren Berlant coming into focus

Burgett, Bruce. "The Public Sphere. Present Tense" (Review of The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship by Lauren Berlant and Uncivil Rites: American Fiction, Religion, and the Public Sphere by Robert Detweiler). Contemporary Literature, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Spring, 1999), pp. 136-143 Burgett clarifies what is going on with "intimate publics" a very little bit in this article. I now know that "intimate public" is a transformation of the term "public sphere" that is only imperfectly theorized by Berlant (and much less perfectly by Detweiler). I know that the main value here is perhaps the attention to a wide variety of popular texts. Strangely, though, Burgett does not point to Berlant's "constantly expanding negative terrain" that offers so much power to bourgeois feminists like Irma Bombeck. For me, that seemed the whole point of the 1988 essay.

Clearly, for more information I will need to read Berlant's new book, The Female Complaint: On the Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (2008, Duke)


Monday, December 28, 2009

Intimate Publics: Reading 1

"Roxanne" spurs "Roxanne's Revenge" which spurs a diss on that and so on and so on. So, art?

Thinking about the IABA's next conference:

Late modernity has spot-lit intimate relations. Families, feelings and love lives have been opened to public politics...This conference begins from Lauren Berlant's term 'intimate public' to explore these new constituencies in relation to life writing and life storying across media, discipline and profession.

Apparently Berlant first unveiled her concept here:

Berlant, Lauren. "The Female Complaint." Social Text, No. 19/20 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 237-259. [JSTOR Stable URL] What I like immediately here is that it reads for "bourgeois" history, in this case of the female subject. We examine the values of Irma Bombeck, of Harriet Beecher Stowe, both of whom in their own way use the "complaint" form to great effect, which is a subject-positioning that the more monolithizing French feminism does not predict. There are several ways this can apply to a Yang Jiang reading, which I must annotate along with my reading of Litzinger from yesterday. Alas, that may have to wait yet another day.

"Complaining" here emerges as both an issue and something like a genre -- one that curiously includes both "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Roxanne's Revenge." The "complaint" always stops short of something -- the speaking subject is not truly radical, I suppose we could say. However, the "sites of resistance" incorporated in complaint and other "genres of self-containment" are able to actually expand women's rights even more powerfully than seemingly radical theories. Irma Bombeck beats lesbian separatists. Yang Jiang beats Madame Mao?

Bourgeois women deply "sentimentality, melodrama, and domestic irony" strategically. The "intimate public" as I seem to understand it, describes the relationship between the bourgeois feminine voice and her readers: it has the authority of the mother, and hence an "intimate" relationship to the reading public. Harriet Beecher Stowe created a situation in which readers understood slavery to be wrong because it horrible to the good mothers and wives of good houses. This strategy can get a lot done, as I plan to show in the last chapter of my dissertation.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Translation note

A diagram showing the function of "general demeanor" 精神气质 in 'urban travel,' from a dictionary on the CNKI website. The original source of the diagram is cited here.

A stop in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I won't have any time to be productive for the rest of this day or possibly the next, but I did finally type up the outline of my next translation gig in the morning. A few other notes from the first pages of my manuscript:

The continuing dilemma of syntax

Syntax simply must change when one is translating from one language to another. My previous efforts to preserve syntax as much as possible were well-intended, but not as realistic as my thoughts on the subject are now. I think it's not that I should attempt to preserve syntax so much as be aware of syntax. Sometimes terms must be presented in the original order, which will require a jiggering of the auxiliary words. Other times key terms and auxiliaries, as well as the relationships between them, can be preserved by changing the order.

Example (though I will not exposit on it in detail here):

Although Zhang Jinglu was not the most direct agent in the employer-employee relationship between the Contemporary Book Company and Shi Zhecun, still, the idea to create Les Contemporains and the motion to hire Shi on as chief editor were originally Zhang's. Further, during both the planning and the actual practice of having Shi Zhecun as editor, Zhang gave enthusiastic guidance and support.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas Reading

Yang Jiang with a statue of Don Quixote, along with Mayor of Madrid Juan Barranco

Nothing learned on Christmas, except that not all of A's relatives get along so well (ta-tum!).

The day after, we ride with Dave and Felicia to Northeast Harbor. I manage to do a little reading during the drive:

De Almeida, M. W. Barbosa. "On Turner on Levi-Strauss" Current Anthropology, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 60-63. A strange place to begin Levi-Strauss, perhaps, but actually this spirited defense of Levi-Strauss' logical consistency certainly intrigues with its conjecture that Levi-Strauss predicts the "entropy" of culture. "The use of entropy arguments can be seen as a reaction to the historical optimism based on a deterministic or evolutionist view of history." In other words, Levi-Strauss was a pessimist who could prove his case. Or at least thought he could.

Sanders, Valerie. "Teaching & Learning Guide for: Victorian Life Writing." Literature Compass 1/1 (2003–4), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2004.00113.x (weird, huh? Damned if I know what last code means) I dug up this overview for having one example of a syllabus of how to teach life writing. It attempts to be helpful by calling on us to "examine the way in which Victorian life-writers handle the interplay of narrative, memory, and time" but does not quite seem to get to those terms anywher in its hypothetical (and insipid) syllabus. Nevertheless, there were a few titles that looked good, such as E. F. Benson’s Our Family Affairs 1867–1896 (London: Cassell, 1920), which are said to "reveal the domestic unhappiness of the family of Gladstone’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, whose children and wife were all to some extent homosexual or lesbian." You know I just have to have a look to find out how anyone can be homosexual "to some extent." Note to self: just sit down and read James Olney already, dammit.

Litzinger, Ralph A. "Memory Work: Reconstituting the Ethnic in Post-Mao China Ralph A. Litzinger." Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 13, No. 2. (May, 1998), pp. 224-255.
[Stable URL] This was a meaty article; I'll need to review my notes carefully in the next 24 hours (ahem!) and embed into my dissertation the four points at which Litzinger's readings inform what I want to say about Yang Jiang's life and work. One of these is path by which I will return to speak on the statue of Don Quixote on the campus of Qinghua University. Litzinger gives me the inspiration to write read the statue as a place that illustrates "memory work." (see illustration)


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thursday, Christmas Eve


Lost an entire day yesterday to sleeping late and family schtuff. 'Tis the season.

Christmas Eve. I started working on a new translation for Nobo, but rather than work on that this afternoon first I decided to render the Lady Gaga song "Bad Romance" into Chinese. Following A's advice, I tried to write Chinese that scanned along with the melody of the song. For the basic format of the translation and all the onomatopoetic sounds, I used a translation by leoharlem728 on a Taiwanese music site.

A trashy novel I stole from

Caught in a bad romance

Want your bad romance

I want your ugly
I want your disease
I want your everything
As long as it’s free I want your love
Love-love-love I want your love

I want your drama
The touch of your hand
I want your leather-studded
Kiss in the sand
I want your love love-love-love
I want your love
(需要你淚雨 、
需要你愛 愛愛愛

You know that I want you
And you know that I need you
I want it bad
Bad romance

I want your loving
And I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your loving
All your love is revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

I want your horror
I want your design
‘Cause you’re a criminal
As long as your mine
I want your love
Love-love-love I want your love
愛愛愛 需要你愛)

I want your psycho
Your vertigo stick
Want you in my rear window baby you're sick
I want your love Love-love-love
I want your love
你把我《後窗》插進 變態寶貝
需要你愛 愛愛愛

You know that I want you
And you know that I need you
I want it bad
Bad romance
你也知道我需要 (我是變狗寶貝)


Walk-walk fashion baby
Work it move that bitch curazy
walk-walk fashion baby
Work it move that bitch crazy
walk-walk fashion baby
Work it I'm a freak bitch baby

I want your love
And I want your revenge
I want your love
I don’t wanna be friends

J'veux ton amour et j'veux ton revenge
J'veux ton amour I don’t wanna be friends
watashi wa anata no ai wo shi tai

watashi wa fukushū shi tai

Adapted from

(original translation by leoharlem728; thanks and apologies for the changes)


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas: Thinking of the Future

Idols of Amlash: Video game gristle?

Late-afternoon ideas for making fame and fortune with the humanities:

1. Newer versions of the game Civilization should link up with books like Splendors of Ancient Persia using 3D scans of all these materials. They should be real documents of ancient civilizations, with real time scales. Game play will probably have to change significantly from Civ as it stands, but I really can't say for certain yet because I haven never played the game.

2. Why can't graduate students in literature support themselves by writing literature? We should really be crowd-sourced to either come up with good stories, or else find and translate stories by hot new Chinese writers. Since I had this idea earlier today, I feel like I should really start my own literary journal. Or other business that allows for consumption of literature.

I finished my grading today, though I haven't yet quite turned in the last few grades of people who didn't turn in all their work yet. After, I mainly caught up on internet reading, this time with perfect non-guilt that I was procrastinating anything. One issue likely to occupy my attention in the future: population growth. Should we worry about population growth, or worry more about population growth policies? As with so many important issues, China is a complex and intimidating factor to consider.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Posthumanism note

Time's "person of the year" in 1982 was a computer. (But note that a person is still required to gawk at it)

Christmas, travel, yadda yadda. But I'm back online now, at least with a small note about a sidecar of theory: posthumanism.

Neil Badmington. "Theorizing Posthumanism." Cultural Critique, No. 53, Posthumanism (Winter, 2003), pp. 10-27

Neil Badmington, an advocate for "posthumanism," tells us to slow down and be "patient" in the project of posthumanism. As far as I can tell, the central issue here is that the fundamental dualism between the human and the non-human, long grounded in the mind, the reasoning center, breaks down as we begin to imagine machines that can imitate the human mind. Badmington would enjoy a complete collapse of humanist thought in the wake of this discovery, but cautions that the idea that the mind is distinct from the body will not easily die, and must be removed in careful steps via indirect strategies as we re-read old humanist texts -- Badmington demonstrates this with a passage on robots from Descartes' Confessions:
...we can certainly conceive of a machine so constructed that it utters words, and even utters some regarding the bodily actions that cause certain changes in its organs, for instance if you touch it in one spot it asks what you want to say to it; if in another, it cries out that you are hurting it, and so on; but not that it arranges them [the words] diversely to respond to the meaning of everything said in its presence, as even the most stupid [hebetes] of men are capable of doing. Secondly, even though they might do some things as well as or even better than we do them, they would inevitably fail in others, through which we would discover that they were acting not through understanding [connaissance] but only from the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument which can be of use in all kinds of situations, these organs need some particular disposition for each particular action; hence it is impossible to conceive that there would be enough of them in a machine to make it act in all the occurrences of life in the way in which our reason makes us act.

Surely Descartes was a bit anxious when he wrote, "it is impossible to conceive that there would be enough of them in a machine to make it act in all the occurrences of life in the way in which our reason makes us act;" now, we are even more anxious.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Apricots and Almonds

Not quite what my canister looks like, but close.

The same day I purchased a box of Green Max almond powder and downed two cups of hot almond tea, not an hour passed but I sat down to read Lao She's memoir and came across Beijingers selling and drinking the same drink ca. 1898 in the city.

Our American and European almonds are, I suppose, a related species, Prunus dulcis. The Chinese xingren is actually Prunus armeniaca, aka the apricot. So it's the pit of the apricot. Apparently Italian amaretto is actually made from the same substance.

One more note, I'll try to translate from Li Shizhen's "Compendium of Materia Medica," section one on fruits, on the apricot xing 杏. He says,
The pit of the apricot can loosen 散 and lessen 降, and so has the following healing and medicinal properties: the separation of flesh, the scattering of wind, the lessening of qi, the moisturizing of the throat (?) and alleviation of accumulated (accumulated what? another medical expression I don't understand). 杏仁能散能降,故解肌、散风、降气、润燥、消积,治伤损药中用之。



Dayton's Department Store in the 1970s, Carol and other men back then could go here "dressed." Thanks to Livemall

Once again, the meager fruits of a weekend: a little reading, a little writing.

I got through chapter 3 of Lao She's "Under the Red Banner" 正红旗之下. My notes, which I try my best to type soon after I read, are a valuable way to brainstorm and to increase Chinese vocabulary at the same time. This is really a great book, and perhaps the first not by Yang Jiang that I will read cover-to-cover in Chinese.

Responding to my reading of Literary Theory: A Brief Insight, I drafted a new overall outline of my PhD dissertation. It's organized as a series of readings that are calculated to move from poetics to hermeneutics, from literary criticism to cultural studies, and as a kind of tour, or game play, through the various types of critical approaches. I plan to write something mimicking Culler on the need to examine texts from different angles.

On Sunday, while A. was at an interview I read some excerpts from oral histories of GLBT people in the Twin Cities. These were three:

1. Carol, a trans woman who describes "dressing" and discovering others like herself in her childhood and adulthood in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This was such a great narrative, it easily convinces us of the unique resonance that trans people have with the queerest and most old-fashioned parts of town.

2. Robert, a gay man who lived with several guys during the 1960s before briefly considering suicide, and then deciding to come out to his family. This was a touching success story.

3. Judy, a lesbian who came out in Minneapolis only after marriage and a child. She was early to realize that lesbians needed to make more room for men and children, but they couldn't because of a certain rigidity in their culture.
This was my first reading in oral history, and I really don't know what I might do about it yet. But for one thing, I am more motivated now to go on with the Tretter "Framing GLBT Lives."


Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10

Tang Yin -- portrait of a lady

Again, I fail at productivity

Thursday was just a terrible blot, because I was tired and cranky and lazy all morning, and never really approached work seriously. I went out to do an errand for S, scanning this work, and I thought about the nature of debate in the case of climate change, which is a hot topic right now.

When I came home, I was forced to begin cooking to prepare for a dinner party later in the evening. That was a nice time, with good conversation, and far too much drinking. Advice for dinner-party days: do your best, your very best, to get something done in the morning, because nothing focused will happen once you begin the cooking.

One accomplishment of note: I got completely caught up on all my grading of students' response papers. Some included very nice comments, and I thought to paste a few of the better examples into my reading notes so that I can remember next time I teach the material what sort of response I might expect. This is actually a nice demonstration of the power of Google docs for taking and organizing notes: all we need do is paste from the Moodle response into the Google doc. No other apps needed, all work done in a web browser, with a laptop sitting on the radiator in the kitchen, at what I sincerely hope is a safe distance from boiling beans and a searing chicken. My notes on The Red Brush are a great example -- it's basically like having a note card to go with the book that is infinitely large, so I can continue putting all my thoughts I ever have on the book in there. Here's a snippet:

Lady Jin: Braver than her husband. eww, gory. A poem, as well. their heroic spirits. graphic imagery: battlefield. Pverty sucks, and so does Han Yu. Leisure, trip, feelings. Preface to Xuan Huazi's colleciton. talent. Shijing: women authors. many genres. palindromes. quatrans. Concubine Ban.

Studied in class, Fall 2009. One student writes,

Of all the responses to the invading Qing armies Lady Jin's remains the most compelling. In her portrait of Lady Jin and her husband Qinchen, Wang Duanshu writes:

"In the end, Qinchen was condemned to death by slicing, and his wife was to be handed over to the troops as a reward. At this, Lady Jin gave out a scream and said, 'If my husband dies, then how could I even think of remaining alive? I also want to die right away.' The commander said: 'Since you want to die, I will order you to be cut in half at the waist.' But Lady Jin [protested] saying: 'Since my husband had been condemned to slicing, why should I be simply cut in half? I should also be condemned to death by slicing.' So the commander agreed to her request."

Lady Jin's story, in all likelihood, is largely a product of either Wang Duanshu's imagination or folkloric legend. That's not to say she didn't exist or wasn't executed by Qing troops, but the details that make the above passage so compelling were most likely not recorded as they occurred. In addition, it should be remembered that at the end of this portrait Lady Jin returns as a ghost to haunt her executioner.

However, I selected Lady Jin mainly because her persona is so stout and dominant, especially, at least in this prose piece, in contrast to her husband who comes across as weak and submissive. Her tongue-lashings of her husband that occur earlier are even more acerbic than the rebukes aimed at her Qing foes above. This intrepid spirit, in the passage above, transcends into something bordering on masochism. The fantastic aspects of Lady Jin's resistance may not render it more useful or exemplary than other martyrs' methods, but it certainly is more interesting to read about than someone drowning themselves in a river or starving in a Buddhist temple.


Wednesday, December 9

Women in Cangue 枷, 1880 albumen print. Legal history involves telling stories about punishment, and yet, it can be amazingly dull to read. Thanks to Theonlinephotgrapher

Notes on a very unproductive day

Other than delivery of a decent lecture, there was little progress on the things that needed progress (dissertation, Framing Lives project, syllabus for next term). It's not that I'm low in energy, but more that I cannot focus it. I feel myself constantly fighting against distraction -- it actually happened just after I finished writing this sentence! I think I need a vacation. I'm also ready for the year to change.

One thing I got done was a revision of a paper by my classmate HXY. I'm sort of curious about whether this paper can get published, and what readers like Philip C. C. Huang and Mathew Sommer will think of it. What HXY demonstrates is a kind of work that is like a really slow bulldozer. He translates, makes brief analyses, and repeats to build a logical structure that updates and resolves the work of previous scholars. I admire the pure, positive accomplishment that his work represents, but at the same time I can't help but feel that it is dull, inelegant.

Of course the English style takes a double-punch from the jargon of Qing legal history and the fact that H is a native speaker of Chinese, but that's not really what concerns me. Beneath the style there is an affront to my own sensibility that a published paper should have more, should work to create. I think it's time I really questioned this sensibility, or rather assumptions. I need to read more of these papers, in a wide variety of settings. I suspect that H knows what he is doing better than I do, and his quick progress to engage with the top thinkers in his field shows an ambition worth emulating.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 8

Brainstorm, December 8

Notes on the day

After a nice breakfast with the "Pride at Work" group, which included a good conversation about how GLBT Programs Office director Anne Phibbs managed to get her own dissertation in philosophy completed, I went to my office and read more from Fairbank's China: A New History (view my typed notes).

I studied this book at Harvard, of course, but there is a big difference between reading a textbook for a class and reading a textbook for inspiration. I see much more now the elegance of the piece, and the power of that elegance. In class today, I'll read from parts of chapter 20, "The Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976" to fill in the context of our last week of class, on Yang Jiang's Lost in the Crowd.

I worked out in the 1pm hour, a good time to find the gym relatively uncrowded, during which time I listened to lecture 18 of "The World of Language," in which McWhorter reflects on the connection between spoken language and writing. For my own theoretical purposes, these are extremely important lectures. More on that soon.

Later in the day, as I rode the bus around town doing errands and then in the evening, I finished the book. Literary Theory: A Brief Insight (aka Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, the newer edition is part of a series I should check out a bit more) by Jonathan Culler. This was so inspiring! Culler's sense of elegance is unequaled: "Meaning depends on context, but context is boundless." As I finished this book, I set up a new "game board" for my entire dissertation, which I had already been imagining to move from literary criticism to cultural studies in a chapter-by-chapter tour. The goal is actually to learn a lot about Chinese literature and the theoretical methods for approaching it, in exercise form, at the same time. I drew a diagram on my white board to illustrate this -- to be attached here.

Anne said that a major discovery for her was that a dissertation is "a very bad book." The significance here being that it is a book-length undertaking, but need not be a good one. When she said that I thought to myself very reflexively, "Well, mine is going to be good." But now I wish to modify that by saying the my dissertation will be, if not good, then elegant. Elegance means that a lot happens "under the hood." It means theory, translation work, and exposition have to be seamless. It means I see the entire work as a performance art, something in between theater and a novel for the academically-minded. I realize that is probably too ambitious still, but that's the model I'm working with.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Weekend + 1

A student's father suggests that these children symbolize 福,禄,寿

Report on three days of activity.

Over the weekend I worked too little, as I might have predicted. I did, however, get my final exam and final weekly assignment written for "Writing Lives in China." I noted that sitting at the computer on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon is not so good -- it makes me feel like I can spend some time working and some time surfing the web, which is the classical problem of divided attention.

I also finished Girl Rebel: The Autobiography of Hsieh Ping-ying (1940). That took longer than it should have, but I have a feeling that few readers get to the end of the volume. In my lecture on Monday, I began fleshing out a contrast between on the one hand Xie Bingying's non-ironic, earnest call for revolution and a new society and on the other hand Yang Jiang's ironic questioning of that new society once it had been put in place. More to come out of this -- I think I'm closer than ever to a discussion of Six Chapters that highlights its true literary and historical significance.

Also began reading Culler's Literary Theory: A Brief Insight (aka Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction) which is excellent preparation for teaching theory to my future ALL 4900W students. The syllabus for that course is really taking shape now.

More grading to do, but I feel more like reading.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Signs of intellectual change

(This is a random aside: perhaps these can spur me to critical thinking in my field as well as outside of it)

Well, maybe not actual signs, but there is a growing momentum to the criticism of conservatism; Joe Biden stated definitively that there no more moderates in the Republican party on The Daily Show, and even if this is an exaggeration it tallies nicely with yesterday's news that Andrew Sullivan is leaving the "movement." I'm skeptical that Sullivan was as genuine a conservative he needs to claim to disavow it properly (Po-mo feelings: what do "conservative," "disavowing" conservatism," and doing so "properly" even mean, anyway?), but I do feel overall that these are hopeful signs. As I was telling A. yesterday, I firmly believe that moderate, but piquant conservative critics are important to the health of our country -- we may not like the lone wolf, but it's no good letting the sheep population get out of control.

Then CN. posted two devastating reviews, one of the new memoir by Cornel West, one of the new novel by Paul Auster. Both are wide-ranging castigations, not just of these individual works, but of the life's projects of these figures. In West's case, a powerful and new kind of mind seems to have been co-opted by fame. Auster's case seems much worse if this critic can be believed: he was never more than a hack, though some readers apparently believed mistakenly that he was "post-modern," and thus a more serious craftsman. There's a lot to argue with in both reviews, but taken together I wonder if they might represent a least an effort to revive no-nonsense, common-sense, critical thinking that seems to have dropped sadly out of the political world.

Thursday, December 3

Kung Fu Panda: It's almost like studying

Notes on the day

I still didn't get anything done on my thesis, but I did get all of my papers graded, which provided the great feeling of accomplishment that comes with any task completed. This, in turn, will hopefully encourage to complete more.

I took off the afternoon and went on errands: groceries, bike shop, library. I read a bit from Girl Rebel, and I should have finished the book, but decided to watch Kung Fu Panda with A. instead. Over dinner and before the movie A. and I had an animated discussion focused on how we might write an erotic science fiction story. I took a single note:

"1069.cn -- what a terrible name for a short story!"


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wednesday, December 2

Trailer for "Autumn Gems," a new film about Qiu Jin

Notes on the day.

The most disturbing thing about my work is that there has been zero time for my dissertation since I returned from Thanksgiving.

Today I mainly graded papers, and I have some hope that I can finish these by tomorrow. But even then, I still have to finish up next semester's syllabus and write the final exam for this semester. It's been awhile since I went to see Jean Tretter and communicated with our designer D., so I should get back to that as well.

Still, teaching has been fun, and the progression Lao She 老舍 -> Xie Bingying 謝冰瑩 -> Yang Jiang 楊絳 feels right, if just to help see the variety of Chinese responses to modernity. Lao She can't help but express his fondness for Old Peking; Xie Bingying strives for revolution with a capital "R;" Yang Jiang expresses her nostalgia in the middle of a Revolution. I told my students to picture an actual crossroads, with the left heading off towards "tradition" and the right heading off towards "modernity." These are not actually single paths, of course, but it's a convenient graphic to place different cultural elements: marriage becomes a piece of "tradition" for Xie Bingying, for example. It then becomes interesting that Yang Jiang and Lao She both had highly celebrated and (apparently) successful marriages. Since these marriages also turned out to be fairly equal, with the wives of both pairings gaining fame and recognition as well, marriage in the end turned out to be a fairly modern institution. (Granted, that's not an argument yet, but at least it's a brainstorm.)

In reading group tonight Hu Xiangyu brought a short memorial to the Emperor Shunzhi by Liu Yuyou 劉餘佑 on the subject of "laws for fugitives" 逃人法. I wasn't quite able to share Xiangyu's enthusiasm, but I would love to learn more about the career and execution of Shunzhi's advisor Chen Mingxia 陳明夏 and also Shunzhi's concubines.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who's that Monk?

Who is this?

I finished grading my students' responses to paintings from the Puys Collection at the Weisman Art Museum. They did a great job -- only a few had any insights or connections, but everybody was able to write descriptively about the paintings, which was all I asked.

I just wish I knew more about this painting...

Working with Ann Waltner's reading group, I got this much of the colophon figured out (Update: with Paul Rouzer's help I corrected the first two characters):
面壁歸來低眉裹手慧業一燈河漁授受日畢少翻經_生淘垢_破我心康寧福壽唐_ 松雲

Wall meditation, lowered brows and grasped hands, enterprise of wisdom one light, river and fisherman give and take. At days end flip through the sutra a little bit, __ life washed-up dust __ moved my heart, wishing you health, Tang _- Song Yun. (Seal: Song Yun)

With Paul's help, I think we can confirm definitely that this is a painting of Bodhidharma. The following translation of one of the stories about Bodhidharma is not relevant to this painting, but I'll leave it here anyway.

The 'story of the returning West with one shoe' :

In Northern Wei there was an emissary, Song Yun. When he returned from the Western frontier to his country, he had no idea that Bodhidharma was long dead. When his path passed the mixed peaks (Mt. Kunlun, etc.), he saw Boddhidharma, with his hands holding a single shoe, headed west. Song Yun recognized him, and said, "Where is the monk going?" Bodhidharma said, "I'm returning to the Western heaven." Song Yun returned to the capital. He reported this to the emperor. The emperor thought it was strange, and so ordered Bodhidharma's coffin to be exhumed for inspection. Inside the coffin there only remained a single shoe, or so they say..." (This text off a hotel website. How scholarly!)


Monday, November 30

Xie Bingying at the scene of slaughter: Changsha, 1937. Photo from here (lots more at this bbs).

After hearing Charlie Murphy talk about how important daily notes were to his self-improvement as a comedian, and then watching Vice President Joe Biden talk about tracking government spending at recovery.gov, I decided to try to make this blog a bit more rigorous in the following ways:

1. I'll leave a note reporting my progress every single day.
2. Like Charlie, I'll report on "what I did wrong," and try to improve.

November 30 was the last day of November. I returned from break and spent Monday morning preparing my second lecture on Lao She, which went quite well. In the afternoon, I talked with the faculty a bit about my course for next semester. Later, I struggled to be a productive in the pile of grading that I needed to do. I didn't work at all in the evening. As usual, time seems to be my biggest enemy.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


Getting to Know Them Better: Ding Ling in the upper left; down one row and to her right is the poet Sun Li

Four translation gigs so far this semester have certainly eaten into my own research and creative writing time, but it was good work for all that -- work that simply increases background knowledge and language ability, familiarity with Chinese academic rhetoric. And more than anything, I think what is important is the feeling of work, of the pen rushing over the page, the output of something created, crafted. I'm just like a jewelry maker who receives an order over the internet, makes the product in his home, and delivers it back, hoping his fee is paid promptly and his customer is satisfied. There is a basic goodness to the ethic of the business transaction that in other areas of my work feels too sorely lacking.

Anyhow, it's time I began a full accounting of my translations, both for my CV and for my own notes. This latest article, for example, seems like it adds directly to my dissertation in two ways...

First, the business of "cross-period writers" suggests deeper comparisons with Yang Jiang. Like Yang Jiang, for example, Ding Ling lived a life that spanned the twentieth century and went through phases (albeit phases of a very different kind than Yang Jiang's).
Her life, from its ascent to fame in the 1920s as "yesterday's literate 'Miss'" to answering Lu Xun's call to arms with left-wing literature in the 1930s, to "Today's Martial General" under the flag of Mao Zedong, to facing over 20 years of suffering after 1957 before emerging once again in the 1980s, is a life of literary activities that spans the entire twentieth century. Her literary paths and her life experiences progressed in close lock-step with the modern and contemporary literature of China. They echo each other.
The really interesting question here is, how might these phases line up with Yang Jiang's? Ding Ling is a bit older, so we find no work by Yang Jiang in the 1920s to match up with Ding Ling's. But 1957 is an important year for both; Yang Jiang later wrote a sanwen essay detailing how 1957 was the first time she was "sent down."

Perhaps the main issue to consider is simply that Ding Ling was completely devoted to expressing the political in literature, even when she wasn't adhering to the rules of Mao's 1942 "Talks at Yan'an" literally. Yang Jiang, though is not terribly interested in "making literature for the service of the people." She is more interesting in finely-crafted portraits of human nature. Her art is of service, certainly, but not simply political service. In this she seems to have a soulmate in the poet Sun Li:
Sun Li was once and for all an old author known for discovering the beauty in human nature, of celebrating that beauty of human nature in song. In his later years he wrote a series of short works which, however, often lament the baseness of the human heart and the alienation of human nature; it was easy for people to see these as symptoms of his declining years. But actually, to observe coolly and calmy, with a transcendent attitude, the alienation of human nature during the revolutionary period is only a deepening and a complement to a poetic sensibility that had traced the most basic qualities of beauty of human nature during the war years. This warm style, plain-spoken and natural, but with internal resonance of meaning that draws readers to savor afterward, remained unified and consistent on the whole, before and after. There was certainly no great degradation.
The question of "degradation" in the quality of works by older writers is a most pressing one, so it is of interest to find that at least two Chinese scholars feel that old Sun Li did not degrade. One wonders if a Confucian bias towards respecting elders is at work here.

English Citation:

Liu Yong and Ji Xueyou. "Difficult Problems of the Practice of Holistic Approaches to Twentieth-century Chinese Literature: Taking the Study of Individual Cases of "Cross-Period" Authors as Examples" (Look at the turned-in draft of my translation, if you like)


Getting ready to teach Lao She

Cover for the French edition of Under the Red Banner

Interesting: just as with Yang Jiang, Lao She has found a French readership. The "avant–propos" of translator Paul Bady stands out in the CAJ database for being the only article to consider Lao She's text as autobiography (as usual, Chinese scholarship tends to dwell on the ideological significance of the text). Bady emphasizes the subject's unique precocity, his flair for dramatic, and most of all his candid and intimate observations of kith and kin.

Full citation:

Bady, Paul 保尔·巴迪. "Lao She zizhuanti xiaoshuo 'Zheng hong qi xia' de dutexing" 老舍自传体小说《正红旗下》的独特性 [The Uniqueness of Lao She's Autobiographical Novel Under the Red Banner.] Translated by Wu Yongping 吴永平. Studies of Ethnic Literature 民族文学研究 2004, issue 4 [retrieved full-text from CAJ Database].


Dissertation Outlining

Self-centered Style

Now that that last translation project is finally done, I made a bit of progress on my dissertation, incorporating notes I took down whilst reading Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives several weeks ago. It's upsetting to look back and see how slow my progress has been, but on the bright side, it's nice to see that taking good notes actually makes a difference.

In fact, I realize that at this stage, I think I have to combine real, honest-to-goodness writing with a more peremptory, brainstorm-friendly method of accumulating notes. This note-based outline of my first chapter will be my first attempt at doing just that.

Chinese Film in Off Hours

The Horse Thief 盗马贼

It's finally hit me that another way I could increase my familiarity with modern Chinese film and literature is to watch older films online. Many of these films are too slow, some how too involved in the business of drawing Chinese characters for Chinese tastes, to draw Adam in.

This film The Horse Thief, for example, I just learned about in a Danwei.org post on its director, Tian Zhuangzhuang 田壯壯. Tian is interesting for being a successful "Fifth Generation" director who has returned to the screen since being banned.

Another film that I'm watching at the same time is Er mo (links to 56.com), which was screened last night at the Bell Auditorium as part of the People's Republic of Cinema series.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Sima Qian's letter (pt 4, a tiny step)

A good companion is a severe distraction

Productivity has been low, but I'm going to bring it up, I can feel it. I can see into my dissertation, see how it will have to work, and what needs to be done. More than ever, this is a blog that will tackle the problems of my dissertation.

Returning to finish working on the Sima Qian letter. Really, I had no idea I would take so long to mess about with this. Nevertheless, a closely-considered look definitely seems warranted. Today's fragment:


Your servant in his youth was a talent that couldn't be bridled, but grown up, there was never praise for him in my home village. Our Ruler, fortunately, because of my late father, helped me to achieve some slight skill, emerging and entering the midst of Zhou and Wei. Your servant considered: if a man wears a bowl on his head, by what means will he ever gaze on Heaven? Thus I cut off all knowledge of visitors and guests and lost utterly the enterprise of our home. Day and night I thought only of using to the utmost my unworthy talents, serving with one heart this official post, that we might seek trust and favor before our Ruler. And yet, in the end, there was a great deceit that made it otherwise.
I like that even in this tiny, out-of-context fragment, we can see how personal the tone is with Sima Qian. His emperor is both a distant authority figure and a object of very personal feelings -- just like a father, we might think, except this is a father that also carries the all-encompassing scope of the sky itself. Such a ruler-father necessarily interrupts the correct relationship with the true father, and the clan he represents. I'm reminded that there is complete ambiguity over whether service to state is good for the family or not.

The phrase 周衞之中 was difficult, which turned out to be good because it pushed me a little deeper. No dictionaries carry the phrase, but if we look at Yan Shigu's 彥師古 commentary to the Han shu at this point, he says "Zhou and Wei means that he was staying in the most secure, most enclosed place" 周衛,言宿衛周密也, i.e., the interior of the palace.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sima Qian's letter (pt 3, pressing ahead in small steps)

Tang Yin demonstrates the aesthetic of leisure

My lecture on Ming portraits went fairly well, and I'm excited about the consultation I have tomorrow over the view of the performance. With any luck, segments of the video will show up in this blog soon.

After class I was not so productive. After staying up late the night before, I fell asleep for a bit while working on classical Chinese. And I'm behind on grading, and the Tretter projects, and my translation work, etc. Still, I press ahead:


In the past, your servant was even once [on] the listing of officers at the foot of the hall. I had the honor of accompanying the outer court personally. I did not at that time draw on the rules and principles, nor did I use to the full my critical thinking ability. Now, my corrupted form is a slave who sweeps up remnants. As a mediocrity of low grade, were I to desire to lift up my head and stretch my brows as I discoursed on the ordering of right and wrong, wouldn't that do even more make light of the court and shame men of this world. Alas! Alas! As for your servant, now, what can he say now? What can he say now? Besides, the origins and conclusions of events are not easy to explain.
This passage was much more straightforward, except for the complex time sequence involved in 今...乃...不亦. Since the sequence begins with 今, the sentence becomes a clear example of a conditional or subjunctive mood (it's not clear to me the difference in cases like this.)


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sima Qian's letter, continued

I found a bit of time to work on my classical Chinese in the afternoon, after translating the latest article for pay and making a few lecture notes for tomorrow's class.

Zeng Jing (Ming dynasty), Portrait of Ge Yilong


Your servant depends on the accumulated work of his late father, having obtained the wait for punishment under the royal carriage for more than twenty years now. This is why I think of this: First of all I was not able to bring in loyalty with utmost confidence, [nor] to have a reputation for marvelous strategems or courage, [nor] in recommending enlightened rulers. Second, there was also no way to make good on omissions, to repair the gaps, [nor] have I sought worthy men to advance their abilities, [nor] brought to light good men from caves on high. Third, I was not able to take a place within the ranks of soldiers, attacking castles or making war in the wilderness, [nor] did I ever make an attack that destroyed a general and captured his flag. Lastly, I could never accumulate days of exhausting labor. I [never] took a respected office with ample salary, [never] made my clan or my friends any glory or any favorites. Of these four, not one; so following, that I improperly took my shelter [even though] I lack any accomplishments, small or large -- you can see from this!
The passage about Sima Qian's sense of failure is especially difficult because Sima Qian does not provide enough negative particles; the reader should tell from context that Sima Qian is speaking in a completely self-deprecatory way. Watson n. 112 on p. 216 also refers us to a nice passage in which Sima Qian establishes the "five merits" of a successful man:

The Grand Historian remarks: In ancient times men-subjects of merit held five grades. Establishing their clan temples and certifying their sacrificial altars by means of their inner virtue was called xun 勳, "meritorious service." By means of words is called lao 勞 "labor." Using strength is called gong 功 "achievement." Enlightening one's rank is called fa 伐 "eminence." Accumulation of days is called yue 閱 "experience."(Historical records, juan 18, "Table of Gaozu's subjects of merit")

Of particular interest to me here is the proof of the idea that Sima Qian constructs values for himself when he constructs the values of others. He measures himself against the successful government servants of the past, and feels keenly the lack of the values he finds in others.


Watson, Burton. Ssu-Ma Chʻien, Grand Historian of China. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958, pp. 57-67 and notes pp. 207-220.

Ban Gu and Yan Shigu. Han Shu. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, ?, vol. 9, pp. 2725-2736. This is one of those editions with commentary drawn from a variety of places, yet it remains extremely difficult to make anything out. At least the typeface comes in a suitably large size. The edition that Watson uses is the 1900 edition of Wang Xianqian Link王先謙 (1842-1918) which seems to be available here: TC Wilson Library East Asian AC149 .K9x v.384-389

http://zh.wikisource.org/wiki/報任安書 [last accessed Nov. 10] I'm always pleased to find a whole version on Wikisource -- good formatting for cutting and pasting and for printing.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back to Classical: "Letter in Reply to Ren An"

Update, 11/8: My productivity has been shot lately, but I'm determined to win it back.

Update, 11/5: this is much harder than I imagined. Or else I did imagine it to be quite difficult, which is why I have been avoid it. But this sort of thing is like working out -- it is good exercise of the mind, and good defense against laziness. I'm making this my main priority for the next few days.

I've decided to make a concerted effort to return to the study of classical Chinese. I'll do this by going through a number of works related to my dissertation work in close detail.

To begin, I'm going to return to a text that has come up many times in my course "Writing Lives in China:" Sima Qian's "Letter in Reply to Ren An"

The Grand Historian, your humble servant Sima Qian, offering redoubled words of salutation to Shaoqing, at whose feet I sit:

Before, I was granted the favor of receiving your letter, which taught prudence in dealing with matters, as well as the duty to recommend worthy men and to good men. This concern was considerate and honest. It may be that you gaze darkly at your servant, not having tallied with his teacher, speaking of how he has made use of men swimming in vulgarity. Your servant would never dare to be this way. Your servant, though a used-up nag, still has heard and indeed, even listened closely to the inherited customs of the elders. I look to myself and I know my body is mutilated. I live in degradation. If I act, I'm reprimanded. If I want to help something, I actually hurt it. No one will speak with me, which is why I am so depressed by loneliness.

A proverb says, "For whom will you do it? What person will you manage to listen to it?" I think that once Zhong Ziqi is dead, Bo Ya to the end of his days will never again play on his qin. And why? The good man is for the employment of the one who truly knows him; a girl is made beautiful by the one who truly finds pleasure in her. It may be that the greater substance of your servant is already polluted now. Though my talents embraced Sui and He, and even if my conduct were like You or Yi, in the end, I can not be praised, for I am suited only to be laughed at, a disgrace to myself.

A letter's tidings deserves an answer, but together East following His Highness I came, and also I was pressed by private matters. Our days together were so few -- I was hurrying and hurrying, without a moment of leisure to tell you all of what is on my mind. Now you, Shaoqing, harbor this unfortunate accusation. Weeks and months have passed; the winter season presses upon us. Your servant again must follow urgently His Highness to Yong, and I fear very soon that which we cannot render unspeakable. If because of this your servant would never get to express his outrage and resentment, that it be known to you, honorable sir.

Otherwise, the traveling and lingering souls of the long departed will harbor private hatred that knows no bounds. Please allow me to briefly lay out my stubborn lowliness my stubborn lowliness. And for delaying so long without replying, please don't take offense.


Your servant has heard something: those who cultivate their person are the tallies of wisdom; those who treasure giving are the extremes of benevolence; taking and giving is the mark of righteousness; shame and disgrace are the determinants of courage; establishing one's name is the ultimate in conduct. When a man has these five, then can he be put out into the world and listed among the groves of superior men. Consequently, of misfortune, none is more latent than the desire for profit; of sorrows, none more painful than a broken heart; of conduct, none uglier than shaming the ancestors; of punishments, none greater than the palace punishment. For the person who remains after the punishment, there is no group to which he can associate; this is not one generation, but with a provenance that is long and far indeed. [feels like textual corruption here to me, or else extremely vague Chinese] In the past, when Duke Ling of Wei and Yong Ju shared a ride, Confucius went to Chen; when Shang Yang was because of Jing Jian seen [by the ruler], Zhao Liang became cold of heart; When Tong Zi participated in the ride; Yuan Si changed his color. From ancient times all were ashamed of them. Now, men of intermediate-level metel, affairs having relation to eunuchs, none do not have an injured air. So how much the more for the vehemently good man? As in this day, though the court lacks men, how can one command this remnant of the knife-saw to recommend stalwart men under Heaven?

A few sources:

http://zh.wikisource.org/wiki/報任安書 [last accessed Nov. 2] I'm always pleased to find a whole version on Wikisource -- good formatting for cutting and pasting and for printing.

Apparently the text is also in the Wen Xuan.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thoughts on Translating

So I'm translating another article for pay. It's really very pleasant work. I wish writing my dissertation was like a translation -- just stare at one document, read it carefully, and then write out another document in perfect response. Then turn it in. Then receive the money back. What an elegant model of thinking!

I know writing my dissertation is a much more complex task than translating, but there are a number of lessons to be learned from translation. Here's a few that come to mind:

1. Translating is really careful reading.

1a. A good way to inspect a Chinese article or even book-length expository work is to translate the chapters, then the section headings, and finally the main idea sentences of paragraphs.

2. Translating Chinese literary criticism exposes the assumptions of Chinese thinking.

I'm not so sure where I'm going to go with this idea yet, but check out some examples of an article I've just begun to translate for my own purposes:
This poem was written when the poet was 42 years old; he goes through the course of a bird returning home in each of the different seasons spring, summer, fall, winter as a metaphor for the experience of his own life, from service as an official to reclusion.

My emphasis on "experience:" I'm interested in the biographical understanding of poetry, and thus the connections between history, poetry, and experience, in Chinese thinking.
The poet tends towards the free life of field and garden, producing a special feeling for birds in flight; birds seem to become his only true friends.

That's an interesting understanding that helps bridge the connection between the subject of the poem (birds) and the allegorical referent (the course of the poet's own experience; the grown and change of the poet's mind)

(Source: 略论陶渊明诗歌中的鸟、菊意象
Image of bird and chrysanthemum in Tao Yuanming's poems
<<广东青年干部学院学报>>2004年 第18卷 第01期
作者: 刘振燕,

期刊 ISSN : 1009-5446(2004)01-0087-02)


Friday, October 23, 2009

Tao Qian, "Drinking, Twenty Poems"

饮 酒 二 十 首 并 序 Preface to the "Drinking, Twenty Poems"

I reside in leisure with few pleasures. Recently the nights have grown long. I happened to have good ale; there is never a night without drinking. Looking after my shadow, I finish alone, and then suddenly I'm once again drunk. And after I'm drunk, I come up with several verses to amuse myself. Paper and ink follow along, lots of both, yet the words lack any explanation or sequence. In jest, I ordered a good friend to write them out, to please us and make us laugh.


Decline and bloom have no certain place,
That one, this one exchange and share it.
Shao grew melons in fields midst,
Prefer to resemble the Dongling times!
Cold and heat have their times of alternation,
The Way of humans is always like this.
The comprehending person dissects this concept,
Passing away with it no longer will suspect,
Suddenly he's with his bucket of ale,
At dusk of day pleased with it, holding it.


Roost after roost, the bird still lost from the flock
The sun sets but, still alone, it flies,
Back and forth, no certain place to stop.
Night after night, the cries turn sorrowful.
A piercing noise, missing the clear distance.
Going and coming, reluctant, ambivalent.

So it was, that, meeting a lone growing pine,
It folds back its wings, coming back, returning.
No morning glories in this stiff wind,
But this shade, alone, never will decline.
Project the body: it already has what it needs.
Wouldn't part with it in a thousand years.

栖栖失群鸟,日暮犹独飞。 徘徊无定止,夜夜声转悲。
厉响思清远,去来何依依。 因值孤生松,敛翮遥来归。
劲风无荣木,此荫独不衰。 托身已得所,千载不相违

I corrected my first translation against A.R. Davis' (p. 95) and began reading Davis' translation of all 20 poems. But besides the poems, the prose style of this preface is extremely interesting. It comes in quick, clipped sentences with often only implied paratactic structures, and I've tried to reproduce that here. I need to learn to translate this style in such a way as to minimize parataxis while at the same time keeping the thing readable. Maybe I should read more Hemingway.

I next corrected my version of number 4 against Davis (p. 96). It was exhausting, comparing back and forth.

More glosses of interest:

逝将 : (found under 逝 alone): def 7: 通“誓”。表决心 [vow] 逝将去女,适彼乐土。——《诗·魏风·硕鼠》def 8: 又如:逝将(即誓将)


Drinking, Twenty Poems -- #4, second version

Of course, Chinese poetry does not actually apply the pronoun "I" very often in verse. This is clearly just a linguistic convention, but still, one could argue that we benefit from seeing in English the person-less-ness of the Chinese verse.
Roost after roost, still lost from the flock
The sun sets but, still alone, flying,
Back and forth, no certain place to stop.
Night after night, cries turn sorrowful.
Midst these sounds, miss those clear, distant...
Going and coming, reluctant, ambivalent.

There, straight and alone grows a pine,
Drawing back the wings, come back, return.
No morning glories in this stiff wind,
But this tree, alone, never will decline.
Project the self: the pine already has what it needs.
Wouldn't go against it in a thousand years.

栖栖失群鸟,日暮犹独飞。 徘徊无定止,夜夜声转悲。
厉响思清远,去来何依依。 因值孤生松,敛翮遥来归。
劲风无荣木,此荫独不衰。 托身已得所,千载不相违

Doing this in English lends a bizarre sort of imperative sense, doesn't it? 'Miss those clear distances!" (Miss 'em, bitch!).


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tao Qian, "Drinking, Twenty Poems"


Roost after roost, still lost from the flock
The sun sets but I'm still alone, flying,
Back and forth, no certain place to stop.
Night after night, my cry turns sorrowful.
Midst the sound, I think of clear distances,
Going and coming, reluctant, ambivalent...

There, straight and alone grows a pine,
Drawing back my wings, I come back, return.
No morning glories in this stiff wind,
But this tree, alone, never will decline.
I project a self that already has what it needs...
Never opposing that in a thousand years

栖栖失群鸟,日暮犹独飞。 徘徊无定止,夜夜声转悲。
厉响思清远,去来何依依。 因值孤生松,敛翮遥来归。
劲风无荣木,此荫独不衰。 托身已得所,千载不相违

That's of course just a raw, first-timer translation. A few interesting glosses:

得所 谓得到安居之地或合适的位置。语出《诗·魏风·硕鼠》:“乐土乐土,爰得我所。”

敛翮 lian3he2 收拢翅膀。指回归。晋 陶潜 《饮酒》诗之四:“厉响思清晨,远去何所依;因值孤生松,敛翮遥来归。” 唐 元稹 《雉媒》诗:“敛翮远投君,飞驰势奔蹙。”

木槿。晋 陶潜 《荣木》诗:“采采荣木,结根于兹。晨耀其华,夕已丧之。” 逯钦立 注:“荣木,木槿。其花朝生暮落。” 明 宋濂 《叶夷仲文集序》:“ 夷仲 生有异资,其文辞之进,如荣木升而春涛长。” 清 钱谦益 《追和朽庵和尚乐归田园十咏·农人告余以春及次韵》:“泉流荣木下,春入老农颜。” Not the morning glory of course, but the Rose of Sharon.

依依 [be reluclant to part;feel regret at parting]∶恋恋不舍的样子 依依不舍 ; 二情同依依。——《玉台新咏·古诗为焦仲卿妻作》 尚依依旁汝。——清· 林觉民《与妻书》

At SWCAS I was on a panel with some interesting other scholars, one of whom was an older gentleman named Vincent Yang. Sitting in his old-fashioned polyester tweed coat (ok maybe not tweed, but grey, checked in really small knit squares -- what's that called?) and huge, owlish glasses, he read a paper on Tao Qian that I would have found very boring except that he was winding his way toward a very simple point using close readings of the poems, and this point is one that I had already sort of come up with on my own, by looking at the end of the cautionary piece to Tao's sons. The point is this: Tao was not whole-heartedly a recluse, but at times felt some tension, and some guilt, over not serving the state.

I almost forgot about Professor Yang's talk, but I re-encountered his handout, which contains poems 1 and 2 from the "Twenty Poems on Drinking." The fifth of these is one of those that is iconic for its celebration of the recluse life, but I'm not as sure what is going on in the 4th. I wrote a note at the top of the page that says, "his heart knew no return -- failed." I can't remember which poem that note was supposed to have gone with. I'll have to ask Professor Yang for a copy of his paper!

(Side note: This should be completely unsurprising since I knew Professor Yang came from Baylor University, but he is an evangelical Christian who commented in the student newspaper The Lariat, "There are literally billions of people in China who don't know Jesus." One would love to draw a connection between the professor's religious beliefs, political agenda, and close-reading of Tao Qian's poetry, but that is at the moment beyond me.)

陶 渊 明 集
饮 酒 二 十 首 并 序 Preface to the "Drinking, Twenty Poems"

I reside in leisure with few pleasures. Around here the nights have grown long. I happened to have good ale; there is never a night without drinking. Looking after my shadow, I finish alone, and then suddenly I'm once again drunk. And after I'm drunk, I come up with several verses to amuse myself. Paper and ink follow along, lots of both, yet the words lack any explanation or sequence. In jest, I ordered a good friend to write them out, to please us and make us laugh.

As usual with my approaches to classical Chinese poetry these days, I turn first to the discussion at Baidu.com. There's a whole Baidupedia entry on this set of poems, with a nice extended introduction.

According to Baidupedia, Tao Qian wrote these poems in a fit of unhappiness during the year 416, just when the general Liu Yu 刘裕 had beaten back the northern barbarians and regained some of the ground lost by the Western Jin. Liu Yu was full of bravado, but Tao Qian must have found him overconfident, or so the Baidupedia would have us understand.

Here's the connection between drinking, politics, life, and poetry, formulated by the Baidupedia author.
Tao Yuanming only wanted to drink; never a night passed that he didn't drink himself utterly drunk. He understood that life in this world is like a flash, around for an instant then passing away, so one should remain open-minded, unbound by convention, and also loose, cool, stable, passing through life without worries and concerns. It is perhaps by drinking that our Tao Yuanming was able to secure his name in history.

Of course, there are some paradoxes and tensions here -- did Tao worry about 'securing his name in history'? If not, why did he publish his poetry, or ever even show it to his friends? Also, I really wonder about the qualities of personhood so celebrated here: open-minded, unbound by convention, and also loose, cool, and stable. This awkward phrase translates the two terms 坦荡 and 从容. Looking at women's writings I think we also see a celebration of 从容, the whole "keep your cool" thing, but I think there is a gender to this term: for women, it has more of a sense of accepting one's fate and learning to bear suffering.

Here's a paper that Google revealed, that might help me translate some of the more difficult lines. More importantly, it might help me understand more deeply something about the concepts of "self," "identity" and "experience" in Tao Qian:
Image of bird and chrysanthemum in Tao Yuanming's poems
<<广东青年干部学院学报>>2004年 第18卷 第01期
作者: 刘振燕,

期刊 ISSN : 1009-5446(2004)01-0087-02

在陶渊明诗歌的诸多意象中,写得最多而且最能代表诗人人格美的意象是鸟与菊.诗人通过对鸟、菊意象的构建,艺术地再现了其对理想的追求,对自由的向往,以及敢于在逆境中抗争的高蹈独善、率真的人品. Abstract: Among the multitudinous imagery of Tao Yuanming's poetry, the most numerous in his writing and the most representative of the poet's individual image of beauty are birds and chrysanthemums. The poet through the images of birds and chrysanthemums structurally and artistically reproduces his search for ideals, his inclination towards freedom, as well as the aloof integrity and personal quality of forthrightness with which he dared to resist an adverse world.

There are some very interesting key words in the abstract. Professor Scott would no doubt direct my attention to the author's assumption of a clear sense of "individuality" (ren ge) in Tao's poetry, a clear anachronism. I think she and I are both curious about the concept of 'personal quality' (ren pin), which suggests that poetry is 'evidence of the personality' in a fashion that is similar to the 'evidence of experience' in foundationalist Western history. (Yes, I'm basically just mouthing off at this point)


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dude, that's totally A.O. Scott's mom

I'm crushed a bit by the amount of thinking that is required do wade through theoretical articles relevant to life writing, but I'm also energized by this one...

Scott, J. W. (1991). The Evidence of Experience. Critical Inquiry, 17(4), 773-797.

Documenting the experience of others in this way has been at once a highly successful and limiting strategy for historians of difference. It has been successful because it remains so comfortably within the disciplinary framework of history, working according to rules that permit calling oldnarratives into question when new evidence is discovered. The status of evidence is, of course, ambiguous for historians. On the one hand, they acknowledge that "evidence only counts as evidence and is only recognized as such in relation to a potential narrative, so that the narrative can be said to determine the evidence as much as the evidence determines the narrative."

This is very much 'food for thought' -- my mind will continue to munch on these ideas for awhile. Particularly the pitfalls Scott points out:

When the evidence offered is the evidence of "experience," the claim for referentiality is further buttressed-what could be truer, after all, than a subject's own account of what he or she has lived through? It is precisely this kind of appeal to experience as uncontestable evidence and as an originary point of explanation-as a foundation on which analysis is based-that weakens the critical thrust of histories of difference. By remaining within the epistemological frame of orthodox history, these studies lose the possibility of examining those assumptions and practices that excluded considerations of difference in the first place. They take as self-evident the identities of those whose experience is being documented and thus naturalize their difference. They locate resistance outside its discursive construction and reify agency as an inherent attribute of individuals, thus decontextualizing it. When experience is taken as the origin of knowledge, the vision of the individual subject (the person who had the experience or the historian who recounts it) becomes the bedrock of evidence on which explanation is built. Questions about the constructed nature of experience, about how subjects are constituted as different in the first place, about how one's vision is structured-about language (or discourse) and history-are left aside. The evidence of experience then becomes evidence for the fact of difference, rather than a way of exploring how difference is established, how it operates, how and in what ways it constitutes subjects who see and act in the world.

It is not individuals who have experience, but subjects who are constituted through experience.

Raymond Williams assumes that we are all individuals. R. G. Collingwood assumes we can be objective analysts of our experience. E. P. Thompson said class was a product of experience, but never explained experience directly. Feminists demand attention to their experience, but forget to explain what "their" means. Toews is worst of all, since experience is for him a universal, always used but never defined.
Talking about experience in these ways leads us to take the existence of individuals for granted (experience is something people have) rather than to ask how conceptions of selves (of subjects and their identities) are produced.

The concepts of experience described by Williams preclude inquiry into processes of subject-construction; and they avoid examining the relationships between discourse, cognition, and reality, the relevance of the position or situatedness of subjects to the knowledge they produce, and the effects of difference on knowledge.

The question of where the historian is situated-who he is, how he is defined in relation to others, what the political effects of his history may be-never enters the discussion.
Thompson's brilliant history of the English working class, which set out to historicize the category of class, ends up
essentializing it.
The kind of argument for a women's history (and for a feminist politics) that Riley criticizes closes down inquiry into the ways in which female subjectivity is produced, the ways in which agency is made possible, the ways in which race and sexuality intersect with gender, the ways in which politics
organize and interpret experience-in sum, the ways in which identity is a contested terrain, the site of multiple and conflicting claims. In Riley's words, "it masks the likelihood that ... [experiences] have accrued to women not by virtue of their womanhood alone, but as traces of domination, whether natural or political." I would add that it masks the necessarily discursive character of these experiences as well.
A refusal of essentialism seems particularly important once again these days within the field of history, as disciplinary pressure builds to defend the unitary subject in the name of his or her "experience."
It ought to be possible for historians (as for the teachers of literature
Spivak so dazzlingly exemplifies) to "make visible the assignment of subject-positions," not in the sense of capturing the reality of the objects seen, but of trying to understand the operations of the complex and changing discursive processes by which identities are ascribed, resisted, or embraced, and which processes themselves are unremarked and indeed achieve their effect because they are not noticed.
The question then becomes how to analyze
language, and here historians often (though not always and not necessarily) confront the limits of a discipline that has typically constructed itself in opposition to literature.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From Yuan to Ming

Armenian Bishop, 1287: check out his dragon-print dress

Jonathan Spence, Our Guide

Ghenghis Khan: The Conquering Bad-ass

Khubilai Khan: A Portrait of Sinicization

Zhu Yuanzhang, aka Ming Taizu, the Hongwu Emperor


Form Letter from Dunhuang


Thanks to my friend Stacey Burns for pointing this out.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Learning about Language Learning

What is best way to teach Chinese?

Contained here are a few texts glimpsed while I edit a Chinese student's masters thesis in language education:

One reference is to:

Harrison, I. (1996). Look who's talking now: Listening to voices in curriculum renewal. In K.M. Bailey & D. Nunan (Eds.), Voices from the language classrooms (pp. 283-303). New York: Cambridge University Press

points to other essays of interest from that volume:

Some volumes of what has been "an emerging field" since 1996:


Terms and topics

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