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Knowing Characters and Knowing Authors: “Poetic Knowledge” in Ancient Greece and Early China

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Zhang, Wei. “Knowing Characters and Knowing Authors: ‘Poetic Knowledge’ in Ancient Greece and Early China.” CHS Research Bulletin 1, no. 2 (2013). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:ZhangW.Knowing_Characters_and_Knowing_Authors.2013

§1  Does poetry impart a special knowledge to its audience, a form of knowledge with its own intrinsic values and not to be measured by any external criteria? Is there any part of reality to which access can be gained only in poetry? Questions  formulated as such are typically Greek ones that have had reverberations throughout the history of Western thought on poetry. To come to grips with these questions it seems to me necessary to explore the origins of the notion of “poetic knowledge” in early Greek poetics. Why did Greek philosophy construct such a notion as “poetic knowledge” in the first place? In what cultural process and historical context was the notion constructed? While examining Greek origins, it is advisable to expand our horizon into other traditions, for example early Chinese poetics, to inquire whether there was a comparable notion of poetry as a form of knowledge. It is believed that when we stand in another culture in an alternative setting, we may better reflect on what is self-evident in one’s own culture. We seek therefore to contextualize the earliest articulation of explicit poetics in these two cultures and to compare how each tradition conceptualized poetry in its relation to philosophy by measuring out a “poetic knowledge”.

§2  One important reason for doing so is the fact that Greek and Chinese explicit poetics are commonly held to be opposites at their origins. If we define explicit poetics in the two traditions as a body of coherent tenets, manifestoes or treatises on the origin, nature and effects of poetry, the earliest examples in Greek culture are Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics and in Chinese culture the Major Preface to Mao’s recension and exegesis of the Classic of Songs. Based on the evidence from these canonical expositions of explicit poetics in each culture, the prevailing theory proposed by the comparative study of Greek and Chinese poetics states that at their origins Chinese poetics is affective-expressive in character while Greek poetics is mimetic. Recently, however, scholars have begun to realize that if we move beyond philosophical formulation of explicit poetics and take into consideration the rich store of implicit poetics, including the immanent poetics in poetry, implicit poetics in biographical anecdotes of poets and descriptions of poetic performances and so on, the picture becomes more blurred and more complicated. The prevailing theory needs to be modified, since the differences are in degree and in emphasis, rather than in kind, with no common ground. Convergences and divergences both exist in Chinese and Greek poetics, and one may easily discern the affective-expressive dimension of Greek poetry and the mimetic dimension of Chinese poetry.[1]

§3  Granted that the implicit poetics in the poetic tradition of each culture may include what is considered typical of the other tradition, it nevertheless remains to ask why the explicit poetics of each culture favored one rather than the other model? This essay tackles the problem by retracing the origins of each culture’s explicit poetics in its larger cultural context to sketch a broad outline of their distinct trajectories. As we will see from a comparative perspective, explicit poetics in both cultures emerged as the outcome of philosophical confrontation with poetry and its potentially intractable experience in rational attempts to subsume it under a philosophical model of knowledge. In ancient Greece, philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle deployed a number of modes to confront and compete with the authority of the poet as invested in Homer, while in ancient China Confucius and the Ruists were concerned with integrating the Songs into their system of the Six Arts and the education of the Ruist sage. Therefore, in order to understand the historical forces and cultural mechanics that drove Greek and Chinese poetics to different constructions of “poetic knowledge”, explicit poetics as the end-products must be studied in the context of the process that gave rise to them, as well as in the context of their precondition, that is, the nature of the poetic experience and the intellectual position assigned to it in each culture.

Knowing Characters

§4  At the outset of our comparative study, we do not adopt a rigid definition of “knowledge” currently used in modern philosophical discussion and map it onto the two ancient poetic traditions. Instead, we allow the Greek idea of epistēmē, eidenai, etc and the Chinese idea of 知(“to know, knowledge”) to be understood in their own conceptual framework and cultural context. On the Greek side, it is well known that early poets used poetry as a primary means of transmitting a set of transcendent knowledge and truth, inaccessible to other mortals, but accessible to the poets through the temporary state of divine possession. To represent this originary experience of poetry as inspiration Greek poets resorted in a variety of ways to the divine patronage of the Muses, and configured in a variety of ways their relations with these goddesses. Inspired by the Muses, the poet once claimed to sing of “things that are, things that will be and things that were” through the knowledge granted by Mnemosyne.[2] This is a divinatory omniscience, a knowledge that gives him access to “the essence of being”.[3] This status of the poet as “master of truth” and the nature of their “divine knowledge” turned out to be a vital philosophical problem in the competitive context of Greek culture, when other forms of knowledge evolved one after another from poetry. Philosophy, especially that of Plato and Aristotle, constructed an explicit poetics by exploring the various dimensions of mimesis in its competitive claim for knowledge and truth. In this context, the process of configuring the implicit poetics of the poets into the explicit poetics of the philosophers is not merely an attempt to account for a given tradition of poetic compositions, but rather a special way to compete with them and to eventually replace their authority.

§5  A variety of modes of confrontation with poetry emerged in this competitive context, competing not only with the poets’ implicit poetics but also with each other. Two of the most important earlier strands converged in the first elaborate formulation of explicit poetics in Plato’s Republic, which we may refer to as the “ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy”. Gathering together the threads of criticism that can be found in Presocratic philosophers such as Xenophanes and Heraclitus, Socrates mounts two famous critiques at poetry:  the one in Books Two and Three aims to purify epic and tragedy by censuring the content so that they may be used for the ideal city, while the one in Book Ten attacks poetry as such, intending to exile the poets from the ideal city altogether. It is significant that in both critiques the poet’s inspiration is tacitly left out of discussion, since in other dialogues such as the Ion and the Apology Socrates has shown that inspiration generates a mental state in the poet that has nothing to do with knowledge. Instead, Socrates works out in these books a mimetic model of poetry for the first time in order to wedge a split between poetic and divine knowledge, the two types of knowledge so closely intertwined as to be virtually identical in much of the implicit poetics of early Greek poetry. To overturn poetry’s traditional claim to a divine knowledge, Socrates redefines mimesis by severing the poet from the divine world of Being. While in Books Two and Three mimesis is still close to its pre-Platonic strands of meaning, including mimicry, dramatic enactment, or impersonation and imitation of behavior, in Book Ten, based on the metaphysical theory of the Forms developed in the central Books, Socrates transforms its meaning into the imitation of what is real.[4] The poet as the imitator of an imitation turns out to be at third remove from truth and Being, and thus has no direct access to divine knowledge, which now falls into the purview of the philosopher. In a sense, Socrates the philosopher seems to have finished off “poetic knowledge” with one blow.

§6  However, Plato’s confrontation with poetry is more subtly played out on a different level, where the philosopher reveals himself to be the true “poet”. In the final critique in Book Ten, it will be remembered, Socrates issues a challenge to poetry to produce a self-defense. If it cannot come up with such a defense, the interlocutors will go on chanting (ᾀσόμεθα) the logos, i.e. the conversation that constitutes the Republic itself, like a counter-charm (ἐπᾴδοντες) against it (X. 608a). To counteract the effects of poetry, philosophy must constantly sing a song more enchanting than it. The prime example of such a song is, of course, the foundation of the kallipolis itself. Socrates calls the description of its constitution “a muthos in logos” (ἡ πολιτεία ἣν μυθολογοῦμεν λόγῳ, VI. 501e).[5] That the kallipolis is conceived as “a muthos in logos” is also testified by the allusion to it in the Timaeus (26c), where Critias speaks of “the citizens and city you (i.e. Socrates) described to us yesterday in mythical fashion (ὡς ἐν μύθῳ).” We may conclude that the kallipolis is founded in muthologia by the interlocutors as muthologoi.

§7  Now the philosophical telling of muthos requires the philosopher to out-perform the poet even in the use of mimesis. If the poet as a practitioner of mimesis is emphatically banished, mimesis as such is not renounced. Philosophical mimesis, defining itself in opposition to the poetic mimesis of the polis as practiced in the theater of Dionysus, is preserved on two levels. First, both the kallipolis and the philosopher-king are paradigms, images fashioned in heaven for the philosophic soul to “imitate and reenact”. Second, the Platonic dialogue itself is a dramatic mimesis of Socratic conversation, characterizing Socrates as the philosopher, along with his companions and opponents. Only by appropriating both mimesis and muthos can the philosopher succeed the poet in presenting the new kind of knowledge that is philosophy.

§8  Two modes of competing with the poet, therefore, coexist in “the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy.” On the one hand, Socrates explicitly criticizes poetry with philosophical arguments and banishes it from the ideal polis, but on the other hand, Plato covertly emulates with the poet by dramatic mimesis of philosophical dialogue and the writing of philosophical myth. Plato “the poet” employs precisely the mimetic model to gain access to knowledge philosophically. In this sense, Plato the writer constitutes a response on the authorial level to Socrates the critic embedded in the text. Against Socrates’ denial of “poetic knowledge”, Plato’s writing practice allows poetic mimesis to access knowledge if it is used philosophically.

§9  It is in the context of these two modes of deploying the mimetic model that we can begin to understand Aristotle’s construction of “poetic knowledge”. While for Socrates (and the pre-Socratic tradition represented by his criticism) poetry as mimesis has altogether no claim to knowledge, for Plato (and the pre-Socratic tradition represented by his emulation), poetic mimesis if used philosophically can give access to knowledge. In both modes of the “ancient quarrel” there are unresolved tensions between the philosopher and the poet. In Aristotle, the tension was finally released. By employing the model of mimesis to its full extent and moving the farthest away from the model of inspiration (still powerful in Plato’s Ion and Phaedrus), Aristotle was able to incorporate poetics into his overall system of philosophical knowledge, placing it firmly in the productive part of his tripartite division. Poetry, in terms of knowledge, had its proper place between philosophy and history.

§10  The Aristotelian notion is based most importantly on the celebrated passage in Chapter 9 of the Poetics. There Aristotle asserts that poetry is not about “events which have occurred, but of the kind of events which could occur, and are possible by the standards of probability or necessity” (1451a).[6] Compared with history, poetry is “more philosophical and more serious”, since it “speaks more of universals, history of particulars” (1451b). Add to it the requirement that on account of their fictional status mimetic works be evaluated not by external criteria, moral, political, and otherwise, but by its own, as Aristotle puts it in Chapter 25, “correct standards in poetry are not identical with those in politics (politikē) or in any other particular art” (1460b13-15), we have the doctrine of “poetic universals”. What defines these “poetic universals” is possible or imaginary actions represented in poetry. Thus, poetry as a fictional world of men in action provides knowledge of general categories and types, which we may call characters, used by its audience to understand the world and human life.

§11  In the introductory section of the Poetics Aristotle starts off to construct the “natural” origin and evolution of poetry as the framework of his mimetic model. It is designed to replace the poet’s conception of the divine origin of poetry as inspiration. As Aristotle explains, the mimetic genesis of poetry has two “natural” causes: the “natural” instinct to engage in mimetic activity, and the “natural” inclination to enjoy in mimetic objects. Both these causes are explained by a common factor, that is, the human nature to learn and to understand (to manthanein) which leads to knowledge.[7] Thus, both as producer and recipient of mimesis, man takes pleasure in cognition. Once born of its mimetic origin, poetry evolved to its “natural” telos by realizing its mimetic possibilities in different genres, reaching its highest form in Attic tragedy.

§12  It is very remarkable that in the Poetics, Aristotle restricts both the scope and the substance of poetry under investigation to allow the mimetic model its full interpretive power. Only epic and dramatic poetry are taken into consideration, while the non-dramatic genres, such as elegy, iambos and various types of lyric poetry are ignored. Within this restricted scope, poetry or rather dramatic poetry, is to represent its true subject-matter, namely, “people in action”, how they would necessarily or probably speak and act. With human action constituting the province of poetry, much is excluded from poetry’s sphere of knowledge. From the poet’s purview of divine knowledge that encompasses “things that are, things that will be and things that were” to Aristotle’s “human action”, the whole realm of the divine now vanishes from sight. Furthermore, the poet is restricted to be a mimētēs, speaking not in his own person, but through his characters. Yet at the same time, the mimetic model is transformed philosophically into the basis for a poetic knowledge otherwise not accessible:  the knowledge that we acquire from characters in the fictional world of dramatic mimesis.

Knowing Authors

§13  Since Aristotle leaves lyric poetry largely out of discussion, we can only surmise that he would take the lyric poet’s voice as a persona, a fictionalized “I”. It would therefore also give us knowledge of the fictionalized “I” as character. In this regard, it is telling that Aristotle asserts emphatically that the poet himself should speak as little as possible, but only through his characters. So in his construction of “poetic knowledge” the poet as author must give way to his work, to the characters. By contrast, in the end-product of explicit poetics in China it is precisely the author who comes to the foreground. “Poetic knowledge” is construed to be a process of knowing the author of a poem as a person. Let us now turn to the cultural context in which this type of “poetic knowledge” was prioritized.

§14  Early Chinese explicit poetics developed in the context of the Ruist work of transmitting the canons, especially the Songs. A group of intellectuals called Ru were dedicated to the study of the primordial body of learning, and they ascribed to Confucius the role of the cultural bearer who took over the primeval division of learning into Six Disciplines or Six Arts, of which the Songs were considered to form the basis. We see how Confucius is presented to explore the various dimensions of the Songs throughout the many layers of the Analects.[8] His overall object is to appropriate the Songs from their rhetorical and diplomatic uses predominant at the time (the so-called fushi practice exemplified in the Zuozhuan) to fit them into an all-embracing philosophical program of the Six Arts, which comprise the true Way. As a result of his canonical collection of the Three Hundred Songs (later known as the Classic of Songs), almost all other earlier poems were displaced, so in the time of the early Ruists to speak of poetry was tantamount to speaking of the Songs. The first basis for the study of Chinese explicit poetics is the fact that songs and their collection into a canon were indistinguishable. Poetry was understood paradigmatically, if not exclusively, in terms of the Classic of Songs.[9]

§15  The second basis is that although the songs were a heterogeneous body of poetry, the Ruists insisted on their uniform character, most crucially in what constituted the poetic experience. This experience is encapsulated in the Major Preface to Mao’s edition of the Songs, which, as we will see, can be considered the end-product of this tradition.[10] Purporting to set forth the commentator’s understanding of the purpose of the canon as a whole, it describes the process by which poetry is first produced and the function it performs:

“Airs” are “Influence”; it is “to teach.” By influence it stirs them; by teaching it transforms them. The poem is that to which what is intently on the mind goes. In the mind it is “being intent”; coming out in language, it is a poem. The affections are stirred within and take on form in words. If words alone are inadequate, we speak them out in sighs. If sighing is inadequate, we sing them. If singing them is inadequate, unconsciously our hands dance them and our feet tap them.[11]

§16  This passage has often been read as an elaboration of the earliest canonical statement of Chinese poetics, which we see in the Classic of Documents: “Poetry verbalizes intent, and song prolongs words”.[12] The statement that “poetry verbalizes intent” is generally considered to be the first programmatic and most authoritative principle of Chinese poetics.[13] It is an “etymological” definition, for originally both characters 詩 and 志 composed of the character 止, and when combined with the character for “heart” (心) it is 志, but when combined with the character for “verbalization” (言), it is 詩. Therefore, it is etymologically significant to say that 志 is the intention stored in mind and 詩 is the verbalization (言) of intention (志).[14] As Stephen Owen points out, the assumption under this canonical definition of Chinese poetry is the model of an internal-external correlation. What is internal, the intention on the mind of the poet, gets verbalized in a poem as its external manifestation. When the mind is fixed on something, it incites external manifestation of which poetry is a prime form.[15]

§17  Based on this earliest statement of Chinese poetics, the author of the Major Preface elaborates the etymological definition of 詩 into a psychology and anthropology of poetic production. The source of poetry resides in the human psyche in its spontaneous incitement of affections, which have to be resolved through expression and manifestation. This explains the “natural” origin of poetry. Poetry belongs to humanity in general, since its origin is situated in human nature. In this process of psychological and even physiological process of speaking, sighing, singing and dancing, what is at work is not any cognitive function, but a spontaneous process taking place “unconsciously” (不知). Poetry is the final outcome of the “unconscious” expression of anyone whose emotions are stirred. This explanation embodies the originary experience of poetry in Chinese tradition. “Poetry” is not restricted to a special class of divinely inspired men who have access to divine knowledge. It is not a poiēma, “a thing made”, a thing once created becoming detached from the poet’s will, but closely connected with the author’s person.

§18  There was ample scope in this originary experience of poetry to make it an expression of the poet’s unique personality through his individual disposition. A different kind of disposition could be ingrained in a different kind of personality. The truth of poetry could be the truthful record of the poet’s inner life and experiences, thus giving expression to exemplary personalities of different types. However, the Ruist tradition of canonization took the expression of the poet’s personality in the Songs to be paradigmatically normative, so the internal dimension of the zhi (intention) was subsumed under its external dimension as moral and social norms. Furthermore, since poetry has the power to recreate in its recipient this intention that defined the personal disposition of the author, it is important to relive the poetic experience in its recreation. In the canonizing process of the Songs, the question of how to articulate and express the intention as one’s essential personality into poetry was gradually taken to be paradigmatically resolved and perfectly embedded in the text. So how the outer manifestation (poem) may be used as indication of the inner state (intention) constitutes the central problem of “poetic knowledge” for the Ruist tradition. Here the primary concern is how to be stirred by the emotional efficacy of poetry (“興於詩”) and internalize it into one’s own intention.

§19  This concern is succinctly captured in Confucius’ saying: “one is to be incited by Songs, supported by Rituals, and perfected by Music.”[16] On the level of the individual, poetry is the incitement of emotions, which are to be regulated and harmonized by the performance of the Songs. On the social level, poetry as the product of appropriate emotions aroused in the performer can stimulate sympathetic emotions in the audience. Based on this “incitement” theory, Confucius turns poetry into a tool for knowing the emotions and moral states of others. Therefore, as he puts it: “the Songs can incite emotions, can make one observe, can keep company with others, and can express grievances.”[17] The second function of the Songs constructs the epistemological power of poetry. Poetry is particularly suited to serve as an indication of the author’s or performer’s inner state. By careful observation of the external manifestation which is poetry, the correlate inner condition can be known. “Poetic knowledge” can be achieved based on an indicative model that correlates the inner state and outer manifestation.[18]

§20  Following in his wake, Confucius’ disciples devised a variety of interpretive means to know the author or performer of a song. Mencius, for example, proposed that “in explaining the Songs, one must not permit the literary patterning to affect adversely the statement, and one must not permit the statement to affect adversely what was on the author’s mind. We use our understanding to trace it back to what was in the author’s mind—this is how to grasp it.”[19] But how are we to use our understanding to gain access to what is on the author’s mind without arbitrarily imposing meaning on the text? For Mencius, the meaning of the text must be understood in the context of the author’s person and age, so that we should proceed from knowing the age in which the author lives to know what kind of person the author is, and from knowing what kind of person the author is to know what the author’s mind is. In other words, poetry allows one to know not only the person of the author, but also his age; and conversely, knowledge of the person and age of the author provides a solid basis for interpreting the poetry. Therefore, the process of understanding poetry is more or less the reverse of the process of making poetry. One must mentally recreate the author’s intention by going back to the source of the poem, the intention of the author, and one must transform one’s own intention to “meet” that of the poem.

§21  If Mencius’s emphasis on knowing the motive and the circumstances of the author’s intention paved the way for biographical and moralizing reading, by the early Han period, different schools of interpreting the Classic of Songs emerged to pursue this type of “poetic knowledge” in a decisively historicizing direction. Xunzi, a rival Ruist to Mencius, had identified the authors of the songs as historical persons in historical circumstances, many of them in fact being early Confucian sages. His student Mao Heng and the latter’s son Mao Chang transmitted the received text (which has come to be known as the Mao Shi: Mao’s recension and exegesis of the Classic of Songs), and read the songs systematically as records of historical events. What stirs the affections (情) inside is understood to be the political and social conditions of an age, not any spontaneous outflow of personal feelings. A well-governed age, a chaotic age or a lost state all generate different affections in its peoples, and are made manifest in the different tones of the songs.

§22  In the Mao Shi, the Minor Prefaces link each poem to a historical moment, a certain individual in a certain situation.[20] They even supply the names and details of time and place to which the obscure metaphors, analogies and other figurative speech were believed to allude. To take an example, Guan Jü, the first poem, is set up as the paradigm to inaugurate a process of “influence”, a program of moral education implicit in the structure given by its legendary editor, Confucius. The first poem is thus interpreted to celebrate the virtue of the Queen Consort of King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty, and through the performance of this poem, “the relations between husband and wife are made correct.” Similarly, the other poems were also meant to give paradigmatic expression to human feelings and behavior, and those who learned and recited the Songs would naturally internalize correct values. In a whole range of human relations, husband and wife, parent and child, superior and inferior, etc., the regulatory power of poetry is at work. Thus, the songs are an instrument of education and civilization (詩教,教化), transformation of one’s personality through poetry in the education of the good Confucian.

§23  We see in the Mao Shi the convergence and the culmination of the moralization and historicization of the Three Hundred Songs. In this process of canonization, poetry (as exemplified in the collection of the Songs) was squarely confined to the domain of human knowledge, that is, knowledge of moral intention and its accompanying socio-political conditions. Poetry was understood to be a way of knowing persons, not persons as how they might act in the Aristotelian sense, but the moral quality of the authors composing the poetry. Most importantly, in this process of knowing authors, the audience’s personality can be transformed by an incitement of their affections (情) to reshape them into the paradigmatic intentions (志) embedded in the songs.

“Poetic Knowledge”

§24  Knowing characters or knowing authors? These are the outcomes of the two types of “poetic knowledge” crystallized in the end-products of explicit poetics in ancient Greece and early China, prompting us to put them into comparison. Aristotle’s Poetics deals almost exclusively with drama (epic being understood also in terms of drama) and leaves lyric largely out of its purview. As such, poetry constitutes a special form of knowledge to access the universals in the actions performed by the characters. The Major Preface, by contrast, focuses on the affective-effective nature of poetry in the Classic of Songs, impeding the mimetic potentialities of other genres of poetry in the same collection. The knowledge that can be accessed through poetry amounts to a special way to know the authors, their moral dispositions and historical circumstances.

§25  The reasons for their differences in emphasis are twofold. First, the notion of a “poetic knowledge” was formulated in ancient Greece in the specific context of philosophy’s competition with poetry for the authority of knowledge and truth, the result of which was the articulation of explicit poetics in Plato and Aristotle. Poetry was transformed from the knowledge of all things based on the model of inspiration to a special knowledge based on the model of mimesis under the tutelage of philosophy, so that its cognitive function could be philosophically analyzed. In Aristotle’s Poetics this process reached its final completion as the mimetic model totally replaces the poetic model of inspiration.

§26  By contrast, in the cultural process of formulating an explicit poetics in early China, poetry as exemplified by the Classic of Songs was early on firmly integrated into the Six Arts, and never posed any competitive challenge to its overall structure of knowledge. Poetry was not a primary means of transmitting knowledge otherwise inaccessible; rather, the main concern was how to regulate the effective power of poetry, and so historicizing and moralizing exegesis was invented in support of an explicit poetics to exploit a “poetic knowledge” of the authors. As we saw, the earliest Chinese literary thought conceived of poetry as an incitement to resolve the inner stirrings of the mind and to channel them into the verbalization of the intent. Therefore, in the Ruist tradition from Confucius to the Major Preface, an indicative model of “poetic knowledge” was constructed to direct at the inner state of the person who composed or performed poetry. This “knowledge” was appropriated in the canonizing process of the Songs to be measured more and more by the external criteria of moral and political propriety, not by any intrinsic qualities of the poetry.

§27  From this comparative perspective of the formulation of explicit poetics, how poetry was created and the intellectual status of poetic creation, was what essentially distinguished the two modes of “poetic knowledge” in Greece and China: whereas in China poetry has access to knowledge through a rationalizing process of turning incitement into an indicative model of correlation between the internal and the external, in Greece poetry does so through a rationalizing process of turning inspiration into a mimetic model of representing truth and being. It is this difference that essentially defines the “poetic knowledge” constructed at the origins of the explicit poetics in each culture.

§28  Sometimes mistaken as probing into the “essence” of all poetry, philosophical poetics was in fact a strategy to promote exemplarity. By measuring poetry with the philosophical standards of knowledge and truth, philosophy prioritized a certain type of poetry as exemplary and most fulfilling of its “essence”. When we see through the philosophical construction of “poetic knowledge” as substitution of a philosophical mode of knowing for the originary poetic experience in the different cultural process of each culture, before we claim to be the cultural descendents of either of these traditions, is it not illuminating to expand our horizon in such a comparative perspective to see what is truly at stake when a given tradition philosophized about poetry?

 


[1] To give two examples: Ming Dong Gu, “Is Mimetic Theory in Literature and Art Universal?” Poetics Today 26 (2005), 459-498; Alexander Beecroft, Authorship and Cultural Identity in Early Greece and China: Patterns of Literary Circulation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

[2] Cf. Marcel Detienne, The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece, tr. Janet Lloyd, New York: Zone Books, 1996.

[3] Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Thought among the Greeks, tr. Janet Lloyd with Jeff Fort, New York: Zone Books, 2006, 115-138.

[4] On the different meanings of mimesis, see Stephen Halliwell, The Aesthetics of Mimesis. Ancient Texts and Modern Problems. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, 37-71.

[5] The same verb muthologein is used to introduce the discussion of the education of the young guardians (ἐν μύθῳ μυθολογοῦντες, II 376d) and to tell the myth of autochthony to the citizens of the kallipolis (πρὸς αὐτοὺς μυθολογοῦντες, III 415a). Except for these examples, as has been shown by Luc Brisson (Plato the Mythmaker, tr. G. Naddaf, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998, 150) muthologein is always applied to the poets in the Republic. Indeed, his study on the semantics of muthos and its cognates in Plato argues that in all his works Plato systematically associates muthologos with poiētēs and muthologia with poiēsis.

[6] The English translation is that of Stephen Halliwell, ed. and tr., Poetics, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

[7] Cf. Aristotle, Poetics, 1448b.

[8] Cf. Steven Van Zoeren, Poetry and Personality. Reading, Exegesis, and Hermeneutics in Traditional China, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991, 18-51. The book as a whole is to be recommended as a close study of the long tradition of the exegesis of the Classic of Songs in China.

[9] In this context, I use “poem” and “song” interchangeably. I use “poetry” to indicate the genre of texts collected in the Classic of Songs.

[10] The dating and authorship of the Major Preface are both problematic. The most widely held view believes that it was compiled and put into its present form by a scholar named Wei Hong in the first century CE.

[11] “風。風也。教也。風以動之。教以化之。詩者。志之所之也。在心為志。發言為詩。情動於中而形於言。言之不足故嗟歎之。嗟歎之不足故永歌之。永歌之不足。不知手之舞之足之蹈之也。”The English translation of this passage is taken from Stephen Owen, Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992, 38-41.

[12] 《尚書•堯典》:“詩言志,歌永言。”This statement is allegedly made by the mythical king Shun to his music minister Kui.

[13] The exact date of this statement is still under debate, because the dating is intricately related to the complicated question of dating the composition of the Classic of Documents. However, the famous words of Zhu Ziqing that this statement consists the “groundbreaking program for all later Chinese literary theory” (see his systematic study of the statement, Shi yan zhi bian) is generally accepted.

[14] I follow here the reconstruction of 詩and 志 presented by the literary scholar Wen Yiduo (see his essay “Ge yu Shi”). He further points out that the character志has three meanings that are relevant here: first, memory (記憶), second, commemoration, records (記錄) and third, intent, aspiration, ambition (志向). Etymologically, 志signifies “stored in mind”, and what is stored in mind becomes memory, and when it is written down, we have records of memory.

[15] Stephen Owen, Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992, 26-29.

[16] 《論語•泰伯》:“興於詩,立於禮,成於樂。”

[17] 《論語•陽貨》:“詩,可以興,可以觀,可以群,可以怨。”

[18] Cf. Stephen Owen’s seminal discussion in Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992, 19-22.

[19] 《孟子•萬章上》:“故說詩者,不以文害辭,不以辭害志,以意逆志,是為得之。”The English translation of this passage is taken from Stephen Owen, Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992, 24.

[20] The programmatic Major Preface was integrated into the Minor Preface to the first poem. All the Minor Prefaces look back to the Major Preface and form an exegetical part with it.

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