Sinology can be defined as the philological study of classical Chinese texts, and therefore the theory and history of philology is of the utmost importance to the budding Sinologist. A few particularly good reads in this regard are Eric Auerbach’s “Philology and Weltliteratur,” which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, and Michael Holquist’s “The Place of Philology in an Age of World Literature” (in Neohelicon 38.2). Just recently, I came across Werner Hamacher’s “95 Theses on Philology” (in Diacritics 39.1), a thought-provoking manifesto on the topic. I offer here one noteworthy sequence from these theses:
Philology is nekyia, descent to the dead, ad plures ire. It joins the largest, strangest, always growing collective and gives something of the life of its own language to the collective to bring those who are underground to speech. It dies – philology dies, every philologist dies – in order to permit some of those many an afterlife, for a while, through its language. Without philology, which socializes with the dead, the living would become asocial. But the society of philology is the society of those who belong to no society; its life is lived together with death, its language an approaching silence.
Philology digs – digs out – the world.
The historical “process” is sedimentation, depositing in layers without ground. Languages do not die, they sink.
Orpheus is a philologist when he sings.
–Translated from the German by Catharine Diehl