In the past few months, I have been translating a large number of poems from the Late Táng dynasty for my doctoral dissertation on poet-monks of ninth- and tenth-century China. Not everything I’m translating, I fear, will make it into the final work. A good monograph should have limits, and some things are better left on the cutting room floor.
In particular, I frequently come across interesting little bits of information when researching an allusion or puzzling phrase. To cover these factoids in any detail in my published work would be distracting and probably annoying. But here, perhaps not.
That’s why I’m starting a new series of blog posts called Sidestreets. These are the extraneous historical and cultural details that I come across on a daily basis but contribute nothing to the arguments I develop in my research. They are the shiny little nuggets of ordinary rock that are sifted out when you pan for gold. They are all the roads not taken because they probably lead to dead ends.
So here, on this blog, I’ve decided to peek around the corners of these sidestreets. My hope is that even if they lead nowhere, the images they leave behind will help you experience the world as a stranger, more complicated place than you had thought.
My first post is on how making animal figurines out of a fire’s ashes became a symbol of wastefulness in medieval China.