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- “How Poetry Became Meditation in Late-Ninth-Century China.” Asia Major, Third Series, 32.2 (2019): 113–151.
Abstract: In late-ninth-century China, poetry and meditation became equated — not just metaphorically, but as two equally valid means of achieving stillness and insight. This article discusses how several strands in literary and Buddhist discourses fed into an assertion about such a unity by the poet-monk Qiji 齊己 (864–937?). One strand was the aesthetic of kuyin 苦吟 (“bitter intoning”), which involved intense devotion to poetry to the point of suffering. At stake too was the poet as “fashioner” — one who helps make and shape a microcosm that mirrors the impersonal natural forces of the macrocosm. Jia Dao 賈島 (779–843) was crucial in popularizing this sense of kuyin. Concurrently, an older layer of the literary-theoretical tradition, which saw the poet’s spirit as roaming the cosmos, was also given new life in late Tang and mixed with kuyin and Buddhist meditation. This led to the assertion that poetry and meditation — were two gates to the same goal, with Qiji and others turning poetry writing into the pursuit of enlightenment.
- Review of The Organization of Distance: Poetry, Translation, Chineseness, by Lucas Klein. Journal of Translation Studies 3.2 (2019): 115–21.
- “Righting, Riting, and Rewriting the Book of Odes (Shijing): On ‘Filling out the Missing Odes’ by Shu Xi.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, and Reviews 40 (2018): 5–32.
Abstract: A series of derivative verses from the late-third century has pride of place in one of the foundational collections of Chinese poetry. These verses, “Filling out the Missing Odes” by Shu Xi, can be found at the beginning of the lyric-poetry (shi 詩) section of the Wenxuan. This essay seeks to understand why such blatantly imitative pieces may have been held in such high regard. It examines how Shu Xi’s poems function in relation to the Book of Odes, especially their use of quotation, allusion, and other intertextual strategies. Rather than imitate, borrow, or forge, the “Missing Odes” seek to bring the idealized world of the Odes into reality by reconstructing canonical rites with cosmic implications. In so doing, they represent one person’s attempt to stabilize the chaotic political center of the Western Jin in the last decade of the third century. The “Missing Odes” reveal that writing, rewriting, ritualizing, and anthologizing are at the heart of early medieval Chinese ideas of cultural legitimation.
- “Networks of Exchange Poetry in Late Medieval China: Notes toward a Dynamic History of Tang Literature.” Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture 5.2 (2018): 322–359.
Abstract: This article combines qualitative and quantitative methods to rethink the literary history of late medieval China (830–960 CE). It begins with an overview of exchange poetry in the Tang dynasty and its role in the construction of the poetic subject, namely, the poetic subject’s distributed textual body. A total of 10,869 poems exchanged between 2,413 individuals are cataloged to seek the structure of the collectively imagined literary relations of the time. This catalog is subjected to social-network analysis to reveal patterns and peculiarities in the extant corpus of late medieval poetry, which in turn prompt close readings of the sources. These readings lead to four conclusions about the history of late medieval poetry: (a) Buddhist monks were hubs of literary activity, (b) the poet Jia Dao became an increasingly important site of connection over time, (c) the concept of “poetic schools” is not a useful lens through which to view the Late Tang, and (d) poets at the center of the network are increasingly characterized by their mobility. This combination of network analysis and close reading highlights the dynamic nature of Chinese literary history, providing insight into the ever-shifting conjunctures of forms, genres, expectations, and relations in the late medieval literary world.
- First author of “Introduction” (Special issue: Digital Methods and Traditional Chinese Literary Studies). Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture 5.2 (2018): 179–184. With Jeffrey Tharsen and Jing Chen.
- Second author of “Exploring Chinese Poetry with Digital Assistance: Examples from Linguistic, Literary, and Historical Viewpoints.” Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture 5.2 (2018): 276–321. With Chao-lin Liu and Jeffrey Tharsen.
Abstract: Digital tools provide instrumental services to the study of Chinese poetry in an era of big, open data. The authors employed nine representative collections of Chinese poetry, covering the years 1046 BCE to 1644 CE, in their demonstrations. They demonstrate sophisticated software that allows researchers to extract source material that meets multiple search criteria, which may consider words, poets, collections, and time of authoring, paving the way for new explorations of Chinese poetry from linguistic, literary, artistic, and historical viewpoints. Analytic tools help researchers uncover information concealed in poetic works that are related to aesthetic expressions, personal styles, social networks, societal influences, and temporal changes in Chinese poetry. The increasing accessibility of digitized texts, along with sophisticated digital tools, such as the ones these authors developed and demonstrate here, can thereby enhance the efficiency and effectiveness for exploring and studying classical Chinese poetry.
- “Geographic Distribution and Change in Tang Poetry: Data Analysis from the ‘Chronological Map of Tang-Song Literature'” by Wang Zhaopeng and Qiao Junjun, translated by Thomas J. Mazanec. Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture 5.2 (2018): 360–374.
Abstract: This article uses data to analyze the geographic distribution and transformation of the poetic world in the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). There are two ways we can examine spatial distribution and movement in Tang poetry. The first is a static examination of poets’ hometowns (jiguan 籍貫). This method looks at the distribution of poets during a specific period to understand where greater or lesser numbers of poets were born, which places could be considered the center of Tang poetry, and what kinds of geographical changes occurred over time in the Tang literary world. The second is a dynamic examination of poets’ activities. When we compare various Tang poets, what differences and changes can we find in the places they lived and traveled? Are the poets’ spatial distribution patterns even, or do they favor certain regions? Where were the centers of poetic activity in this period? Were they the same as the political center (the two capitals), or were they located farther out in the provinces? Were they in culturally or politically developed areas or in more remote, less developed ones? In which areas was poetic activity most frequent and intense? This article attempts to answer these questions with data.
- Review of On Cold Mountain: A Buddhist Reading of the Hanshan Poems, by Paul Rouzer. Journal of the American Oriental Society 138.3 (2018): 679–682.
- “From Poetic Revolution to the Southern Society: The Birth of Classicist Poetry in Modern China” by Sun Zhimei, translated by Thomas J Mazanec. Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 12.2 (2018): 299–323.
Abstract: This paper examines the birth of classicist poetry by paying attention to the Southern Society’s (Nanshe) diachronic succession of the late Qing Poetic Revolution. It provides a careful analysis on the novelty of Huang Zunxian’s poetry and shows how the Southern Society transformed Huang’s Europeanized innovation into something that was rooted in both traditional scholarship and modern political discourse. I argue that the poetry of the Southern Society as being more formally conservative than Huang’s; however, spiritually, it represents a kind of progress as it styled itself as the “poetry of the cotton-clothed” (buyi zhi shi)—the “cotton-clothed” stands for the scholars not serving in court. In this regard, its poetry could be seen as modern in spirit. It selectively integrated the traditional and the Western, for pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
- “Lyricism, the Veneration of Feeling, and Narrative Techniques in the Poetry Talks of the Southern Society” by Lin Hsiang-ling, translated by Thomas J Mazanec. Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 12.2 (2018): 324–350.
Abstract: This paper examines the voluminous “poetry talks” (shihua) written by Southern Society (Nanshe) members and focuses on two tendencies in these discourses: The general cult of sentimentality and the narrative strategy on women’s poetry. These poetic discourses succeeded the language of traditional literary criticism, but also exhibited ideals of the new epoch. As a rebellion to the Qing imperial standard on measured and learned poetry, Southern Society poets took instead as their role models eccentric and iconoclastic poets who “venerated feelings.” The cult of sentimentality continued the trend of individual liberation from the late Ming and further showed a collective discourse that promoted a new kind of revolutionary subjectivity. These authors were also fond of collecting sentimental stories about female poets. More than being traditional “talented women,” these poets exhibited a diversity of female roles in an era of liberation.
- “The Medieval Chinese Gāthā and Its Relationship to Poetry.” T’oung Pao 103.1–3 (2017): 94–154.
Abstract: This paper investigates the shifting definitions of the term gāthā (Ch. ji) over an 800-year period, from the earliest sūtratranslations into Chinese until the mid-tenth century. Although the term originally referred to the verse sections of scriptures, gāthās soon began to circulate separately, used in ritual, contemplative, and pedagogical practices. By the late sixth century, it began to mean something like “Buddhist verse.” Over the course of the Tang, gāthās came to take on the formal features of poetry, eventually becoming all but indistinguishable from elite verse. However, the word gāthā was always seen as something inferior to real poetry, and, by the late Tang, we find poet-monks belittling other monks’ didactic verses so as to distinguish their own work and avoid the taint of the word gāthā.
Résumé: Cet article explore l’évolution du sens du terme gāthā (ch. ji) sur une période s’étendant sur plus de huit cent ans, depuis les premières traductions des sūtra en chinois jusqu’au milieu du dixième siècle. Bien que ce terme désignât à l’origine les parties rimées des textes sacrés bouddhiques, les gāthās très tôt commencèrent à circuler indépendamment et à être employées dans les pratiques rituelles, contemplatives et pédagogiques. Vers la fin du sixième siècle, il devint synonyme de « poésie bouddhique ». Au cours de la dynastie des Tang, les gāthās adoptèrent les règles formelles de la poésie, si bien qu’ils devinrent quasiment identiques aux autres formes d’expression poétique des élites. Le mot gāthā cependant continua à évoquer un style inférieur à celui de la « vraie » poésie, et à la fin des Tang des moines-poètes moquèrent les vers didactiques composés par d’autres moines dans le but de distinguer leur propres compositions et de se démarquer des connotations peu flatteuses du terme gāthā.
- Review of Spells, Images, and Maṇḍalas: Tracing the Evolution of Esoteric Buddhist Rituals, by Koichi Shinohara. Pacific World 18 (2016): 209–218.
- “The Invention of Chinese Buddhist Poetry: Poet-Monks in Late Medieval China.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2017.
Abstract: This dissertation presents an alternative history of late medieval literature, one which traces the development of Chinese Buddhist poetry into a fully autonomous tradition. It does so through a careful study of the works of poet-monks in the late medieval period (760–960), especially Guànxiū (832–913) and Qíjǐ (864–937?). Weaving together the frayed threads of the literary traditions they inherited, these poet-monks established a tradition of elite Buddhist poetry in classical Chinese that continued in East Asia until the twentieth century. This dissertation also breaks new methodological ground by using digital tools to analyze and display information culled from medieval sources, and by using poetry composition manuals to understand medieval Chinese poetry on its own terms.
The introduction systematically analyzes the meanings of the concept of “religious literature” and situates this study of poet-monks therein. Part I, comprised of chapters 2, 3, and 4, presents a social history of poet-monks first by examining the invention of the term “poet-monk” in the late eighth century and its development until the tenth, then by mapping literary relations in the late medieval period using social network analysis. It demonstrates the existence and importance of poet-monks to the literary culture of this time. Part II, comprised of chapters 5 and 6, turns to the monks’ poetics at their most extreme: first the wild excess of repetition in song, madness, and incantation; then the austere devotion of “bitter intoning” (kǔyín) and the identification of poetry with meditation. Both extremes are the fruit of the poet-monks’ deliberate mixing of literary and religious practices. The conclusion brings the various threads together to show how the poet-monks identified their religious and literary practices, hints at why their work had been neglected in both Buddhist and classical literary circles, and reflects on the implications of this dissertation for the study of religious poetry.
Thus, this dissertation provides one way of answering the question of how to define religious poetry and, in the process, sheds light on an overlooked corner of Chinese literary history, reconstructing an entire subtradition to demonstrate their fusion of religious and literary practices.
- “Guanxiu’s ‘Mountain-Dwelling Poems’: A Translation.” Tang Studies 34.1 (2016): 99–124.
Abstract: This is a translation of one of the most influential poetic series of the late-ninth century, the twenty-four “Mountain-Dwelling Poems” written by the Buddhist monk Guanxiu (832–913). Focusing on the speaker’s use of imagery and allusion, the translations are accompanied by annotations which clarify obscure or difficult passages. An introduction places these poems in their historical context and highlights some ways in which they build syntheses out of perceived oppositions (original and revision; Buddhism, Daoism, and classical reclusion; solitude and community; readers’ various perspectives; poem and series). An afterword briefly sketches the method and circumstances of the translation.
- “Jiǎ Dǎo’s Rhythm, or, How to Translate the Tones of Classical Chinese.” Journal of Oriental Studies 49.1 (2016): 27–48.
Abstract: Since the early twentieth century, translators and critics of classical Chinese poetry have tended to focus on imagery and suggestion, balking at rhythm. It is commonly assumed that modern English and classical Chinese are too different, phonemically, for any of the aural qualities of one to translate into the other. My essay aims to overcome these differences through a series of experimental translations of poems by Jiǎ Dǎo 賈島 (779–843). I begin with a discussion of linguist/translator Henri Meschonnic’s definition of rhythm as “the organization of movement in speech,” a concept which includes a poem’s performance and audience, its effect on its community and language at particular points in time. For a master craftsman of tonal patterning and parallelism like Jiǎ Dǎo, this means it is necessary to establish a method for translating medieval Chinese tonal prosody. Drawing on the theory that the medieval Chinese tonal binary of “level” 平 and “deflected” 仄 tones emerged out of the Sanskrit syllabic binary of light (laghu) and heavy (guru) syllables, I translate each level tone into a stressed long vowel and each deflected tone into a stressed short vowel in English. This creates a real yet subtle shift in the rhythm of the translation, carrying over some of Jiǎ Dǎo’s force on language in time. Thus, in translating Jiǎ Dǎo’s rhythm, I aim to translate his illocutionary power: not just what his poems say, but what they do.