China Humanities (Mahindra/Fairbank): Becoming a Poet in Early Medieval China: The Possibilities of Intertextuality


Monday, December 14, 2015, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


CGIS Knafel 262, 1737 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA

Speaker: Wendy Swartz, Rutgers University

Intertextuality lies at the heart of reading and writing practices in early medieval China. Reading and writing well meant demonstrating a command of the textual tradition and cultural codes, and the ability to appropriate them in a range of situations. Intertextuality thus constituted a condition of writing as well as a mode of reading. In particular, from the third to the fifth century, the Chinese literati drew extensively from a set of philosophical classics, namely the Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Yijing (later referred to collectively as the Three Mysterious Texts 三玄), and their respective commentaries, to express their positions in conversation or in writing on major issues ranging from politics to nature to human behavior.

A meaningful study of intertextuality must involve examining how a text functions as part of a network of textual relations, and is thus not reducible to influence studies, or a mere tracing of sources. It has special significance and ramifications for early medieval Chinese literary history in light of the fluid boundaries of textual traditions and the dynamic interactions among diverse, expanding repertoires of literary and cultural meanings. It is within this context of a growing body of literary sources and an interconnectedness of not only different intellectual repertoires (e.g. Classicist, Lao-Zhuang, and Buddhist) but also different branches of learning (e.g. philosophy, poetry) that my talk will examine how early medieval writers made use of diverse, heterogeneous sources suited to their needs.