northanger (northanger) wrote,
northanger
northanger

文心雕龍


Geodetic Midheaven for Beijing, CN: Cancer 26°23′30″

The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons


Two-way Mirrors: Cross-cultural Studies in Glocalization
Eugene Chen Eoyang

There is a vision of literature in the Wenxin diaolong that has not, in my opinion, been adequately elucidated in Western exegeses, a vision that is implicit in the repeatedly mistranslated title itself. The four words wen, xin, diao, long, clearly consist of a parallel pair, one relating to “literature” and xin 心, “heart-mind,” the other involving the “carving” and “dragons.” We might begin with the second parallel, the “carving of dragons,” because it is syntagmatically the less problematic. The allusion {71} is to the sculptor’s releasing an image of the dragon from inchoate stone; carving the dragon in syntagmatic English presupposes the dragon is what is carved, but in Chinese this is clearly illogical since the dragon, or potential versions of the dragon, exist in the stone and must be brought out by the sculptor, who carves the dragon only by chipping away what is not the dragon. (This will remind some of Michelangelo’s famous comment that he merely removed the portion of the marble that was not the David or the Pièta.) The image needs to be carefully understood because it will affect the way we interpret the first compound, wenxin. There is no question that wen 文 means in normal parlance: it refers to the written as opposed to spoken word, yan 言. Yet there is even there a possible source of confusion, because Chinese also contains the compound wenyan 文言, which might appear to be a contradiction in terms, something that is both written and spoken. One could gloss this term chronologically (i.e., that wenyan was initially the spoken word for the ancient literati), but it has become for moderns a mode of composition—not unlike the position that Latin has in the West. But there is another distinction within the word wen that is crucial to our purposes here, a distinction apposite to the difference between “literate” and “literary” in English. Wen may refer to elegant expression, not merely to the written word; it refers to “literature” in the sense of fine writing.55 This has led many scholars, including Vincent Yu-cheng Shih and James J.Y. Liu, to translate the wenxin in the Wenxin diaolong as “the literary mind.” This is certainly a convenient and idiomatic rendering, but it misses the major message of the title, which uses the word wen as a participle, parallel to “carving” (diao) as a participle. Here is where the English language proves inadequate, because there is no participial form of the word “literature.” “Literaturizing,” or “literarizing,” would be too awkward, and would even, in fact, be misleading, because it would suggest that the activity was one of ornamenting an object, making something fine or elegant. For the sake of the present discussion, I prefer to coin a bilingualism, wen-ing, and I will define this term as parallel to the “carving” in the title as a process of bringing out, of discovering or uncovering what is inside, of making manifest what may be beneath the surface, or making explicit what was implicit. This syntagm means that the word that follows, xin, is not the nominative, as in “the literary mind,” which would force the reading of wen as a genitive modifier; if we read wen as a participle, xin becomes the object of a participle {72} The sense of “wen-ing” the “heart-mind” in the same way as the dragon is carved, i.e., bringing out of its undifferentiated potentiality the vivid and concrete “dragon.”

This process could be easily read as merely expressing our inner thoughts, but that interpretation goes plausibly but crucially awry, because the current sense of expression implies a thought that exists inside that is brought out, emitted, to the outside; it presupposes something discrete that is transmitted from a source to a receptor. But the image of “carving the dragon” goes in precisely the opposite direction. Wen is the process of working on an object from the outside. The view of literature in the Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍 is not restricted to the written word, but extends to the artistic process, in any medium, of bringing out, by art or by craft, the meaning of the object that is “imprisoned” in mute inexpressive matter, much the way a “dragon” is freed from the block of stone, much as Michelangelo’s David is liberated from the surrounding marble.

The Wenxin diaolong is, therefore, not a romantic invocation to self-expression, nor does it emphasize the emotions expressed in a work of art. It is emphatically not Expressionism in the Western sense, and it does not involve a “literary mind.” Perhaps the best and most colloquial way to understand the notion of wen in the Wenxin diaolong in English is the expression “to work something out”—with its connotations of problem-solving, as well as of craftsmanship. Wenxin can therefore be understood as “working out what is in the heart through the medium of words.” The sense of wen is neither romantic nor expressionist.56

Rhetorical Invention in "Wen Xin Diao Long"
Re-figuring Liu Xie’s Carpet
Mrs. Spring Fragrance

AQ 2161 = respecting a text’s fundamental figurality should be seen as a prerequisite for accurate, nuanced and in-depth investigations = Gemini 27° A young gypsy youth comes springing out of the forest, regarding the spreading vista before him with deep interest.

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