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Manifest in Words, Written on Paper

Manifest in Words, Written on Paper: Producing and Circulating Poetry in Tang Dynasty China

CHRISTOPHER M. B. NUGENT
Volume: 70
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1dnn975
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  • Book Info
    Manifest in Words, Written on Paper
    Book Description:

    This study aims to engage the textual realities of medieval literature by shedding light on the material lives of poems during the Tang, from their initial oral or written instantiation through their often lengthy and twisted paths of circulation. Tang poems exist today in stable written forms assumed to reflect their creators’ original intent. Yet Tang poetic culture was based on hand-copied manuscripts and oral performance. We have almost no access to this poetry as it was experienced by contemporaries. This is no trivial matter, the author argues. If we do not understand how Tang people composed, experienced, and transmitted this poetry, we miss something fundamental about the roles of memory and copying in the circulation of poetry as well as readers’ dynamic participation in the creation of texts. We learn something different about poems when we examine them, not as literary works transcending any particular physical form, but as objects with distinct physical attributes, visual and sonic. The attitudes of the Tang audience toward the stability of texts matter as well. Understanding Tang poetry requires acknowledging that Tang literary culture accepted the conscious revision of these works by authors, readers, and transmitters. 2012 Joseph Levenson Book Prize, Pre-1900 Category, China and Inner Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies

    eISBN: 978-1-68417-054-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. IX-X)
  3. Figures (pp. XI-XII)
  4. Abbreviations (pp. XIII-XVI)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-26)

    Scholars of Tang dynasty 唐 (618–907)shi詩 poetry are spoiled. Thanks to China’s early invention of paper and its widespread use by the Tang period, devoted Song dynasty 宋 (960–1279) bibliophiles with a great fondness for Tang poetry, and an early and robust print culture, we enjoy access to received sources whose number and variety are surely the envy of scholars working on similar periods in other cultures. Yet the poetic culture of the Tang period itself was based not on printed editions carefully compiled and collated by scholars, published and spread through governmental and commercial concerns,...

  6. ONE Textual Variation in Poetic Manuscripts from Dunhuang (pp. 27-71)

    Chronological, technical, and cultural differences make it impossible for us to truly experience a Tang poem as its original audience would have. There are, however, ways we can approach texts that allow us to reconstruct certain aspects of those earlier readers’ experiences. With its numerous manuscript versions surviving in the Dunhuang caves from during or just after the Tang, Wei Zhuang’s “Qinfu yin” provides a unique opportunity to engage a Tang poem in something like its original states of existence, with all the disorder and irregularity they entail.¹ When we consider these manuscripts not merely as flawed embodiments of an...

  7. TWO The Roles of Textual Memory and Memorization in Medieval Literary Culture (pp. 72-125)

    The Dunhuang manuscripts are concrete examples of how people in the Tang transmitted and stored texts through the technology of writing—in the simplest terms, the manipulation of material objects to preserve language. Human memory, trained and honed through a variety of methods, was also a vital means of preserving language in the Tang. In its more developed forms, memory is no less a technology than is writing.¹ For non-literate cultures, it is the only way to store linguistic data. Though the development of writing changes the role of memory in a society, it does not eclipse it. As Mary...

  8. THREE The Roles of Orality in Tang Poetic Culture (pp. 126-176)

    TheBook of Documents(書經 or 尚書) long ago promised that “song makes language last” 歌永言. If there is a certain irony in a work so titled serving as a starting point for a discussion of the oral aspects of Tang poetry, it is one that runs through any discussion of the seemingly oxymoronic topic of “oral literature.”¹ Song does indeed make language more durable. Patterning—whether in the form of rhyme schemes, tonal alternations, or parallelism—aids memory, composition, and transmission. At the same time, the oral aspects of Tang poetry were the first to be lost; documents, not...

  9. FOUR Written Composition and Circulation (pp. 177-235)

    As important as oral composition and transmission were, it is ultimately because a significant amount of Tang poetry was written down that it continues to exist today. Every Tang poem that has survived to the present was recorded in writing at some point, in almost all cases during the Tang itself. If the oral components of Tang poetic culture were marked by ephemerality, the written aspects fostered preservation and historical continuity. One did not preclude the other; rather the oral and written cultures of Tang poetry existed simultaneously and in general harmony, both playing off of and supporting each other....

  10. FIVE Individual Literary Collections (pp. 236-284)

    Literary collections consisting of the works of a single author, generically known asbieji別集,wenji文集, or in the case of collections containing only poetry,shiji詩集, have played a number of crucial roles in the circulation and transmission of poetry during the Tang and were arguably one of the most important routes by which Tang poetry was transmitted to later dynasties. Poets themselves were acutely aware of the importance of compiling a collection to ensure the preservation of their works and reputation beyond their death, and such collections became near ubiquitous in the Tang.¹ As a basis for...

  11. Conclusion (pp. 285-294)

    Tang poetry has survived. Over a thousand years after these poems first came into existence, whether as voices in the air or as ink on paper, millions of people continue to read them, recite them, imitate them, and ponder their meanings. Because Tang poetry has survived and continues to impact the cultural and literary values of so many people, it can be easy to forget where it came from. Before there was something called “Tang poetry,” there were people in the Tang composing, reproducing, and enjoying these works, many of which have come down to us today in some form...

  12. Appendix
    • Appendix: Types of Variants Found in the “Qinfu yin” Manuscripts (pp. 297-310)
  13. Reference Matter
  14. Back Matter (pp. 342-344)