Enchantment and Disenchantment

Enchantment and Disenchantment: Love and Illusion in Chinese Literature

Wai-yee Li
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 316
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    Enchantment and Disenchantment
    Book Description:

    In a famous episode of the eighteenth-century masterpieceThe Dream of the Red Chamber, the goddess Disenchantment introduces the hero, Pao-yü, to the splendors and dangers of the Illusory Realm of Great Void. The goddess, one of the divine women in Chinese literature who inspire contradictory impulses of attachment and detachment, tells Pao-yü that the purpose of his dream visit is "disenchantment through enchantment," or "enlightenment through love." Examining a range of genres from different periods, Wai-yee Li reveals the persistence of the dialectic embodied by the goddess: while illusion originates in love and desire, it is only through love and desire that illusion can be transcended.

    Li begins by defining the context of these issues through the study of an entire poetic tradition, placing special emphasis on the role of language and of the feminine element. Then, focusing on the "dream plays" by T'ang Hsien-tsu, she turns to the late Ming, an age which discovers radical subjectivity, and goes on to explore a seventeenth-century collection of classical tales,Records of the Strange from the Liao-chai Studioby P'u Sung-ling. The latter half of the book is devoted to a thorough analysis ofThe Dream of the Red Chamber, the most profound treatment of the dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment, love and enlightenment, illusion and reality.

    Originally published in 1993.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6332-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. XI-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Genealogy of Disenchantment
    (pp. 3-46)

    In chapter 5 of the eighteenth-century masterpieceHung-lou meng(The dream of the red chamberorThe story of the stone [Shih-t’ou chi]), the goddess Disenchantment takes the protagonist Pao-yü by the hand and introduces him to the splendors and dangers of the Illusory Realm of Great Void (T’ai-hsü Huan-ching). The avowed purpose of this dream visit, which culminates in Pao-yü’s sexual union with Disenchantment’s sister Combining Beauties (Chien-mei), is “enlightenment through love” or “disenchantment through enchantment.” To construct the genealogy of Disenchantment and to trace her prototype to the ambivalent divine woman in theCh’u tz’u(Songs of Ch’u,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Late-Ming Moment
    (pp. 47-88)

    In the year 1629, Chang Tai (1597–1679) staged a nocturnal theatrical performance at Chin Shan, which he subsequently described in hisDream Memories of T’ao-an(T’ao-an meng-i):

    In the second year of the Ch’ung-chen era [1629], one day after the Mid-Autumn Festival, J left Chen-chiang for Yen-chou. Towards evening I reached Pei-ku and steered the boat into the estuary. The moon plunged its reflection in the water The river waves engulfed it fitfully, while the mist absorbed it, rose, and lit up the sky. I was taken by surprise, rapturous. By the time I moved the boat towards the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Desire and Order in Liao-chai chih-i
    (pp. 89-151)

    In the last chapter I referred to Ch’en Chi-ju’s defense of the apotheosis ofch’inginThe Peony Pavilion. He maintains that erotic passion actually tells us essential truths about moral nature, and that the representation of love in the Confucian classics is itself a mark of legitimation. Since love is the lowest common denominator in human feelings, it is paradigmatic of human relationships and can therefore serve as the foundation of morality. It is a position that T’ang Hsien-tsu endorses only playfully and ironically, if at all, inThe Peony Pavilion.

    Ch’en Chi-ju’s statement represents the classic solution to...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Beginnings: Enchantment and Irony in Hung-lou meng
    (pp. 152-201)

    It is something of a paradox to compare the meanings of such words as “dream” (meng) and “illusion” or “unreality” (huan) inLiao-chai chih-iandHung-lou meng. The blatantly fantastic world ofLiao-chai, with its plethora of gods, ghosts, and fox spirits, admits of no problematic break between sign and meaning, but to understandHung-lou meng, with its dense realistic surface and its fascination with the minutiae of the day-to-day business of living, one has to grapple with precisely such a disjunction. In projecting a supernatural realm, manyLiao-chaitales adopt the model of historical biography and often insist on...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Self-Reflexivity and the Lyrical Ideal in Hung-lou meng
    (pp. 202-230)

    According to Red Inkstone, the last chapter ofHung-lou mengincludes the “Final Listing of the Characters’ Feelings” made up by Disenchantment, in which the major characters of the book are classified and graded according to the depth, scope, and nature of their feelings. This last chapter is unfortunately now lost to us,¹ but Red Inkstone tells us that Pao-yü should be at the top of this list with the paradoxical epithet “feeling not-feeling.” What then is the nature of Pao-yu’sch’ingand the meaning of its negation or transcendence? This question has to be considered in terms of the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Disenchantment and Order in Hung-lou meng
    (pp. 231-256)

    The mythic-fantastic realm is invoked in three different ways inHung-lou meng. Chapters 4 and 5 take issue with the ironic mode, which brings the mythic-fantastic realm to bear on the paradox of “enlightenment through love” or “disenchantment through enchantment.” I use the word “irony” here with three related issues in view: the ineradicable opposition and mutual implication ofch’ingandpu-ch’ingas realized in the book, the same dialectics understood in terms of the author’s simultaneous attachment and detachment toward the aesthetic illusion he creates, toward his own past, and in regard to the ideal of lyrical self-containment in...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Epilogue: The Compass of Irony
    (pp. 257-268)

    The moment when one is both seer and object of vision, both within and without the illusion, is the beginning of irony. In this lyric Wang Kuo-wei tells of the pains involved in the attempt to transcend the human condition. One ascends, spurred on by the aspiration to freedom, only to turn around and see oneself among the earthbound. The unexpected reversal is rooted in the split in Wang Kuo-wei’s temperament. He describes himself as being torn between lucid reason and poetic passion:

    As for philosophy, generally what can be loved cannot be believed, and what can be believed cannot...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 269-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-294)