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A Wild Deer amid Soaring Phoenixes

A Wild Deer amid Soaring Phoenixes: The Opposition Poetics of Wang Ji

Ding Xiang Warner
Copyright Date: 2003
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  • Book Info
    A Wild Deer amid Soaring Phoenixes
    Book Description:

    Credited in China as a "transitional" figure, Wang Ji (590-644) is known for his revival of eremitic themes from the earlier Wei-Jin period and for anticipating the rise of regulated verse forms in the "golden era" of Tang poetry. Yet throughout the centuries Wang Ji has puzzled readers and sometimes offended their moral sensibilities by his unapologetic celebrations of his life as a round-the-clock drinker. Until now scholars have treated him primarily as a problem of biography and have struggled to find "evidence" in his work for his reclusive and unwieldy character and, once and for all, to tell the story of his life and thought. This in-depth study of the early Tang-dynasty poet, the first to be published in a Western language, surveys the complete range of Wang Ji's enigmatic literary self-representation and proposes new ways of understanding the poetics behind his practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6131-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Reading Wang Ji
    (pp. 1-12)

    If there is one achievement for which late-twentieth-century critical theory congratulates itself, it is for disabusing literary criticism of the notion that the text can be a vehicle for the author’s unmediated self-expression. But in the West, it was only a relatively late and romantic belief that poetry could convey the essence of the poet—or that readers might consider it a primary aim to grasp the poet’s essence through his text. In the history of Chinese literature, in contrast, there is a great body of late-classical and early-medieval Chinese poetry that takes the apparent form of direct expressions of...

  6. 1 Wang Ji and Sui-Tang Literati Culture
    (pp. 13-42)

    For information on Wang Ji’s life, we have only one biographical document of any length that is reliable: the preface by Lü Cai 呂才 attached to his compilation of Wang Ji’s collected works, theWang Wugong wenji王無功文集.¹ Lü Cai, according to this account, had been a close friend of Wang Ji’s since his youth, so he is able to share with his readers anecdotes that he believes to illustrate Wang Ji’s character and talents.

    Much shorter biographies of Wang Ji are included in the “Biographies of Recluses and Disengaged Gentlemen” 隱逸傳 chapters in the two official histories of the...

  7. 2 The Recluse as Philosopher
    (pp. 43-66)

    In many of Wang Ji’s poems we see the poet advancing himself as a philosopher-recluse, adopting the perspective of an enlightened, detached sage who reflects deeply on his own life and the ways of the cosmos. Some of these poems are addressed to acquaintances from court officials to fellow recluses; in others he addresses himself; still others seem spoken in abstraction and to the world in general. Often Wang Ji explicitly states what I contend was his philosophical position, and in this chapter I will first examine several such poems whose message is straightforward in this regard. But I then...

  8. 3 The Recluse as Farmer-Scholar
    (pp. 67-88)

    The portion of Wang Ji’s poetry that is most familiar to readers of Chinese literature is that which represents the life of the farmer-scholar. Indeed it is almost solely by appealing to these poems that scholars have written Wang Ji’s biography as a recluse. In this chapter’s examination of his “country poems,” my aim is to show how Wang Ji drew upon nearly the whole range of recluse images from literary tradition to produce an eclectic poetic persona, an unstable literary image, which shifts not only from poem to poem but even within poems. Critics who have remarked on this...

  9. 4 The Recluse as Drunkard
    (pp. 89-112)

    More than any other topic, drinking is the most pervasive theme in Wang Ji’s corpus. Over 35 percent of the works in his five-juancollection at least make reference to drinking wine, and the proportion is even greater in the abridged three-juancollection (50 percent)—which goes a long way toward explaining how various dismissive labels such as “drunken poet” and “tippler hermit” have been applied to Wang Ji. We can concede, of course, that Wang Ji’s drinking inspired much of his poetry.¹ But at the same time we must remember how often drinking had been employed, for centuries before...

  10. 5 “You Beishan fu” and the Problem of Knowing
    (pp. 113-146)

    Three years before Wang Ji died, sometime around 641, he composed “You Beishan fu” 遊北山賦 (Fuon roaming the Northern Mountains), the longestfupiece in his extant corpus.¹ The title indicates its mode as “travel writing” (you遊: to wander, to roam, to go on an excursion), and the setting—Beishan (the Northern Mountains)—is recognized as the site of Wang Tong’s residence and school. The journey prompts Wang Ji to reminisce on his past and his family, so scholars have valued it as a source of biographical information on Wang Ji and his brother. But there has never...

  11. Conclusion: The Idealization of the Recluse
    (pp. 147-152)

    Let us return now to the traditional assumption that Wang Ji’s poetry communicates the essence of his personal identity as a recluse. Here I want to consider some of the consequences of this assumption, because ultimately it has affected not only our interpretations of Wang Ji’s poetry but those of other Chinese poets as well. And in this we have important lessons to learn as scholars of Chinese literary history.

    To begin we discover that the judgment of scholars who choose to consider (or ignore) questions of attribution, dating, and variants in Wang Ji’s corpus has been affected by their...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 153-200)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-210)
  14. Index
    (pp. 211-214)
  15. Index of Titles in English
    (pp. 215-216)
  16. Index of Titles in Chinese
    (pp. 217-218)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-220)