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The Anxiety of Significance: A Study of Form and Meaning in Early Chinese Literary Thought Open Access

Descriptions

Other title
Subject/Keyword
Form and Meaning
The pattern of wen
Sage-centric creation myths
The shuo and fiction
Poetics and Hermeneutics
Early Chinese Literary Thought
Poetics of transformation
Fu, bi, and xing
Names and semantics
Anxiety of Significance
Type of item
Thesis
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Cai, Zheng
Supervisor and department
Daniel Fried, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, and Department of East Asian Studies
Examining committee member and department
Daniel Fried, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, and Department of East Asian Studies
Anne Commons, Department of East Asian Studies
Zeb Raft, Department of East Asian Studies
Gary Kelly, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, and Department of English and Film Studies
Victoria Ruétalo, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies
Massimo Verdicchio, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies
Dian Li, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Arizona
Department
Comparative Literature
Specialization

Date accepted
2015-08-14T10:55:25Z
Graduation date
2015-11
Degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Doctoral
Abstract
This dissertation inquires into the relationship between form and meaning regarding literary representation, as presented in literary and critical discourses, in the vein of early Chinese literature. The concept of “significance” serves to epitomize, as “signification” does in modern semiotics, the indeterminate relationship between literary configuration of the world (form) and the spiritual freedom of man (meaning). Starting with a survey of Western ideas on the subject, this research looks into the Chinese equivalent, topically analysed within five component discourses: (1) myth, especially the mythological accounts centering on the spiritual freedom of a primordial sage—the Chinese archetype of man; (2) the shi, or the orthodox literary discourse of poetry modelled on the Classic of Poetry, the early interpretation of which came to formulate fundamental rules for poetic thinking; (3) the shuo, or the preliminary literary discourse of narrative talks, argued here to be the precursor of xiaoshuo (petty talks), the Chinese designation for prose fiction; (4) the metalinguistic notion of ming, or Names, under which the relationship between language and meaning was fruitfully debated in the classical era; and (5) the wen, a quintessential literary discourse not only referring to prosaic writing in a rhetorical and ornate style, but gradually to the supreme art of letters. In the end, this study tries to reach an eclectic synthesis of literary theories, seeing them as successive attempts to normalize the relationship between form and meaning, with the loci of significance varying with the flux of poetics and hermeneutics. The distinction between Eastern and Western literary thought, however, partly lies in that, whereas the epistemological pendulum has kept swinging between mimesis (i.e., a real and thus reliable representation) and poiesis (i.e., a false and artificial creation) in the West, Chinese literary minds have long been comfortable with the spirit of transformation—a constant différence in the workings of literary signs, as well as in the history of literary discourses.
Language
English
DOI
doi:10.7939/R3N29PJ5Q
Rights
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Cai, Zheng. “Sage-centric Creation Myths and the Transcendental Ethos of Chinese Literature.” Peking University’s Journal of Comparative Literature and World Literature 5.1 (2014): 37-49.

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