Deconstructive Reading of Chinese Natural Philosophy in Literature and the Arts: Taoism and Zen Buddhism

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This work is a deconstructive reading of the prevalent views on Chinese natural philosophy (Taoism and Zen Buddhism) and its impact on Chinese literature and arts (classical Chinese poetry, painting, novels; modern Chinese and American poetry, and contemporary Chinese film), especially its impact on Chinese poetry. The serene, holistic vision of Chinese natural philosophy has been so deep rooted and rarely challenged that it has become a myth. Since Taoism and Zen Buddhism have been major influences on classical Chinese arts and poetry, which in turn influence modern Chinese and American poetry, the myth is perpetuated in views held about all these art forms, and is reflected in the rarely disputed aesthetic characteristics pertaining to these creations: non-human centered perception, the loss of individual self in cosmic Self, an aesthetic attitude of silence, tranquility, emptiness and passivity, and unification of Chinese pictographic characters and Chinese language with the real-life world. It is also believed that temporality implicit in these poems conforms to the natural flux of the universe, and subjective time is rarely found in them.

The author’s deconstruction is unfolded through three interrelated aspects: time, subject and language. The deconstruction posits: a double, conflicting sense of temporality rather than a unified time consciousness characterizes Chinese natural philosophy, poetry and other art forms under its influence. The subject (self), instead of being a uniform one, which is at once absent and omnipresent as indicated by the syntax of classical Chinese poetry, is often divided against itself. As to language, instead of being a transparent language reflecting the real-life world unimpeded by human intellect, is often a plural text where linguistic characteristics are double-edged.

In other words, this work is a rethinking of Chinese natural philosophy and poetry under its impact: how their serene, holistic vision is undercut by intrinsic contradictions that are only partly redeemed by aesthetic means, which have their pitfalls that end in suffering as well as in celebration, thus aligns itself with tragic tradition, a mode always denied to the understanding of Chinese natural philosophy.

In this work, the author explored how the hidden ruptures in time, self and language latent in Chinese natural philosophy and classical Chinese poetry open up abysmal chasm in a well-known contemporary Chinese poet, Gu Cheng. The concluding chapter examines the affinity of Chinese natural philosophy and Western tradition of tragedy as a troubled passage from dualism to monism, in which sacrifice is involved, and the vision of integration is achieved at the cost of self-laceration.


“....exquisite interpretations of classical Chinese poetry….evocative, creative, sometimes poetic language….sophisticated grasp of both Chinese and Western literary theory and philosophical issues….this work is a major contribution not only to literary scholarship and thought but also bridging a cultural gap, between East and West, that is a legacy of colonialism and of scholarship from Weber and Northup down to Huntington….For a wider readership, she opens the way to transcending seeming differences between the two great and important civilizations, China and the West. This book potentially has great impact and the great need for it continues to be apparent as one sees not only popular stereotyping and misconception of Asian culture but also scholarly analyses that argue for unbridgeable differences and clashes….[this book] is timely, important and excellent!” – Professor James Peacock, University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill

“Raised in the same landscape that produced Gu Cheng himself,….[the author] has produced a work that brilliantly links Gu Cheng to his cultural tradition, as well as to the future of Chinese literature, and to the place of both in the world literature that is to come.” – Professor Jerome Seaton

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface ,Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
1. A Deconstructive Reading of Chinese Natural Philosophy and Art Forms Under its Influence
2. Two Sided Embroidery: A Deconstructive Reading of Classical Chinese Poetry
3. Distorted Flower: The Poetry of Gu Cheng

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