Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Passions in Motion: Landscape Poetry and the Aesthetics of Change in Xie Lingyun (385-433)
by Zhang, Qiangqiang, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 217; 3535392
Abstract (Summary)

Xie Lingyun (385-433) is canonized in the Chinese literary tradition as the father of shanshui poetry—poetry on "mountains and rivers." Many critics, both ancient and modern, have interpreted this poetry as an effort to create a realistic depiction of landscape—like a poetic still life—and for these critics the main literary contribution of shanshui is its level of verisimilitude. Other critics focus more on tracing Buddho-Taoist concepts that they think to be the main inspirations for this landscape poetry—for these critics the key to shanshui is how it reflects the religious context of its times. Although these two approaches have produced important findings, with respect to Xie's shanshui poetry, both neglect key factors that are crucial to understanding the unique poetics these works create—a poetics that represents the variegated processes that constitute the experience of a human body and mind moving through a natural landscape.

Xie's shanshui poetry is first and foremost a poetry of process. This poetry's vitality, depth and its complicated relationship to its historical context all result from its effort to represent human experience as a flux—as a rhythm of alternating processes that involve both the body and the mind. This dissertation examines the processes that figure most prominently in Xie's works: the courses of the mind's shifting and vacillation; the movements of the body; the flux created by one perception replacing another; the accumulation and release of tension accomplished through the masterful crafting of prosodic, formal and thematic elements. To the uncritical eye, these motions and processes are subtle, creating a steady rhythm or "emotive pulse." But it is through these processes that religious, philosophical and cultural elements are intermixed, molded, and finally put into play in Xie's poetry.

The content of Xie's shanshui poetry—the canvas on which these processes are manifested—is not mountains and rivers themselves, but the embodied experience of a human being traversing mountains and rivers. My study delves into all the elements of this embodied experience that factor into Xie's works. By looking into the crucial role of physicality in his works, we will be able to better judge the tension that his poems thrive on—the tension between the realm of the mind (the intellect; religious beliefs; textual memory of literary predecessors) and the body (the emotions; meditative practices; general sensorimotor awareness). We will accomplish this by doing close readings of his works, and also by looking more broadly at the influence of the practical and physical (from inner-cultivation techniques to hiking) on human perception. Doing this, we will see the limitations of looking at Xie's poetry as a simple attempt at mimesis or a reflection of historical context, and we will be in a better position to appreciate the phenomenological richness of his poetics of the embodied mind.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chang, Kang-i Sun, Saussy, Haun
Commitee: Chang, Kang-i Sun, Hunter, Michael, Powell, Caleb, Saussy, Haun
School: Yale University
Department: East Asian Languages and Literature
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 74/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Classical studies, Asian literature
Keywords: Chinese literature, Nature poetry, Xie, Lingyun
Publication Number: 3535392
ISBN: 9781267856722
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