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  • Bashō and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai
  • W. Puck Brecher
Bashō and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai. By Peipei Qiu. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005. Pp. vii + 248.

The scholarship on Matsuo Bashō and his poetics is so vast that any new monograph daring to revisit the subject cannot avoid the problem of rehashing familiar ground, even if it proposes doing so in new ways. It must return to his well-studied ruminations and polemical statements and answer the question "Is there anything more?" Peering through the lens of Daoism, Peipei Qiu, in Bashō and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai, discovers plenty more. Lack of scholarship on Daoism in the Japanese context is responsible for a long-standing denial of its contributions to Japanese culture, or haikai in this case, and Qiu's book begins to correct this deficiency. Wisely, the volume attempts not to redefine Japanese poetics as a vehicle of Daoist thought but rather to excavate a lost "frame of reference for the understanding of haikai" (p. 4). In most cases this frame is the fourth century B.C.E. Daoist classic the Zhuangzi, which for Qiu becomes an interpretive tool that lends a new perspective on the evolution of seventeenth-century haikai. As a quick example, we learn that Chinese texts like the Zhuangzi were sources of philosophical authenticity for the Teimon and Danrin schools, but that these groups interpreted them differently. Danrin poets in particular looked directly to Zhuangzian parables as a means of opposing ideological orthodoxy, of inverting conventions and acquiring [End Page 605] freer forms of expression. Qiu's project, then, offers a new paradigm for differentiating between the two schools and understanding haikai generally.

Bashō 's objective was to provide the haikai with philosophical depth, expand its lexical possibilities, and elevate it to a high poetic form equivalent to waka and renga. The best available means of doing so was Chinese poetics, to which Daoist principles were so central. Although it was not Bashō 's intention to Sinicize haikai, he did refer to over thirty Chinese poetic texts imbued with Zhuangzian principles, and it was largely through these that Daoist values and influence were transmitted to haikai poetics. This is an important point that others have overlooked, for while many have commented on Bashō 's attraction to Daoism and noted that his chosen sobriquet alluded directly to the Zhuangzi, few have taken this further. Qiu's Bashō is a Daoist master and avant-garde thinker whose indebtedness to the Zhuangzi surpassed stylistic and textual allusions. He did not intentionally position his own poetry to be a Zhuangzian mouthpiece, but he did internalize Zhuangzian perspectives and allowed them to guide his aesthetics even when he was not composing haikai.

This book is distinctive for more than its Daoist focus. It is also unapologetically weighted toward etymology and textual analysis and assumes a readership inquisitive enough to absorb lengthy textual dissections. Thick with Chinese and Japanese terminology, its philological forays would be far more burdensome for nonspecialists without its fine glossary of Japanese and Chinese names and terms. Chapter 4, on fūryū (Chin: fengliu), is the climax of the book's etymological deliberations. Here it becomes clear that to speak of Daoist influence in seventeenth-century haikai, or even to classify, for example, fūryū ("poetic unconventionality") as a Daoist aesthetic without recognizing the lexical mutability of such terms is ahistorical. The chapter looks at the textual record of fūryū in China and Japan, a narrative that reveals Bashō to be merely a distant destination. It gives a fine sense of the modulations of this Daoist ideal through the centuries and how it was variously interpreted and appropriated. Knowing the life course of fūryū in China and in Japan's Heian, Medieval, and Edo periods places Shōmon poetics in historical context, a satisfaction occasionally denied the reader in other chapters. And learning, for example, that Bashō internalized the Wei-Jin (A.D. 220–420) reading of fūryū brings the preceding chapters into clearer historical focus and reminds us of the potentially anachronistic usages of...