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Comparative Literature Studies 40.1 (2003) 104-108

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Littérature et Extrême-Orient. Le paysage extrême-oriental. Le taoïsme dans la littérature européenne. Edited by Muriel Détrie. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1999, 235 pp. € 44,15.

Littérature et Extrême-Orient (Literature and Far-East: Far-Eastern Landscape: Daoism in European Literature) is written for both specialists and non-specialists of Far-Eastern cultures and East-West literary relations. This comparative study of landscape is a new approach to the question of the relationship between literature and landscape, and the relationship between the Orient and the Occident. Although Françoise Chenet's Le paysage et ses grilles (Landscape and its Readings, 1996) and Michel Collot's Les enjeux du paysage (The Stakes of Landscape, 1997) deal with literary landscape, these two collections are focused mainly on European culture. Sinologists, on the other hand, have written numerous books on landscape and gardens—too many to be cited here—but none is focused on comparative literature. Although Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident's last issue on Far-Eastern gardens, L'art des jardins dans les pays sinisés, Chine, Japon, Corée, Vietnam (The [End Page 104] art of gardens in sinised countries, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam [vol. 22, Paris: P. U. de Vincennes, 2000]), aims at comparative discussions, the only dialogues between East and West are conducted by the sinologist Craig Clunas and the philosopher Baldine Saint Girons, and they only report European points of view on Chinese gardens, especially of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Muriel Détrie's collection of essays, therefore, comes as a valuable addition to the field of comparative literature. The first part of the book discusses literary landscape, while the second part deals with the influence of Daoism on contemporary Western writers and poets.

In the first part, literary landscape is analyzed in a two-fold relation: first, in the relation of pictorial landscapes or gardens to other forms of art in two seminal Chinese novels, Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber and Shen Fu's Six Tales of a Fleeting Life, and second, in its specificity as the privileged domain of imagination, as it is shown through the examples of such authors as Sôseki, Shi Tiesheng, Goncourt, Butor, Segalen, and Hilton.

In "La tradition narrative malaise: cinq hypothèses contre le paysage" ("Malay narrative tradition: five hypothesis against landscape"), Georges Voisset argues that the idea of landscape is not inherent to human thought, and it is not conceptualized naturally in any literature. In his five-part essay, he shows that, although Malay literature has been influenced by British literary tradition, it has never given birth to a concept of landscape. This, he argues, is for several reasons: first, traditional Malay poets are rhapsodes; second, the novel only appeared with colonization; third, Malay literature is mostly Islamic; fourth, there was no modernist movement in Malay literature; and fifth, there is no prior pictorial landscape tradition. Although Malay poetry and literature contain many detailed descriptions of nature, there is always a juxtaposition of disparate elements that never reveal a unified object, which is one of the criterions of constituting a landscape. Moreover, there is no Malay word denoting "landscape." All the depicted natural elements are merely metaphors of human mental states or, more often, of social conditions. Furthermore, as an Islamic tradition, Malay literature opposes Western sentimentalism and hedonism, and aesthetic feelings are rejected.

In "Jardin et paysage dans la littérature chinoise traditionnelle" ("Garden and landscape in Chinese traditional literature"), Zhang Yinde shows that poetry cannot be separated from music, painting, or gardens in the Chinese tradition. Gardens offer a spatial, temporal and architectural landscape—a "total landscape"—and in this capacity they guarantee the harmonious link between microcosm and macrocosm or between man and universe. The garden is a space where the literati's events are reactualized [End Page 105] through a visual and poetic network of citations and references. Hence, novels pattern gardens, and pictorial technique is...


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