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Features 43 Stephen Owen. Readings in Chinese Literary Thought. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, 30. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: Harvard University Press, 1993. viii, 674 pp. Hardcover $55.00. In spite ofmany years ofeffort—albeit with an ever increasing control over such considerations as technical vocabulary, theoretical concepts, modes of argument and rhetoric, and the dynamics with which criticism and theory interact with creative works—historians, critics, and translators of Chinese works of literary thought who work in the West have rarely managed to produce studies that penetrate outside professional Sinological circles to attract and hold the attention of Aieorists and scholars of other literary traditions—or to engage that even more elusive quarry, die educated or competent general reader who is interested in comparative approaches to issues ofliterary thought. The subject itself is, of course, largely to blame for this, for its literature is so voluminous and complex, so teeming with intertextuality, and so beset with linguistic ambiguities and philological problems as to bedevil the best efforts to reach such wider audiences. For instance, when translating the texts of Chinese literary thought, we too often end up with far more exegesis than text in translation, backed up by layers of footnotes or endnotes, with texts and notes both riddled with seemingly counAess names and terms in romanization, and now, thanks to Aie modern miracle of multilingual text processing, the original F5^ for such names and terms as well! Who but the most hard-core ofSinologists and specialists in Chinese literature would be willing to wade through such things? Yet, when we work on these texts, it seems the right and necessary thing to do. I recentiy completed one such project myself, a translation ofWang Shihchen 's XXM (1634-1711) famous series ofquatrains on poetry, the Lun-shih chüeh-chü san-shih-erh shou WiiíEflñXlX-X^-IE, which came to about six pages for the text of the poems—and about thirty-four pages for the exegesis!1 Chinese poems on poetry are often particularly dense, labyrinthian vehicles ofcritical and theoretical discourse, much more so than works in prose; thus I take some comfort in the fact that such an extensive scholarly apparatus is probably necessary here. But, loaded down with this kind of exegetical baggage, I fear the translations will not travel far. Unfortunately, there are many such works as difficult to translate and explicate as Wang's quatrains, works important for understanding the Chinese tradition ofliterary thought as a whole, which often contain nuggets of critical and theoretical insieht that simply cry out for attention. But, cry as they© 1994 by Universityor,, , TT ... „ might, a source book in Chinese literary thought that has any hope of reaching a of Hawai ? Press° ' s broad audience had better avoid such works and concentrate instead on materials that are far more immediately accessible. 44 China Review International: Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1994 However, Aiere are fundamental works in the evolution of Chinese literary thought that, in die hands of a skillful translator and commentator sensitive to historical and cultural contexts, can be presented in ways that should attract such a broad audience. For years, it was incumbent on all of us who work in this field to try to produce a volume that might have covered roughly the same ground that Stephen Owen's Readings in Chinese Literary Thoughtnow covers, but no one ever did. It was a gap that very much needed to be filled—for recent times probably the most significant gap in Aie study ofChinese literature and thought in the West—and now it is filled in truly admirable fashion. In addition to its intrinsic value for the study and appreciation of Chinese thought and literature, Owen's book, which is sure to have a significant impact on a wide audience outside Sinologica ! circles, should do much to raise awareness ofcreative and critical works of Chinese literature among general students ofliterature and nonspecialists in Chinese studies. For this he deserves much praise and many thanks. Owen's Introduction deals wiAi Aie nature of Chinese theoretical and critical terminology and concepts, surveys the kinds of texts concerned with literary thought, considers various problems relating to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 43-57
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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