Abstract

If a stone cannot be read, in the conventional sense, what do we see on, or in, or through stones? And what can we do with them? This essay begins in media res, with reading, writing, and things -- specifically stones – and considers them as sites for a new ecology of criticism. It wonders about stones, especially the ones we fancy extravagantly, and proposes these lapidary mirrors as places to reconsider the relationship between word, image, and looking – as provocations, that is, to a new style of reading. To begin, the use of beguiling rocks as objects of consumption, poetic inspiration, and artistic manipulation by Chinese artists and literati is considered through the lens of Roger Caillois’s writings about mimicry, particularly as applied to a Lacanian vision of human subjectivity as the play of picture and screen. Considered along with its etymological cousins “stun” and “stain” in the penumbra of Lacan’s reflections, this analysis proposes fetishized stones as a literalization of the screen’s petrifying function, the behind of the looking glass which renders everything in sight an impossible imago, a storied surface, a reified other. Where such speculation reveals stone as a grave site for critically sore eyes, this essay turns to the very different possibilities of stone-human interaction traced in the touching and disarming poetics of Ouyang Xiu’s “The Stone of Ling Stream.” In this case a stone morphs from object of desire into tactile companion as its human subject reshapes his connoisseur’s drive to know and own into a haptic meditation beside the stone. The essay argues that with this gesture Ouyang Xiu not only embraces a Chinese Buddhist aesthetic and spiritual tradition --contemplation of the void or lack -- but also gropes toward a fruitful ethics of “stone blindness” as a mode of understanding. By surrendering a visual drive that extends its instrumental aggression to every animal, plant and stone in sight, the poet writes himself out of the surveillance of the world-as-text. Instead, assuming a posture of quiet attention and openness, he re-approaches being obliquely and gently from another direction. In so doing he practices an art and poetics of “being with” that not only feels for the ends of critical vision, but also invites us to drop our gazes and egos alike to listen to Heidegger’s “call of the world.”

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 62-75
Launched on MUSE
2016-12-27
Open Access
No
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