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T'ang Studies 13 (1995) Hans Frankel, the Gentle Revolutionary STEPHEN OWEN HARVARD UNIVERSITY Those who know Hans Frankel personally might describe him as a quiet, somewhat shy, and scholarly man. The adjective "revolutionary " might not come immediately to mind. Yet revolutions are often started by the "quiet, somewhat shy, and scholarly." Revolutions have a life of their own: they take off in unexpected directions, sometimes go to excess, and always leave a nostalgia for the prerevolutionary world in their wake. Revolutions often disquiet the very people who begin them. Their consequences mingle the good and the bad, and it is impossible to find the right scales to weigh the gains against the losses. Yet for intellectual life to remain vital, they do seem sometimes necessary. The decade of the 1960s was a turning point in the study of Chinese literature. Chinese literature was then still very much a part of "Sinology," understood not as the philological and historical learning that is the basis of working with any Chinese texts, but as a separate field in its own right, with its own history, its own direction , and its own standards. Scholars of Chinese literature might talk enthusiastically to their counterparts in European and American literature, but intellectually they were in a separate world. Hans Frankel came to Yale with the conviction that the discipline be "Chinese literature," part of and answerable to a larger community of literary scholars. His students were taught that the "field" in which they worked was made up not only of the important Sinologists, but also of the major theorists and critics in European and American literature. This was not the somewhat facile call for "comparative literature" that was also heard at the time, but rather a different sense of the context in which Chinese literature itself was to be studied. This was before literary criticism, particularly at Yale, began its wild roller-coaster ride; and there was, as yet, no sense of opposition between responsible philology and critical reflection. Frankel required a kind of close reading in which those two concerns -philology and critical reflection-could never be separated one from the other. 7 Owen: Hans Frankel, Gentle Revolutionary At the same time as he was helping to change the definition of Chinese literary studies in the U.S.,Hans Frankel was also challenging the kind of biographical assumptions that were the cornerstone of a certain type of Chinese criticism. Drawing on his background in European literature, and particularly medieval studies, he demonstrated the normative forces shaping biographical accounts. He showed that poems and the narratives of occasion that accompanied them are constructs: they have a historical basis, but that relation is not transparent. He introduced questions of topoi and oral formulae into the study of Chinese poetry, inviting us to read passages not as "what the poet felt,"but as "what should happen in a poem." For the Qing and most modem Chinese critics, early Chinese lyric was written ; for Frankel it was "written down." The theory of a poet's persona, drawn from Western criticism of the lyric, made it possible to question authorship without questioning the value of the poem. Cai Yan ceases to be the "author" who still appears in Chinese anthologieswith dates, a biographical sketch that dutifully praises the lyric intensity of her personal experience that appears in the poems appended under her name. Frankel's work allows that bond between author and persona to be broken without the poem thereby becoming a "forgery." The consequences that follow from such work by Frankel are profound. We can assume that the early medieval author(s) of the "Cai Yan" poems were not trying to perpetrate a hoax, but rather could comfortably assume a first-person voice to represent the wellknown Cai Yan story. This obvious conclusion reminds us that in earlier periods the biographical mode of interpretation did not have the same tyranny over value that it assumed in Qing and modem times. In this and his other scholarly works, we do not see "Western criticism" in opposition to "traditional Chinese criticism"; rather, Frankel shows the diversity of the "tradition"-that it is not a single, unchanging set of values and...


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