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The "classics," however we define them, have an even longer and more intensive history of being under siege than the humanities at large. The field first experienced a crisis in enrollment and hiring during the 1970s, and has in a larger sense been on the decline since the gradual retreat of Latin as a medium for intellectual communication beginning in the seventeenth century. In our age of anxiety over rapidly-evolving technology and ever-globalizing capital, it would be easy to think that the "classics" had continued their long slide into irrelevance, and that texts composed two or three thousand years ago, in languages no longer spoken, would have ceased to exert any special kind of pull on intellectual life.

The essays in this special issue demonstrate spectacularly how far the reality is from that gloomy hypothetical picture. Our five contributors explore the reception of "classics," both Chinese and Western, in both China and the West, with a special focus on the past fifty years or so. That era has seen profound changes in how the classics are deployed in both regions, but our contributors show how ancient texts remain profoundly significant to contemporary political and aesthetic questions--in ways both constructive and harmful. In China, the past fifty years encompasses the period since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), an era in which the study of the ancient past, like most forms of scholarly practice, was dangerous, even impossible, to pursue. The time period encompasses also the period of intellectual openness and ferment between 1976 and 1989, as well as the economic and nationalist resurgence of the past two decades. Both Western and Chinese classical texts experienced changing roles throughout this period of transformation, and today debates about these texts (as our contributors show) are frequently touchstones for a variety of questions of urgent relevance: the relationship between modernization and Westernization; the relevance of liberal or democratic values in the Chinese context; the relative importance of enabling economic and social development versus the need for public order.

In the West, the study of the classics has been transformed in the past few decades by the turn to reception studies, to an interest in what the classics have meant to centuries of readers, rather than what they may or may not have meant to an imagined and unattainable "original" audience. While the essays in this volume all participate in some way in this field of reception studies, they take a variety of perspectives on its development: from celebrating the aleatory hermeneutic possibilities opened up by the downplaying of the "original" meaning of a source text to notes of caution about the dangers a too-rigid insistence on reception history as the only history might leave us prey to. These essays, drawn from a conference held February 27-March 1, 2014, and cosponsored by the University of South Carolina and by Beijing Language and Culture University, do not attempt to offer a unitary narrative, or a singular answer to the questions raised by the study of reception. Rather, and as the brief survey below demonstrates, they demonstrate the range and diversity of such answers, while challenging several currently-popular trends in classical reception, east and west.

Zhang Longxi's essay is a thoughtful meditation on, and provocative critique of, the methodology of reception studies as practiced in the study of the "classics," however construed, in both China and the west. Zhang grounds his analysis in a careful reading of the debts reception studies owe to Hans Robert Jauss, and of the complex relationship between Jauss' philosophy of literary history and the Gadamerian "fusion of horizons." Through this theoretical intervention, Zhang argues for a corrective rebalancing of our current focus on reception history and Rezeptionsasthetik, towards a greater appreciation of the Gademerian horizons of the "classic" itself, and on Gadamer's understanding of the "timelessness" of a classic as a mode of historical being. Like a number of the contributors to this issue, Zhang draws our attention in particular to the work of recent Chinese intellectuals such as Liu Xiaofeng (1956-) and Gan Yang (1952-), and uses their example as a caution against a too-ready assimilation and instrumentalization of the classical, in the west as much as in China.

The essays by Gengsong Gao and Dandan Chen focus respectively on the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, illustrating how the work of translation played a central role in shaping how intellectuals in China has understood both Chinese and Western "classical" and philosophy and political thought. In his analysis of how the ancient Chinese system of fengjian came to be understood as similar to the "feudalism" of the European Middle Ages, Gengsong Gao shows how these reassessments of some of the core texts of the Chinese historical and philosophical tradition were read and reread in light of translations produced by prominent men of letters such as Yan Fu (1854-1921) and Liang Qichao (1873-1929). As Gao shows, although fengjian had been understood before the twentieth century as a mode of governance that allowed for greater local autonomy, the term gradually became an emblem for all kinds nonmodern backwardness, not just a form for organizing government but a larger way of thinking and living that had to disavowed.

Dandan Chen's essay provides a very informative discussion of how intellectuals in contemporary China have caught "Leo Strauss Fever" and what Strauss's popularity might mean for Chinese politics today. Chen's careful reading of debates about the use of Strauss in interpreting Chinese tradition show that the work of intellectuals such as Liu Xiaofeng and Gan Yang has resulted in wholly novel formations of ideas about the meaning of "classics" and the "traditions" from which they emerge. Given Strauss's reputation in the English-speaking world as a conservative thinker, it is particularly fascinating to see the way his ideas are appropriated by so-called New Left thinkers in China (of whom Gan Yang is a prominent example) who are interested in using critiques of modern Western thought from all quarters to arrive at new alternatives for Chinese culture and politics.

Leihua Weng's essay explores these questions from a different angle, offering both a contextual analysis and a close reading of aspects of Liu Xiaofeng's translation of Plato's Symposium. Weng skillfully demonstrates the commentarial techniques Liu uses to frame the Platonic dialogue in terms of a variety of external referents. Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt feature prominently here--but so does Confucius, as Liu repeatedly refers his reader to what he considers to be parallel passages in the Analects, and even deploys Confucian vocabulary in his translation of Plato. Weng's paper complements the papers of both Chen and Zhang, exploring the same developments in recent Chinese intellectual history, but focusing on a finer-grained analysis of the techniques used in the "Chinese Straussian" school of classical interpretation.

At the same time, Weng's interest in the mechanics of translation complements, and points towards, the final essay in the issue. Adrienne Rose's essay offers a different perspective on the reception of Western and Chinese classics in recent times, focusing on avant-garde experimental strategies for translating works from the classical poetic tradition. Rose explores two unconventional translation projects. Anne Carson's "A Fragment of Ibykos Translated Six Ways" takes a short poem by the archaic Greek lyric poet Ibykos, and translates it six different ways, each time using a vocabulary drawn from a single source: a poem by Donne; Brecht's FBI file; stops and signs on the London Underground; selected pages from Beckett's Endgame and from Janouch's Conversations with Kafka; the instruction manual for a microwave oven. The 85 project offers an equally idiosyncratic approach to translating a poem by Li Bai--limiting the translation to 85 Roman letters (a number drawn from Talmudic lore), and arranged on the page in a grid, then sounded out by a variety of readers. Drawing in part on the work of Deleuze and Guattari, Rose shows us how these translation projects help us to break down binary thinking about translation, as well as our assumptions about the relationships between first and subsequent translations of a given work into a given target language.

Alexander Beecroft



Michael Gibbs Hill

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Author:Beecroft, Alexander; Hill, Michael Gibbs
Date:Mar 22, 2015
Previous Article:Criticism After Critique: Aesthetics, Literature, and the Political.
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