Du Fu: Poet Historian, Poet Sage

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Du Fu: Poet Historian, Poet Sage

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Title: Du Fu: Poet Historian, Poet Sage
Author: Bender, Lucas Rambo ORCID  0000-0003-2401-5859
Citation: Bender, Lucas Rambo. 2016. Du Fu: Poet Historian, Poet Sage. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation argues that Du Fu’s (712-770) ascent to the pinnacle of the Chinese literary pantheon was bound up with a revolution in the ways poetry was understood to be a serious endeavor. In Du Fu’s time, poetry had been valued for sustaining a time-transcending ritual institution descended from the ancient sages. Those later critics who placed Du Fu at the center of the poetic canon, by contrast, have generally located the his verse’s “serious” value in its embodiment of admirably accurate and appropriately felt perceptions of the precise historical circumstances that occasioned its composition. Although these latter critics have often claimed great antiquity for this latter vision of poetry’s moral significance, I argue that it was not an intellectual possibility in the Tang, and that it only came to be broadly persuasive when Du Fu’s collection was extensively remade through the addition of commentarial and contextualizing paratexts that were previously unprecedented within the Chinese critical tradition. Placed back into its original intellectual and material context, then, Du Fu’s poetry reads very differently than it has to post-medieval critics.

It was, however, no coincidence that Du Fu was chosen as the center of this radical reinvention of the Chinese poetic tradition. It is possible to trace in the poet’s early collection a process of divergence from the norms of his time, leading ultimately to the creation of a new poetic language that does in fact raise many of the questions that Du Fu’s most influential critics have sought to answer. Yet this new poetic language never fully delivers the reassuring claim that these later critics have seen in his collection: that the good man will always be able to understand and movingly convey the moral truth of his experience. Instead of demonstrating the poet’s apprehension of such natural and given truth, Du Fu’s mature verse dramatizes itself as within the process of seeking for sense, a process that it leaves always open and unfinished.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493294
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