Lasting Ephemera: The Culture of Marginalia in Mid-Song Dynasty China (1050-1200)
CitationLiu, Chen. 2018. Lasting Ephemera: The Culture of Marginalia in Mid-Song Dynasty China (1050-1200). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation explores the transformations in the boundaries of Chinese literary landscape during the Song dynasty (960–1279) by examining the emergence of a group of new genres such as letterets 簡, tiba colophons 題跋, remarks on poetry 詩話, and biji 筆記. These marginalia texts, casual in style, diverse in content, and rarely circulated widely in public before the Song, gained remarkable popularity from mid-eleventh century onwards and were compiled and published in large quantities. By tracing the textual history of these writings within the socio-political, intellectual and cultural contexts of the time, I argue that these genres flourished because they provided an alternative, non-public discursive space that was largely unpenetrated by the literary censorship that stormed traditional genres such as poetry. Given their restricted circulation without the expectation of publication, literati could dispense with certain moral judgments when writing in these genres and freely articulate their thoughts on subjects that were considered inappropriate for the more formal genres. In addition, following the cataclysmic Northern-Southern Song transition, people increasingly appreciated these writings as unembellished representations of literati life from the past era. Such nostalgia, coupled with the proliferation of printing during the Southern Song, stimulated a fervor among authors, compilers and publishers to amass these writings and set them to print, thus securing their establishment as new genres.
Drawing sources from original manuscripts, inscriptions on objects and artworks, as well as transmitted collections, my inquiry weaves together three interlocking themes: first, the contents, styles, and aesthetics that came to define these miscellaneous writings; second, the impact of the transition from manuscript culture to print culture on the production, transmission and reception of these texts; lastly, the changing political and intellectual milieu from late Northern to early Southern Song. To that end, Chapter 1 begins by looking at letterets, and argues that a hierarchical circulation network for these texts made possible an exclusive community of writers and readers, as well as the formation of unique aesthetic tastes in Song epistolary culture. Chapter 2 examines tiba, a type of short notes akin to the colophon in Western manuscripts but with a much wider range of target subjects, both tangible and intangible. By probing tiba’s functions of framing and replacing its subjects, I reveal the material basis of its transformation from a type of inscriptive writings on specific objects to a more general genre about objects and personal experiences. Chapter 3 examines “remark on poetry,” and argues that it flourished in the hands of the transitional generation of writers who attempted to redefine the values of poetry against the draconian intellectual environment of the day. Chapter 4 looks at anecdotal writings or biji, particularly those that focus on representing the fall of the Northern Song. In contrast to other formal genres such as poetry and official history, biji constituted an indispensable venue for the transitional generation to make sense of and offer personal reflections on the traumatic dislocations of their time. Overall, this dissertation paints a dynamic picture of how a group of marginalia texts originally meant to be ephemeral adopted add-on cultural values and became lasting mementos of a lost era, and how generic categories, aesthetic yardsticks, and the very meaning of “literature” evolved as a result of emerging modes of textual transmission.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42015442
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