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Hide and Seek in Early Chinese Literature

Thursday Lecture Series, Hide and Seek

dateMarch 1, 2012 timeThursday, 12:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Columbia University

Professor Fischer explored four different instantiations of his theme, which appear at the level of the word, the sentence, the paragraph, and the book. Prior to the unification of eastern China in 221 BCE, dozens of scholars wrote texts advising their readers on a wide array of issues, from personal self-cultivation to political success in an era of near-constant warfare. One central idea among these texts reminds us that effective communication, both personal and public, is predicated on defining our terms. A rhetorical device that was often employed asks the reader to call to mind precisely the words that were omitted. Longer bits of narrative were often layered in parallel prose that demands analytical attention. Finally, the very authorial paradigm with which we view these texts has in recent decades evolved to appreciate a much higher degree of opacity and uncertainty. Each of these aspects of early Chinese literature highlights a process of concealment that requires our careful attention to fully appreciate. Although these examples are all drawn from early China, each may help us to understand the vagaries of literature from around the world.