Contour Plowing on East Slope: A New Reading of Su Shi

By Pease, Jonathan | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 1992 | Go to article overview

Contour Plowing on East Slope: A New Reading of Su Shi


Pease, Jonathan, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Michael Fuller has studied how the poetic voice of Su Shi (1037-1101) evolved from youth through early middle age, attaining its well-known mature form during Su's exile at Huangzhou in his late forties. The detail and emphasis on literary theory of Fuller's book may help raise Su Shi studies in the West to a new sophistication. Some of the book's limitations are deliberate: it discusses only shi, not ci, and does not study the poet's later works. Other limitations are symptomatic of many new Western studies in Chinese literature: translations that are accurate but hard to follow, overly theoretical analysis that distorts some poems' contents, and occasional attribution of a harshness or violence to classical voices that is misleading and probably not authentic.

1. SEEKING VOICES

For those of us who did not live in the Song, it is probably easier to understand Song paintings than Song poems. A sensitive person with no sinological background, thinking entirely in English, can still develop a feel for Song paintings-or porcelain or architecture-distinguish them from those of the Tang or Ming, and begin to feel subtleties of individual style. Specialists can do far more. But with Song poetry, Western scholars are only now edging toward a search for those elusive elements that combine to make poetic voices." And this exploration is still engulfed by the need to continue with sinology's original business: deciphering texts and reassembling events. An enormous amount of this basic work is necessary even to read classical comments about poems with any intelligence, to say nothing of reading the poems themselves or producing analyses of one's own. Half-visible behind a screen of language, their origins and uses by no means as clear as those ink-painted fishing streams or celadon brush-washers, Song-dynasty poems simply will not project their voices to an unprepared reader, even in Chinese, and not to any reader in translation.

Along with further philological research, we also need to gain a better grasp of broad trends before presuming to guess how particular writers produced particular poems and how they were first read. We still have much to learn about the entire Song before we can truly probe for the voice of such a complicated writer as Su Shi M (1037-1 101). But it is useful to study Su as an individual even at this stage. Ultimately, it may be the only way to study him. His style and thought were highly individual; his individualism, and the ways he voiced it, have woven themselves so thoroughly into the tradition that by now he embodies the essence of an age into which he may not have fit particularly well while he was alive.

Michael Fuller has made valiant progress at recovering parts of Su Shi's voice. Any Western scholar of this period would be wise to look through Fuller's book carefully. With its annotated translations of 103 of Su's poems and twenty-one by other writers, it shows how Su Shi's poetic approaches evolved from his youth into their mature form during his Huangzhou exile. Annotations are accurately written, Chinese characters copious, misprints few, and each poem is followed by an analysis that filters nine centuries of Chinese and Japanese commentary through a matrix of modern critical methods. This represents a leap for Su Shi's image in English, from the "Gay Genius" born out of hoary legend, directly to an elusive, cerebral, perhaps slightly de-constructed Su of paper and ink. (However, we should not forget the understated, big-hearted Su described by Yoshikawa, whose introduction to Su remains the best available in English: Kojiro Yoshikawa, trans. by Burton Watson, An Introduction to Sung Poetry [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 19671].) Fuller's book does not provide the final word on Su, nor will any book about this man who took flowing water as a leitmotif and found it pointless to try to identify "Mount Lu's true face." Still, Fuller's masses of data and opinions should help propel Western discussions about Su Shi closer toward the sophistication of the best Chinese commentators. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Contour Plowing on East Slope: A New Reading of Su Shi
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.