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 book cries out for a sequel: although Su Shi's poetry after Huangzhou has been labelled as the product of a decline in his powers, it deserves as much attention as any poetry in China. Huangzhou did not signal an end to Su's poetic development, as Fuller acknowledges, but was a turning point on the way to the quieter, subtler voice in which Su dipped tea-water from the river, and inscribed his own portrait. This lowering of the voice happens to so many artists, in all media, that it would be interesting to examine how it occurred in Su's case.
Fuller's study is limited in scope as well as time. It deliberately excludes most of Su's ci and prose, focusing on shi poetry alone. Poems on paintings, religious verses, family poems and certain social poems are underrepresented in favor of those that treat landscape, history, or career. Su's voice bears less of the enthusiasm, warmth and love that posterity has seen in him; through much of the book he seems curiously distant, almost frigid. This may be a result of Fuller's methodology, which calls for the study of a voice rather than a man. But that is the author's prerogative, and it can be useful to look at Su in this way, without being reminded what a delightful neighbor or magistrate he must have made. More regrettable is the cluttered, half-digested impression the book presents, despite its convenient layout. Granted, with such a sprawling topic some untidiness is inevitable, even in a limited study. But this book could have become far more manageable, with a surer control of its subject, if the author had somewhere summarized or highlighted his principal argument instead of letting it flicker in and out among poems, biographical details, and dense theoretical thickets. That train of thought would also reveal itself better, with no loss in contents, if the book's text were reduced by about one-tenth.
In order to clarify those contents, it may be helpful to try to summarize the main outline here:
As Fuller sees it, Su Shi's poetic development meant learning how to think about, and put into words, the meeting of world and self " (p. 3). Because Su lived in the Song, in a world that made less sense than it had to Tang thinkers before the Tang's collapse, Su and other Song poets "labored under a burden of thought unknown in the Tang" (Qian Zhongshu's phrase, p. 41). Su's first models for exploring these thoughts in verse were experimenters such as Mei Yaochen, Ouyang Xiu, and Su Shunqin, but from the beginning his approach showed an individual streak that fit no mold. The young Su had an "active intelligence" that he allowed to flow over his topics with a "constantly varying approach" (pp. 48, 53). But those precocious, ever-shifting visions were unified by a conviction that beneath everything lay an "inherent pattern" (Fuller's excellent rendering of the word li [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED], usually translated as usually translated as principles"and associated with Zhu Xi). Water, whether in a duckpond or a river gorge, always accords with an inherent li, as do countless other phenomena. Su's early poetry, brash and erudite, is the manifestation of a search for ways to place both poet and poetry into a world that is at least partially understandable in terms of li. Poems written through Su Shi's first official post at Fengxiang, in his late twenties, show a poet dealing with landscapes and events in varying ways: sometimes it is hard to tell how much of a poem is landscape and how much is the poet reading the landscape. Throughout these experiments there runs a bold, energetic probing for meaning.
After Wang Anshi's reform administration began, Su Shi served in the capital, where his attitude forced the new regime to teach him the lesson all cocksure young officials must learn (Wang Anshi had learned it already): Su was sent south to Hangzhou, to administer policies he disliked, forcing people to suffer under the laws he represented. As Su pondered how to survive in politics, he learned to enter into the official's role, and to treat poetry as one of his tools. He discovered the advantages of using a persona instead of writing always from his own character. He described his official duties, bringing balance to his customary frankness by taking the persona of a public figure. He visited temples as a quiet, dignified persona. And he experimented with a clowning, non-political, "outsider" persona which, like Ouyang Xiu's before him, was "inescapably political" because it showed his indifference to the regime (p. 157). He began to write ci as well as shi: ci were more shallow on the surface, useful for his increasing social obligations, and compatible with his genuine new interest in poetry's aural and musical potential. As he focused outward on the world, he began to master the Tang objective style of shi poetry, in which he could "Iet the landscape speak" without his having to "read" it (pp. 190-91). In short, he was seeing more of the "inherent pattern" of the world around him, with- its history and traditions, while he correspondingly learned to humble the individual (p. 195).
As he turned forty, serving in Mizhou, then Xuzhou, his public personae matured. His famous contentment and "catholicity of taste" appeared. Not just random qualities, these personae gave him a way to reject calmly "the power of the regime over his inner being," and by extension to vanquish "the power that ... any phenomenon has over the inner man" (p. 199). Successful as an administrator, he was sure of his position with the populace, whom he now knew how to include in his poems. His messages sprouted nuances and layers: he wrote with "political overtones" but seldom or never in overt allegories of "coded political protest" (p. 246).
Coded or not, the political tone of some of his verses got him imprisoned, then exiled-another of the lessons that officials learn. At his Huangzhou outpost he became Dongpo, "Su of East Slope," a "poetic personality with its firm, philosophic, yet jovial poise of spirit" (p. 251), whose particular way of finding joy in adversity transformed the melancholy or defiant exile tradition right down to its marrow. Financially secure, perhaps even comfortable, with his East Slope farm tended for him by his friend Ma Mengde, Su was more a gentleman than a farmer" (p. 286). His persona mingled more tightly with the landscape, "lodging ... in the inherent patterns of rural life that are both natural and human" (p. 271). He redefined Tao Qian, the poet who had somehow been both at home and in exile at the same time. Su's shi poetry was now finely crafted, though limpid, discursive, and rather infrequent: he was probably wary of writing too much in a genre that had threatened to cost him his life. Perhaps as a consequence, the world has come to know the East Slope personality mainly not through Su's shi but through his ci and fu of the time, into which he now channeled most of his boldness and imagination. But the personality is nevertheless complete in the Huangzhou shi poems, and it was with this personality that he produced most of his later verse.
The book ends with Su, anticipating his release from exile, bringing his new voice back into the world of social poetry.
2. REALITY, THEORY, AND THE STUDY OF A SONG POET
One area in which the book will spark debate involves the question of how to balance "theory" with reality" in viewing the work of Su Shi, or indeed any pre-modern writer. By "theory" I mean working principles, both those of the poet and those of the critic or scholar who analyzes the poet. By "reality" I simply mean the obvious, immediate circumstances of a poet's life or a poem's setting, and the most concrete, palpable ways in which those circumstances can be described. Theory and reality need not conflict: they can help explain each other. But it is good to examine their relationship with care, especially when the theories are modern and Western but the poetry being studied is not.
In the case of applying modem, Western theories to a field such as Song painting, we may not need to be quite as wary of those theories: theories are words, but painting is a physical action. Painters generally do not work with words. There is little danger that an analysis couched in words will mask what a painter was doing: on the contrary, it may describe the painting from a useful new angle. At worst the theory will merely be irrelevant. But it can be distracting to use words to analyze a piece that is written with words. Before applying any modern theory to Su Shi-who had theories of his own, after all-one might think long and hard about how Su, given what we know of him, would have discussed his work in Chinese. Which of our terms would he have been likely to use? Which terms would even have been sayable for him? If terms were not sayable in eleventh-century Kaifeng, how accurate are we when we use them? There are cases where a term did not exist in classical Chinese but the concept clearly did: persona," "polemic." We are probably safe in analyzing a Chinese poet with those words. But what about "interiority of voice?" Would Su have uttered that phrase? Would Su have stated that, when Han Yu climbed Mount Heng, "By exposing the apparatus of subjectivity, the subjective meaning attains objective grounding" (p. 112)? If he did not state things that way, would he have felt that way? Would Su's contemporaries have said that "Su Shi, like Han Yu, requires a poetry that allows a more precise, explicit representation of the noetic processes of encounter" ibid.)? Modern theories that produce such statements can unquestionably lead us to new perceptions of old poetry. That is good. But might they at the same time blind us to original perceptions that we have not yet mastered, or even acknowledged?
Wisely, Fuller does not rely on modern terminology alone. He has sought within Su's own vocabulary for a concept that can explain what Su was trying to do poetically. The concept Fuller finds is li, "inherent pattern." We know that Su thought about li in connection with writing; it is certainly sensible to include li in this discussion. But Fuller has trouble making a convincing case for the idea that Su's perception of li was the main factor, or even one of the top twenty factors, in the actual growth of his poetic voice. For one thing, considering how much he wrote, Su did not mention the term often. Indeed he mentioned it so seldom that in order to explain poetry that Su was writing in 1060, Fuller is forced to quote a letter Su wrote in 1100 (p. 8 1). It is a fascinating letter: it says that true writing emerges along with phenomena, not after them or based on them. But li is not at the center of Su's argument even in that letter, and one might question how early, and how often, he had taken that holistic view.
But beyond lack of documentation, the real reason not to count li as a factor in Su's poetic evolution is that doing so would upset the balance between "theory" and "reality" in the writing process. Simply put, the act of analyzing how poems are written can be utterly different from the act of writing them. Though Su analyzed poems and also wrote poems, and though he did mention li in some of his analyses, there is little evidence that li was on his mind in any but the most general way while he was actually composing. Li may have been a binnacle compass for him, but it is hard to believe it was his rudder.
Rather than using Western theory wholesale, or imposing an overly abstract Chinese theory on Su's writing, it would be prudent to ponder the kinds of phrases Ji Yun used in analyzing Su, some of which Fuller quotes: "Inherent pattern can be compared to rice. In a poem, you ferment it to make wine. In philosophical writing, you boil it for eating" (p. 112). A Su Shi poem, says Ji Yun, can twist and turn yet be "as forthright as speech," because "the emotion has natural truth" (p. 145). And "poems on a real object are different from aimless versifying . . . " (ibid.). Ji constantly grounds his readings in palpable metaphors and concrete circumstances.
So does Fuller, to a good extent. His most effective analyses are those that stem from issues that had to have influenced Su's writing in fundamental, immediate ways: Su's political position; his income; social circles and geographical milieu; his career. On the more theoretical or universal side, Fuller often mentions Su's recurring use of water as a metaphor for li and for himself. This highly palpable metaphor, which seems to have welled up from Su's inner being, is worth more study. It could reveal many vistas about Su, using his own words to do so.
But some things about him may always elude analysis. His moon poems from Xuzhou, five of which Fuller quotes and comments on quite well, in the end seem to work more by magic than by any analytical concept we can muster. More subtly uncanny is the way Su's "Eight Poems on East Slope" seem to interact directly with the landscape while at the same time they skillfully distill a particular "voice" from Tao Qian and half a dozen other poetic forebears. While Fuller might have analyzed the East Slope series more, he is right to brush those poems only lightly, saying it would probably be "folly to build a large interpretive framework on them" (p. 284). There can be limits to the mixing of poetry and interpretation.
3. SPECIFIC POEMS RE-EXAMINED
Of the poetry that can and must be interpreted, however, there are certain pieces in this rich selection whose meanings should be reconsidered. Reasons for revising Fuller's analyses cluster around four areas: a) more careful grounding in reality; b) antecedents, allusions, and echoes; c) tone and mood; d) glosses and translations.
a) Grounding in Reality
Many poems that seem indifferent can assume startling power if we pay attention to the immediate, actual circumstances that produced them or under which they have been read. If a poem has sat for ten centuries carved in characters eight inches high on a stone cliff that sixty thousand people visit in a year, one should consider the cumulative power of its words in that setting, and adjust one's analysis accordingly. Less famous poems, too, often stemmed from powerful moments. A bland phrase reworked from the right ancient tome, presented by one close friend to another at a crucial point in life, could have haunted both people as well as all who knew them, though now we may find the lines derivative and the occasion conventional.
History is often as real to poets as it is to anyone: when Mei Yaochen held a Qin-dynasty bronze in his hands, the core of the poem he wrote is not "indignant Confucian moralizing." By Song times, no one needed to be indignant about the Qin, unless they were secretly aiming at their own dynasty; everyone agreed that the Qin had been evil. The force of Mei's poem comes rather in its conclusion, which Fuller calls "anticlimactic": "It is their usefulness that makes things precious: / In a different age, they will all seem absurd" (my trans.; of Fuller, pp. 12-13). The feeling of handling an object twelve centuries old, realizing how useless it has become and why, is the poem's ultimate theme and makes a fit climax indeed.
Real historical places can emit as strong an aura as relics do. One has every reason to assume that such power was working on Su Shi when he visited the White Emperor's temple (pp. 61-62). Fuller finds Su's poem full of "set gestures" that could have been written after reading Gongsun Shu's biography without ever visiting the place. Granted, it could have been written without seeing the site, but would it have been? And does it not diminish the poem to say that its "only aspects ... that reflect the physical reality of the scene are the negations of the ennobling power of Gongsun Shu's influence"? Is it not more likely that the physical reality of Gongsun Shu-not negated in the ruins, but hauntingly present-pervades the entire piece, rhetoric, gestures, conventions and all?
Ouyang Xiu's "Tune of Mingfei" (pp. 33-34), which matched Wang Anshi's ballad about the famous imperial concubine Wang Zhaojun, who was married off to a barbarian prince, should also be reconsidered in terms of real experiences. Ouyang's ballad is hardly a perverse" act of "aesthetic mediation" between primary experience and its poetic embodiment, written by a Song literatus who did not know the Northern frontier first-hand: it is in fact palpably authentic. Song officials, including both Wang and Ouyang, went as envoys deep into Khitan territory, in all weathers, on horseback, sleeping and eating rather roughly. What they did not experience themselves, they could easily supplement with what they heard and saw. There is at least as much direct experience of border life in Ouyang's ballad as in poems about fanning written by officials who had never swung a hoe. Not only that, but the driving force behind that set of ballads is the desire to speak of border affairs as they really are, and of history as it really happened. That concern for reality is what made those poems famous.
Social verses also stemmed from real occasions: when Su Shi penned dangerous political criticism, with an air of "extravagance ... .. in his own voice," light one moment and somber the next, without "the balancing perspective implied by the use of a more crafted and aesthetically mediated yuefu persona" (pp. 152-55), there is a simple explanation for his tone: Su was "Jesting with Ziyou," his own brother, Su Che. Su Shi in a poem to his brother can use any persona he wants. One should not analyze further without fixing that point clearly in mind. It may also be overly analytical to call Su's bragging poem to Chao Duanyan "amusingly perverse" (p. 207), or to consider that Su was beginning anxiously to anticipate his own immortality as a writer. All we need know to understand that poem is that Chao, its recipient, was Su's "fellow graduate," and Su's bantering tone is exactly what fellow graduates should use to each other. One might compare a "roast-your-colleague" session at an American retirement party. Su had a generous nature; a thorough roasting such as he gave Chao is also a form of generosity.
Allusions in poetry are often thought of as "conventions" or cliches," as if they were not quite real. But conventions all evolved from real events. As poets grow older, they can begin to experience the reality behind those conventions, which means they can quote them with enormous clout. Fuller clearly knows this, but does not seem to take its importance fully into account. It could have been illustrated in connection with Su's famous late poem on his portrait at Mount Jin (p. 4). The old chestnut, "body like an unmoored boat," which appears as line 2, probably would not have meant much to Su at age twenty: that may be why the young Su had seldom used such phrases, but coined startling new images of his own. It was in his grizzled old age that the phrase revealed its power, after he had been thrice exiled to "Huangzhou, Huizhou, and Danzhou." The old man, quoting that cliche verbatim, then linking it with three place names, succeeded in merging pure "convention" with pure "particularity of place." Surely this is the meeting of "world and self" that poets strive for. In this quatrain, the reality of Su's life revives and illumines the reality that originally prompted Zhuangzi and Jia Yi to create the cliche.
b) Antecedents, Allusions, Echoes
In other words, antecedents and echoes can be part of a piece's essence, not just its style. More thorough noting of these echoes might help readers understand some of Su's poems more richly, by pointing to the models he was using, better revealing his tone and mood. We might learn more dimensions of his art if we were shown how the virtuoso similes that cascade through his youthful pieces compare with those of the dozens of earlier famous poets who also used such techniques. But instead we are given the rather dry idea that Su was "probing ... the adequacy of categories of mind in relation to the world" (p. 58).
By tracing the debts Su owed his predecessors, we might also learn exactly where and how he was being new. Making new poems out of old building blocks is an issue much discussed in Song verse. More analyses like the excellent one of Su's "Bidding Farewell to the Year" (pp. 95-96), a fresh poem stitched almost entirely from Jian'an phrases, would begin to reveal how Song poets achieved this kind of effect. Echoes from the past can be quite specific: Su's two poems at the Crane Forest and Summoning-the-Recluse temples do not simply follow "generic restrictions": in the first he almost becomes Du Fu, while the second echoes Wang Wei (p. 194). Which words hold those echoes? Which do not? What other echoes are there? Why does he use them?
Su's long crab-apple poem at Huangzhou is well analyzed, and Fuller mentions its "Li sao" pedigree (pp. 256-60). But he has not mentioned Su's feather-light yet insistent rhythmical echoing of that other Chu ci piece, the "Hymn to the Orange" [UNKOWN TEXT OMITTED], and therefore misses a particular key to the poem's unspoiled delicacy. Fuller also misconstrues the crab-apple poem's use of allegory, thereby overanalyzing its effect. Ji Yun did not say "the crab apple symbolically represents Su Shi": if that was what he meant, it would better justify Fuller's analysis. Fuller postulates a complex allegorical relationship , with Su Shi first being the three and then not being the tree. But what Ji Yun, well grounded in the tradition, surely meant was that Su Shi "is speaking of himself in terms of a crab apple" [UNKOWN TEXT OMITTED] yu [UNKOWN TEXT OMITTED] does not always imply a direct identifications. would overburden such a delicate poem; most likely they are not really there. (Vincent Yang confirms that subtler way of reading Ji Yun, seeing the allegory as an analogy," which indirectly juxtaposes the tree with the self: see his Nature and Self, reviewed elsewhere in this issue.)
Fuller's somewhat unclear and rather dubious analysis of Su's "Outing to Mount Jin Temple" (pp. 139-43) might have taken a better tack if it mentioned how the poem (like many Mount Jin poems) pays homage to Zhang Ruoxu's "Spring River Blossom Moon Night," both in its images and its ringing sounds.
In a more serious instance of ignoring an echo, Fuller ends up misinterpreting Su's attitude toward the Tang poet Meng Jiao, and perhaps misreading much of Su's personality. Su's second piece on "Reading Meng -iao's Poems" (p. 228), which Fuller finds "intense" and "harsh" toward Meng, and an "attempt to exorcise Meng Jiao's voice," is actually humorous and affectionate. Its opening line, which we might render as "I do detest thy verses, Master Meng" ft ta A 3* :$ is an unmistakable parody of Li Bo's homage to Meng Haoran three centuries earlier: "I do love thee, Master Meng" 42 2 it 5k T-. Su is not "exorcising" Meng Jiao except in the lightest of ways: he greets him, banters across centuries, humanizes Meng's poems and acknowledges his strong points. If that is the tone of the second poem, the first one easily takes on a similar lightness: it is anything but "distant and ironic," and shows no serious "self-contradiction" in Su's attitude toward Meng.
c) Tone of Voice
That leads to another area in which many recent books, including this one, occasionally stray into unnecessarily harsh judgments of Chinese poems, or project inappropriately violent, ignorant, or sour moods into many of the poets' minds. Perhaps harshness and conflict can be easier to see than the subtle modulations of harmony. And poems that have lasted, like the Qin bronze vessel, into "a different era" in which they are out of context and no longer "precious by being useful," can appear to us more like skeletons than living flesh. But it is extremely important that we struggle to ascertain subtleties of tone. Only then can we begin to answer good questions like the one Fuller asks on p. 166: just how satiric was Su Shi's political verse, and was it rare or typical for the times? And only through this struggle to ascertain the right tone can we assess Song poets' exact feelings about personal fame, anxiety of influence," or any number of issues about which time and distance can confuse us.
Before assuming that a poet has "failed" to realize a truth or establish an emotion in a poem, one might consider that poets often did know what they wanted to say and had worked out exactly how to say it (see pp. 52-53). We may need to put more faith in them. Faithful or not, one would be wise to use restraint in talking about Mei Yaochen's "cold and alienated eye" (p. 30), Su Shi's "disposing" of conventional habits of thought (p. 59), "mocking" the vulgar (p. 60), self-congratulatory" meditations on history (p. 62), slightly accusing woodgatherers" (p. 69), "perverse ambiguity" (p. 75), or religious sentiment that is "mere rhetorical posturing" (p. 216). It is surely misleading to read the final couplet of Su's crab-apple poem in the slightly perverse" way that embodies "a certain sly triumph of Su Shi over the crab apple." Just as Su "forebears" to crush its petals, Fuller is right not to give in to this "suppressed violence" (p. 260). It would have been better if Fuller had also not postulated a final rejection" of the tree: what kind of writer would take the time to compose one of his tenderest, most distinctive pieces about something he finally rejects? What does "rejection" mean here? What impression does that word give readers? Readers who know Su Shi's work well will not be convinced by seeing such words on the page without more persuasive evidence.
Su's poem for Sun Jue's calligraphy collection may also be read here too perversely (pp. 183-88). When Su begins by mentioning how the "Lan Ting Preface" manuscript was carried with the Tang emperor Taizong into his tomb, is the emperor really standing as "an emblem of futility, a warning for avid collectors like Sun Jue"? Or is this simply a warning that one should collect good pieces early, before they have been carried into tombs? Su Shi ends the poem by imagining his own work being admired by some future connoisseur who would long to have met him. Fuller notes, "There is something slightly ungracious and obsessive about this ending: Su Shi seems to elbow Sun Jue aside and sees the poem he has just written as a symbol for his own undying fame, rather than as a celebration of Sun Jue's new repository for calligraphy" (p. 187). Fuller is surely taking Su too humorlessly. Any number of other explanations offer themselves: Su was writing with panache; he was joshing; he imagined the connoisseur would long to have met both Su and Sun (the allusive last line does not specify exactly who wants to meet whom). Instead of "stoic resolve" in the face of inevitable mortality, could these lines not be a blithe dismissal of the need to be stoic? Is "ungracious and obsessive" a likely Su Shi trait? Again, traditional readers will need more convincing before they associate such words with Su Shi's poetry, or with much classical Chinese verse.
When Su praises his cousin Wen Tong's bamboo paintings, why does it seem surprising that he "compliments Wen Tong and the bamboo rather than competing with them" (p. 215)? And why call those lines "indirect" praise? Why not acknowledge the quatrain's generous spirit and simply call it praise, which it is?
When Su Che chose the name "Terrace of Transcendence" [UNKOWN TEXT OMITTED] for Su Shi's pavilion at Mizhou, and wrote fu about it, is that fu really as ploddingly conventional as Fuller implies (p. 212)? When Su Che calls Mizhou an uncouth backwater, is it really an insult? Might it not just be a convention, or even the truth? Su Shi actually invited his brother to name the building. The name that Su Che chose, "Terrace of Transcendence," allowed Su Shi to redefine Transcendence as "there is nowhere I cannot go and not be happy" [UNKOWN TEXT OMITTED] (my trans.). That phrase quickly became a celebrated line that now defines Su Shi's unique spirit for all of East Asia. Su Shi took "Terrace of Transcendence" as the title for his collected cizhou poems. Anyone would be grateful to a brother who thought of such a fruitful name. Can we believe that Su Shi was embarrassed by its stuffiness (p. 347, n. 21)? Why say that Su Shi's dedication piece for the terrace quietly rejects the attitudes and responses found in Su Che's fu" (p. 212)? Why not simply say that Su Shi "revises and develops" those attitudes, as elder brothers are supposed to do in answer to their younger brothers' writings? Why are we not given even a page reference to Su Che's fu, let alone a quotation from it?
d) Glosses and Translations
Such quibbles about the way tones and moods are perceived do not apply to most of the book. But they do stick in the mind, and may distort the impression of Su's voice in serious ways that the author may not have intended. The fact that most of the book remains balanced and fair, though a bit narrow, is surely because Fuller accurately grasps the lexical meaning of almost every word and phrase, and has made sure to understand allusions and variants by carefully reading the major commentaries. Only a few mistranslations affect the presentation. "The Hall of Drunk Ink" fi$*'* (p. 122) is more likely a "Hall of Intoxication with Ink," or perhaps "The Ink-Drunkard's Hall." "A sky of immanent snow" [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] (p. 147) is surely an overrendition of "the sky was about to snow," which also reflects the grammar better. "the mountains were barely visible" [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] (ibid.), if rendered "the mountains were there and then were not," would better hint at the philosophical word-play on "status-negation-of-status" that Fuller mentions. (Vincent Yang has "the hills between existence and non-existence," which may be excessive: Nature and Self, p. 86.) I shall die in prison and not be able to bid farewell to Ziyou" 3E 2 [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] (p. 246) is too bleak: the line says, "If I die in prison, then I shall not be able . . . " The Song credo, "Only in poverty Al does one become skillful in poetry" (p. 250), should be rendered with a broader term, "Only in adversity Ouyang Xiu, Su Shi, Chen Shidao and others all suffered adversity but would probably not have seriously called themselves poor.
4. Mechanics and Presentation
Accuracy is not a problem in Fuller's translations: each word is rendered with an intense effort to account for all nuances. A line of English stands next to each line of Chinese verse, ready to serve as a detailed crib for someone not wholly literate in Classical Chinese, and as a reliable rendition for those who read English only. (It would have been even more help to put parallel couplets into parallel English when possible, dull as that can be.) The author has deliberately translated for meaning, not to be mellifluous or rhythmical: a good idea in a book whose purpose is close analysis of meaning. And it is sensible to acknowledge that "the English versions were never intended to stand on their own" (p. 7). But the book would be far easier to follow and would reach a broader audience if the translations were more coherent from one line to the next. Most of the quoted pieces are hard to read in English: the reader must often restart halfway through, and afterwards can have trouble retaining anything. This is most frustrating with prose passages, which are printed without Chinese texts. The simplest way to achieve coherence would be by carefully choosing connecting words, pronouns, and tenses - the whole range, including pluperfect and future perfect. These elements generally do not exist in classical Chinese as words but are almost always present in the form of word order, parallelism, trains of thought, context or implication. A full translation into a language that does depend on words to express those elements must use the aptest pronouns, conjunctions, etc., to be clear. And those words need not be bracketed: if they are part of the meaning, they are part of the sentence. Brackets merely distract. One does not bracket [it] or [the]. Why bracket [and] and [who can]? This problem of coherence, which mars almost every translation in the book, is not unique to this study but plagues China scholarship throughout North America. The problem of pronouns and tenses is still bound up with the myth that Chinese nature imagery has no people and no sense of time. Fuller does not suffer from that latter problem; the drawbacks here are strictly a matter of rendition, not explication. But it is distressing to think how many potential readers those drawbacks will discourage.
Other quibbles about presentation: This book follows the common practice of printing translated poems that go on and on without so much as a space or indentation to help the reader follow them. Where poems are clearly organized by four-line groups (often the case, as Fuller mentions on p. 187), why not be bold and make them more readable by typesetting the English versions in stanzas? And the characters in stanzas with them? Most readers will know that the original Chinese was not set in stanzas, or even in lines; to set a bilingual work in stanzas is not deception, it is merely editing. Rhyme changes could also become stanza breaks, and would sometimes clarify the meaning. For instance, line 19 of "Outing to Jinshan Temple" is not answering line 18 with a non sequitur: it is not necessarily an answer at all, but simply the first half of a new rhymed couplet (p. 140).
Brackets around pronouns may be superfluous, but quotation marks around allusions, such as "unmoored boat," "forgot myself," or "barren tree trunk," would alert readers to subtleties in Su's tone of voice, by better showing where he was breaking new ground and where he was reworking the tradition. Technical aesthetic terms such as "odd and crafted" L,15 should be mentioned with characters. Characters should accompany all quoted verse. Notes might mention titles of quoted prose passages, to facilitate finding the originals. Pre-modern authors in the bibliography should be given dates. Aside from these points, the book is handsome and convenient. The English and Chinese poem-title indexes are a thoughtful touch.
A few misprints or mistakes:
P. 44, 1. 6. Period, not comma, after " students.
P. 114. Li does not appear in the first and second poems, only in the second.
P. 153,l. 27. Et should be
P. 160,1. 2. [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] should be [UKNOWN TEXT OMITTED]
P. 171,1. 6. ti probably should be it.
P. 171, 1. 8. [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] should be 32.
P. 174,l. 7. ?,9 should be 17-.
P. 201, 1. 25. [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] should be U.
P. 351, n. 85. liebian should be leibian.
Despite its rawness, clutter, and occasional harsh tone, this book should go far toward showing dedicated readers what the Road to East Slope looked like, almost as clearly as if it were winding through the bottom of an ink painting. Future books on different aspects of Su Shi may reveal parts of the road still hidden by thickets. And a sequel could take us into the next painting.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Contour Plowing on East Slope: A New Reading of Su Shi. Contributors: Pease, Jonathan - Author. Journal title: The Journal of the American Oriental Society. Volume: 112. Issue: 3 Publication date: July-September 1992. Page number: 470+. © 1999 American Oriental Society. COPYRIGHT 1992 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.