Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

True Matters Concealed: Utopia, Desire, and Enlightenment in Honglou Meng

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

True Matters Concealed: Utopia, Desire, and Enlightenment in Honglou Meng

Article excerpt

The inevitable collapse of the utopian world of Daguanyuan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in The Dream of the Red Chamber ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) paradoxically facilitates Bao-yu's enlightenment, and therefore helps him move from a spatial utopia to a mental one informed by Chinese Buddhist epistemology.

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Much critical attention has focused on the highly aesthetic world of Daguanyuan, Prospect Garden or the Garden of Total Vision ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), in Honglou meng, The Story of the Stone or The Dream of the Red Chamber ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). For instance, Lucien Miller notes that in the "privileged adolescent world of the garden," Bao-yu and his companions remain sequestered from adult social restrictions, making Daguanyuan an "oasis of pleasure that stands apart from the desert of 'sober' realities beyond the garden wall" (221, 233). Angelina Yee sees this opposition in terms of the masculine world of depravity characterized by "ambition, greed, and duplicity" and the feminine world of unmarried girls in Daguanyuan where qualities of "pacificity, poetry, and feeling" dominate ("Counterpoise" 641). For Ying-shih Yu, the polarity between the "Utopian world" and the "world of reality" can be seen in terms of cleanliness and squalor (13). Indeed, Daguanyuan "evokes the ancient utopian theme of the Peach Blossom Spring (Taohua yuan)" and even the poems written in the garden are "idealized celebrations of a place that is already an ideal" (Levy 120, 126). Still other scholars frame the opposition between the ideal order of Daguanyuan and the existing order as an opposition between Buddhism (and to some extent philosophical Daoism) and Confucianism (Yu, "Quest" 61; Yee, "Self" 397; Chu 316).

Andrew Plaks, who finds a "complementary bipolarity" (59) at nearly every level of the narrative, understands the enclosed landscape of the garden "as an entire world in miniature, in both the spatial and temporal sense" (163). This "aesthetic completeness of the garden landscape" reflects a larger allegory of "cosmic completeness" in the narrative (175, 182). In Plaks's view, Bao-yu is "subject to the delusion that the totality immanent in this enclosed world can withstand the temporal change that characterizes finite existence" (208), and therefore he suffers, as do the other members of the garden community, from a "tragic failure of perception" (207). The inhabitants of Daguanyuan fail to realize that "this self-contained vision of totality, being essentially an illusory approximation, cannot be sustained over a period of time" and will inevitably break down (176). What remains unclear from Plaks's analysis of Daguanyuan, and the allegory of completeness it represents, is how the presence of decay in the idyllic reified garden contributes to the enlightenment of Bao-yu and his subsequent renunciation of the world.

If the garden of Daguanyuan is a soteriological instrument, we need to recognize Honglou meng as "essentially a Bildungsroman in which the protagonists embark on a pilgrimage, a cosmic grand tour--or 'a little trip' in the Buddhist mahasatva's understanding--of learning and development" (Li 134) and as member of a genre or sub genre in traditional Chinese vernacular fiction informed by the Buddhist relationship between reality and illusion (2). According to the doctrine of maya (or huan), all existence with its rise and fall is like a dream, all forms of karma are like images in a mirror, the rising of all things is like a fata morgana, all the worlds are mere transformations (Suzuki, Essays 89). Therefore, salvation for the deluded mind must involve the removal of illusion (maya) and purging of all sorts of undesirable attachments (Yu, "Quest" 83). This essay will advance the claim that the central allegory of Honglou meng is a quest for salvation, rather than a social vision of totality as Plaks suggests. Thus the inevitable collapse of the utopian world of Daguanyuan paradoxically facilitates Bao-yu's attainment of enlightenment. …

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