A talk by Martin Kern (Princeton University)
Archaeological and art historical scholarship of the past two decades has firmly established the reality of a ritual reform in mid-to late Western Zhou times. Proceeding from an analysis of Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, Shijing ritual hymns, and Shangshu royal speeches, the lecture takes the issue further to reflect on the nexus of material and textual aesthetics, on the newly organized space of the ancestral sacrifice and its relation to political administration, and on the performative qualities not only of the ritual hymns but also of the inscriptions and royal speeches. In this context, the royal speeches will be considered not as utterances of their purported speakers, the early Western Zhou rulers, but as commemorative texts through which the mid- and late Western Zhou royal court, at a period of political and military decline, retrospectively imagined and idealized the founding heroes of the dynasty.
(PhD, Cologne University, 1996), Professor of Chinese Literature, Princeton University
Professor Kern is the author of, among others, Text & Ritual in Early China (Univ. of Washington Press, 2005); The Stele Inscriptions of Ch'in Shih-huang (American Oriental Society, 2000); Die Hymnen der chinesischen Staatsopfer: Literatur und Ritual in der politischen Repräsentation von der Han-Zeit bis zu den Sechs Dynastien [The hymns of the Chinese state sacrifices: Literature and ritual in political representation from Han times to the Six Dynasties] (Franz Steiner, 1997); Zum Topos „Zimtbaum“ in der chinesischen Literatur: Rhetorische Funktion und poetischer Eigenwert des Naturbildes kuei [The topos of the “cinnamon tree” in Chinese literature: Rhetorical function and poetic value of the nature image gui] (Franz Steiner, 1994) . He describes his research interests as follows:
My work cuts across the fields of literature, philology, history, religion, and art in ancient and medieval China, with a primary focus on poetry.
Studying the composition, reception, and canonization of early texts, I am particularly interested in two questions: the performance of texts in political and religious ritual and their role in the formation of ancient and medieval Chinese cultural memory and identity. These issues lead into the complex problems of writing and orality and to the phenomenon of texts as material artifacts, especially with newly excavated manuscripts and inscriptions.
Another major field of my interest is in Chinese poetry, its theory, aesthetics, and hermeneutic practices. I am currently spending much of my time on the early history of the Classic of Poetry and the origin and early development of Chinese literary thought. Again, newly excavated manuscripts are of central importance to rethink the fundamentals of classical Chinese poetics.
And some day, I must escape for a while from early China to write a book on Du Fu’s poetry. In the end, that’s why I study classical Chinese.
Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies
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