Texts on the Civilization of Medieval China 234

For many aspects of traditional education and literacy, the Analects might be termed a sort of “book zero”— beyond its own particularities of structure and content, it played from very early on an outsized role in defining and in structuring what reading itself was for and about, as well as the ground rules under which reading and interpretation were deemed most “naturally” to be carried out. In the early period, the Analects (along with the Classic of Filial Piety) might often be mentioned as the single classic text that a marginally literate person (say, a military man) had studied; yet its status was never circumscribable to that of a primer. In fact, the interpretive challenges it poses—the problem of interpreting situational meanings; and particularly that of discerning situational meanings of Confucius in particular—are so fundamental to the entire project of Classicism that Analects exegesis may be seen as carrying on a core function within Classicist hermeneutical thought in general. The Classics proper were deemed all to have received the imprimatur of Confucius in some way during his lifetime, through some combination of editorial shaping all the way up to full-blown authorship in the case of the Spring and Autumn Annals. The production of the Analects, by contrast, is traditionally described as emerging from the disciples’ response to the death of Confucius—the project of gleaning, collecting, and preserving fragmentary recollections of his personal teaching in action was at root driven by their unwillingness to “let go” of the Master’s responsive living presence. Thus in the Analects, the horizon within which interpretation occurs is that direction of imaginative and reconstructive effort asymptotically directed toward restoring that very living presence. That personal presence is the missing element that the text’s words are fated to point to without ever being able to adequately “express” it; such an interpretive impasse, signaled for example in the key catch-phrase wei yan 微言, or “subtle speech,” was a central leitmotif both for hermeneutical thought, theories of time and understanding, as well as a generative kernel for a range of other contexts where the rhetoric of direct address, generically embodied in the “recorded speech” genre (yuluti 語錄體), took center stage. In this class we will carry out a chronologically ordered series of readings in primary sources, including both Analects passages and commentary proper, as well as a range of sources that may be viewed as transpositions or afterwritings of the Analects. The general course aims, accordingly, are to deepen our conversancy in the interpretive world of the Analects as well as to learn to apply this Analects-derived interpretive “toolkit” to a broader range of premodern Chinese texts where a direct connection to the Analects itself may be elusive or even absent.