Specialist Lecture (4) Poetry, Repetition, and Apophasis among Late Tang Poet-Monks
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The term “poet-monk” (shiseng 詩僧) names a specific Tang-dynasty phenomenon of Buddhist monks who wrote elite poetry and participated in literati culture. It first emerged in the late eighth century, but gained its widest popularity at the turn of the tenth, led by such figures as Guanxiu 貫休 and Qiji 齊己. In this talk, I examine the use of repetition in these monks’ poetry and aim to explain their unusual propensity for it. First, I describe the phenomenon of “retriplication,” or the repetition of the same character three times in a row, and demonstrate how late Tang poet-monks have an especially strong tendency to use this abnormal poetic technique. Next, I show the similarities between this technique and the apophatic discourse of Buddhist logic. In particular, the progression of the tetralemma (Skt. catuṣkoṭi, Ch. siju 四句) creates incantatory repetitions of negative particles, a resource that the poet-monks drew on when writing their verses. By exploiting the music of logical argumentation, the poet-monks were able to create a distinctive voice in late medieval China.
Thomas Mazanec (Ph.D., Princeton University, 2017) is assistant professor of premodern Chinese literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research articles on Tang exchange poetry, Buddhist verse, Shijing adaptations, and English translations of Chinese poetry have appeared in major academic journals such as T’oung Pao, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR),Tang Studies, and the Journal of Oriental Studies. He is also the primary editor of a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture on “Digital Methods and Traditional Chinese Literary Studies.” He is currently revising the manuscript of a book titled The Invention of Chinese Buddhist Poetry.