Word and gesture: On Xuan-school hermeneutics of the analects

Philosophy East and West 54 (4):458-488 (2004)
Abstract
This is an attempt to assemble the fragmentary remains of xuan-school Analects commentary so as to articulate the broad coherence of a xuan-school style of interpretation of that text. A model of "gestural language" is proposed as a way of seeing the overall thrust of interpretive approaches to this text by commentators from Wang Bi in the mid-third century to Huang Kan in the first half of the sixth. This xuan-school approach to reading the Analects is of considerable interest in its own right, reminding us of the centrality of the notions of sagehood and "timeliness" to hermeneutical thought in this period, as well as anticipating some of the insights obtained by modern-day applications of speech-act theory to the interpretation of the text. What close attention to these relatively neglected sources conveys, moreover, is a sense of the real importance of the Analects, and of the sage Confucius, to much xuan-school thought. Viewing this historical style of interpretation in its conceptual sophistication and broad coherence may thus also serve as a corrective to persistent assumptions about xuan-school thought as essentially "metaphysical" or "Neo-Daoist" in its basic orientation
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