From yuanqi (primal energy) to Wenqi (literary pneuma): A philosophical study of a chinese aesthetic
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophy East and West 59 (1):pp. 22-46 (2009)
Wenqi 文氣 (literary pneuma) is a foundational idea in Chinese aesthetics. It has remained elusive since its initial formulation, however. This is so largely because previous scholars did not examine its ontological and epistemological conditions in analytic terms, still less explore its implications in a conceptual framework of artistic creation. Here, it is proposed to explore its general as well as specific implications against the larger background of Chinese intellectual thought and in relation to contemporary theories of literature and aesthetics. Through a philosophical inquiry, wenqi is here reconceived as an integration of the primal energy of the universe, the creative energy of human beings, and the totalizing force that animates an artistic work. Wenqi is viewed not as a substance or a product but as a creative and shaping force that flows from the writer into his writing, gives it a distinct shape, and makes it different from any other writing. The theory of wenqi is a system of aesthetic principles that govern the creative and shaping force operating in the space of three intertwined entities: the macrocosm of the universe including human society, the microcosm of the writer, and the microcosm of his writing.
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