Language as Bodily Practice in Early China: A Chinese Grammatology

SUNY Press (2018)
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Abstract

Challenges the idea held by many prominent twentieth-century Sinologists that early China experienced a “language crisis.” Jane Geaney argues that early Chinese conceptions of speech and naming cannot be properly understood if viewed through the dominant Western philosophical tradition in which language is framed through dualisms that are based on hierarchies of speech and writing, such as reality/appearance and one/many. Instead, early Chinese texts repeatedly create pairings of sounds and various visible things. This aural/visual polarity suggests that texts from early China treat speech as a bodily practice that is not detachable from its use in everyday experience. Firmly grounded in ideas about bodies from the early texts themselves, Geaney’s interpretation offers new insights into three key themes in these texts: the notion of speakers’ intentions (yi), the physical process of emulating exemplary people, and Confucius’s proposal to rectify names (zhengming). Jane Geaney is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Richmond and the author of On the Epistemology of the Senses in Early Chinese Thought.

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Jane Geaney
University of Richmond

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