Defining boundaries and relations of textual units: Examples from the literary toolkit of Early Chinese argumentation

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Next comes Joachim Gentz with a close description of different examples of literary forms to show how they function as signifiers of boundaries and text relations in early Chinese written argumentation. For this, Gentz chooses three types of literary forms, namely that of the ‘double-directed text units’ with its subcategory of ‘double-directed parallelism;’ the ‘enumerative catalogues;’ the ‘referential signifiers’ and their specific function in the formulation and specification of an argument. The figure of the double-directed text units combines two unrelated parts of an argument and indicates an aspectual relationship of these elements. A subcategory to the double-directed text units is formed by the double-directed parallelism. Here, the parallel form of two sentences, which can operate on the phonetic as well as the syntactical level at the same time, expresses different aspects of one and the same topic. As examples of the Laozi and the Shijing 詩經 show, the double-directed parallelism may also formulate the crucial insight of an argument, and so take on a related function to that of the principal insertion discussed by Meyer in this volume. Whether the two forms of argument have a common origin or perhaps express different aspects of a related argumentative form is a question that remains to be explored.

The second form discussed is that of the enumerative catalogue. Such catalogues define groups of key analytical terms and create a particular conceptual field. The field is thereby not only defined but also structured, and a full representation of the matter is claimed. At the same time, the individual constituents mark the length of argument and act as operators within that field.

As a third category, Gentz discusses the construction of oppositional pairs of positions through contrasts, using the example of the Xunzi to show how contrasting positions are being developed progressively through opposite chains of terms. As in the previous examples of argumentative figures, the literary form not only guides the argument, it also indicates the length of an argument within a text. The examples given by Gentz demonstrate the degree to which close analysis of the literary form of an argument is crucial for understanding an argument in full. The Xunzi, for instance, displays its rhetorical tools at the start by developing them in a strictly uniform fashion, just to weaken the rigid patterns as the text moves on and starts to shift more freely beyond those patterns. It seems as though the form of the text was key to the way in which its authors hoped their audiences would understand and use their text. One is tempted to read this in parallel fashion to the claim in the Xunzi about the realisation of ritual by the individual: the habituation of ritual on the part of the individual requires repetition and drill so that the individual develops a habitus of conduct where any deviation from the form would still be such that it conforms to the internalised patterns of ritual propriety.

Finally, Gentz uses the “Zhu yan” 主言 chapter of the Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記 to demonstrate how the different literary forms are combined and interwoven within one single text.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiterary Forms of Arguments in Early China
EditorsJoachim Gentz, Dirk Meyer
Place of PublicationLeiden
ISBN (Electronic)9789004299702
ISBN (Print)9789004291607
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


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