Tobunken-Seminer “Is the “Li sao” 離騷 Actually One Poem? — Observations on Structure and Intertext (Professor Martin Kern, Princeton University)”

Dates and time: April 9th, 2018 14:00-16:00

Venue: The First Conference Room (第一会議室), third floor at IASA

Discussant: Professor Hiroshi Taniguchi (University of Tokyo)

The “Li sao” 離騷, traditionally attributed to Qu Yuan 屈原, is widely considered not only the most important poem within the Chuci 楚辭 anthology but also the very first one: the master text of the entire collection. Many scholars have questioned the attribution of other Chuci poems to Qu Yuan, but few have gone so far as to question his authorship of the “Li sao.” In his lecture, Professor Kern is not interested in the “Qu Yuan question,” that is, the question about the very existence of a historical figure named Qu Yuan; he assumes that Qu Yuan did once exist and then lived on the cultural memory of Chu as the iconic representation of a lost aristocratic culture. Instead of focusing on the historical persona, Kern examines the “Li sao” as a text that is not the origin of the early tradition of Chu poetry but its culmination: a composite text that in its present form is the literary summation of the various ways in which the Qu Yuan persona, and Chu culture in general, was remembered and impersonated in Western Han times, in particular at the court of Liu An 劉安, King of Huainan 淮南. In other words, Kern treats the “Lis ao” not as a single-authored text but as a compilation of different literary and performative poetic repertoires that existed in multiple versions both oral and written. In his analysis, the “Li sao” combines such repertoires that are clearly recognizable in other early parts of the Chuci anthology, including in the “Jiu ge” 九歌, the “Jiu zhang” 九章, the “Tian wen” 天問, and the “Jiu bian” 九辯.