By Robert Ford Campany
Honorable point out, Joseph Levenson Prize (pre-1900 category), Association for Asian Studies
By the center of the 3rd century B.C.E. in China there have been people who sought to develop into transcendents (xian)―deathless, godlike beings endowed with supernormal powers. This quest for transcendence turned an incredible kind of spiritual expression and helped lay the basis on which the 1st Daoist faith used to be outfitted. either xian and people who aspired to this exalted prestige within the centuries top as much as 350 C.E. have characteristically been portrayed as secretive and hermit-like figures. This groundbreaking examine deals a truly diverse view of xian-seekers in overdue classical and early medieval China. It means that transcendence didn't contain a withdrawal from society yet fairly could be obvious as a spiritual function positioned between different social roles and conceived unlike them. Robert Campany argues that the much-discussed secrecy surrounding ascetic disciplines used to be truly one very important method within which practitioners provided themselves to others. He contends, additionally, that many adepts weren't socially remoted in any respect yet have been a lot wanted for his or her energy to heal the in poor health, divine the long run, and narrate their unique experiences.
The publication strikes from an outline of the jobs of xian and xian-seekers to an account of the way participants stuffed those roles, even if through their very own organisation or by means of others’―or, usually, by way of either. Campany summarizes the repertoire of positive factors that constituted xian roles and offers an in depth instance of what analyses of these cultural repertoires seem like. He charts the services of a easy dialectic within the self-presentations of adepts and examines their narratives and family members with others, together with family and officers. ultimately, he appears at hagiographies as makes an attempt to cajole readers as to the identities and reputations of previous members. His interpretation of those tales permits us to work out how reputations have been formed or even co-opted―sometimes relatively surprisingly―into the ranks of xian.
Making Transcendents presents a nuanced dialogue that pulls on a cosmopolitan seize of various theoretical assets whereas being completely grounded in conventional chinese language hagiographical, historiographical, and scriptural texts. the image it provides of the search for transcendence as a social phenomenon in early medieval China is unique and provocative, as is the paradigm it bargains for knowing the jobs of holy people in different societies.
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Additional resources for Making Transcendents: Ascetics and Social Memory in Early Medieval China
62. Compare Greenblatt, Learning to Curse, 13: “We can . . ” The ensuing two pages, too long to quote here, are highly instructive, and directly relevant to this discussion. 63. For a literary analysis of this mechanism, see Todorov, The Fantastic. 64. For further discussion of the history of “fiction” and the hermeneutical issues involved in reading hagiographies and marvel tales evidentially, see Dudbridge, Religious Experience and Lay Society in T’ang China, esp. 16–17 (“a literature of record, not of fantasy or creative fiction”), though I also feel that Dudbridge goes a bit far in taking some stories as literal accounts of events and then trying to overlay on them a modern medical or “scientific” template.
An important recent collection of essays from which I have also profited is Machor and Goldstein, Reception Study. A seminal application of this way of thinking to religious productions is Richard Davis’ Lives of Indian Images. 82. Staiger, Interpreting Films, 22; the last clause is quoted from Steven Mailloux. 83. , 32. Bringing Transcendents Down to Earth 27 But when we carry reception study from the realm of books, films, and art objects to that of religious virtuosi, modifications are required.
48 The role of the audience, then, is crucial to the hagiographic process and to the making of holy persons’ reputations (more on this below). 49 47. Martyrdom and Memory, 4–5 (I have juxtaposed two sentences that in Castelli’s text are separated by a page of intervening prose). Compare 29. 48. Barbara Herrnstein Smith, “Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories,” 232–233. Or, if we think of a hagiographic text as a sort of art work, then Stephen Greenblatt’s comments are apt: “Artistic expression is never perfectly self-contained and abstract, nor can it be derived satisfactorily from the subjective consciousness of an isolated creator.