Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ring Form Opportunity No. 2: The (Classical) Chinese Novel

While working on another post I took a quick stroll through Franco Moretti’s pamphlet, Network Theory, Plot Analysis. I found this paragraph (p. 8):
An aesthetics of symmetry is on the other hand very present in Chinese literary culture, where readers of novels expect, writes Andrew Plaks, that “the overall sequence of chapters (...) will add up to a round and symmetrical number, typically 100 or 120. The pronounced sense of symmetry (...) provides the ground for a variety of exercises in structural patterning. Most noticeable among these is the practice of contriving to divide an overall narrative sequence precisely at its arithmetic midpoint, yielding two great hemispheric structural movements.” Hemispheric movements ... Think of the rhymed couplets that serve as chapter epigraphs in classical Chinese novels: “Zhou Rui’s wife delivers palace flowers and finds Jia Lian pursuing night sports by day / Jia Bao-yu visits the Ning-guo mansion and has an agreeable colloquy with Qin-shi’s brother”. A does this and meets B; C does that and meets D. As if the two halves of the chapter mirrored each other perfectly: “A very earnest young woman offers counsel by night / And a very endearing one is found to be a source of fragrance by day”. “Parallel prose”, as Chinese aesthetics calls it.
Sounds suggestive, no? Surely some of those texts will turn out to have center point construction, if not full rings.

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