A young lady surnamed Yu died after obsessively reading Tang Xianzu’s play, The Peony Pavilion. The Ming/Qing literary critic and editor Jin Shengtan, took to bed for four days after reading certain lines of the same play. The encounter with great literature produces an aesthetic shock, comparable to becoming lovestruck. Since Plato and Aristotle, western literary critics have pondered the significance of these emotions provoked by art. Li Qiancheng’s Transmutations of Desire describes how Chinese literary critics addressed this phenomenon, and composed some of the most compelling descriptions and explanations for it.
The “diva” is a common trope when we talk about culture. We normally think of the diva as a Western construction: the opera singer, the Broadway actress, the movie star. A woman of outstanding talent, whose personality and ability are both larger-than-life.
The lineage novel flourished in Korea from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth century. These vast works unfold genealogically, tracing the lives of several generations. New storylines, often written by different authors, follow the lives of the descendants of the original protagonists, offering encyclopedic accounts of domestic life cycles and relationships. Elite women transcribed these texts—which span tens and even hundreds of volumes—in exquisite vernacular calligraphy and transmitted them through generations in their families.
Introducing Hinduism to those not familiar with the religion risks oversimplification. Martin J Dougherty cleverly navigates the pitfalls by sticking to the subjects of origins and central figures of mythology in his fairly comprehensive (for an introduction) Hindu Myths: From Ancient Cosmology to Gods and Demons.
Having recently reviewed Matty Weingast’s attractive collection of poems from the Therigatha, I was somewhat surprised to see that Shambhala had decided to reissue an newly-expanded version of Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha (1996), given that the female half was already available in Weingast’s excellent and sensitively-handled new version. However, in addition to the fact that this edition includes male poets, the choice of female poets is not always identical, and of course it’s also interesting to see how different translators treat the same poems.
Taiwan in 100 Books is an accessible introduction to the history and culture of Taiwan through one hundred English-language books.
One of the most fascinating and mysterious literary phenomena is the process by which one author, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Dante, or in this case, Hafez, comes to loom so high above all their talented and successful contemporaries. Most poetry lovers outside of Iran will not recognize the names of any of Hafez’s rivals and colleagues, and would be surprised to learn that they once enjoyed reputations equal to his.