郭建:Book review:Allegoresis: Reading Canonical Literature East and West.

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郭建 (进入专栏)  

Comparative literature has won its battles at a cost of identity, writes Haun Saussy in a decennial report on the state of the discipline he prepared on behalf of the American Comparative Literature Association which appears as a lead article in Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). On the one hand, the teaching, and the study, of literature has been steadily going comparative in the past decade; or rather, in the past fifty years since the Second Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association held at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in September 1958, a defining moment in which a group of prominent North American scholars, some of them polyglot émigrés from Europe, argued forcefully for a comparative study of literature embracing transnational categories and interdisciplinary approaches in reaction to what they saw as rigidly historicist, positivistic, and culturally nationalistic tendencies of traditional comparativism represented by contributors to the French journal Revue de littérature comparée. Today, literary and critical works originally written in foreign languages are taught in departments of English; the transnational dimension of literature and culture is universally recognized; theoretical analysis is something that everyone more or less engages in; and cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspectives are widely respected. The triumph of comparative literature is such that, in Saussy’s words, “Our conclusions have become other people’s assumptions” (p. 3). On the other hand, however, the subtle and quietly transformative influence thus achieved has also contributed to an identity crisis of the discipline. While those in the humanities adopting theories and methodologies pioneered by comparatists rarely identify themselves as primarily comparatists, literary scholars, including practitioners of comparative literature itself, move so far into a space of interdisplinarity called “cultural studies” that they almost give up literature itself. In the meantime, comparative literature programs on college campuses, usually of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary formation, remain small; they are actually shrinking in correlation with a host of shortages: jobs in the field, and hence students, and hence institutional support. As a result, comparative literature has increasingly become marginal and phantom-like.

There has been no lack of speculation and prophesies about comparative literature’s supposed decline, and even demise, in recent years, to which Saussy’s more substantive and cautious assessment is a welcome corrective. For the health of the discipline, so, too, is his patient articulation of the centrality of literariness in the tradition of comparative literature to the urge for going cultural as reflected in the previous decennial report (Charles Bernheimer, ed., Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995). As for the discipline’s widely perceived loss of identity, one may differ a little by pointing out that, one, the problem could be innate in the first place due to the difficulty of feeling at home complacent and content with a national literature for someone already well-versed in several languages and literatures and, as Saussy himself observes, to the comparatist’s being identified with the “processes of interchange” and more invested in methods than in subject matter (p. 11). Two, there has been a slow though steady output of solid works of scholarship that not only most fittingly belong to but also continue to set new standards and mark new territories for comparative literature. One such work is Zhang Longxi’s recent book entitled Allegoresis: Reading Canonical Literature East and West (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2005).

A comparative study of allegorical interpretations of canonical texts East and West, most notably the ancient Chinese Book of Poetry (Shi jing 詩經—the Confucian classic more popularly known in English translation, to Arthur Waley’s credit, as the Book of Songs) and the Biblical Song of Songs, Allegoresis exemplifies what Claudio Guillén defines as a third model of supranationality in The Challenge of Comparative Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), an examination of phenomena “genetically independent”—that is, beyond historical contacts, linguistic affinities, and shared socio-cultural conditions—that may lead to most interesting and most significant theoretical conclusions (Guillén, p. 70). With possible theoretical affinities, rather than positively traceable evidence of reception and influence, as grounds for comparison, Guillén sees in today’s East-West studies “especially valuable and promising opportunities” for the “dialogue between unity and diversity that stimulates comparativism to focus on the open confrontation of criticism/history with theory; or . . . of our knowledge of poetry—supranational poetry—with poetics” (pp. 70-71). While the postcolonial critique championed by scholars like Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak may have achieved its goals brilliantly in challenging a dominant Eurocentric comparativism from the position of the peripheral, the “Other,” and the subaltern but also encountered its own limitations, especially in an age of globalization—so much so that Spivak has only recently resorted to an idiom of clinical emergency (“the last gasp of a dying discipline,” for instance) to express hope in her 2003 Wellek Library Lectures on a new, “planetary” comparative literature (G. C. Spivak, Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003)—a supranational perspective adopted for a more level playing field in East-West studies, an approach pioneered by Qian Zhongshu (Guan zhui bian管錐編 [The Tube and Awl Chapters], 1979; Tan yi lu談藝錄 [Discourses on the Literary Art],1984) and James J. Y. Liu (Chinese Theories of Literature , 1975; Language-Paradox-Poetics: A Chinese Perspective, 1988) and magisterially demonstrated by Zhang Longxi in Allegoresis and in his earlier work The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics, East and West (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1992), is breaking a new ground for comparative literature.

The point of departure for Allegoresis is the author’s keen observation that certain texts, particularly canonical ones like the Bible and the Confucian Book of Poetry, are traditionally interpreted as meaning something other than what the texts literally mean. Take a well-known image from the Song of Solomon, for instance: the two breasts of the beloved, “like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies” are identified in some of the Jewish midrashic exegeses as Moses and Aaron, and the theme of love and union between bride and bridegroom depicted with all its sensual beauty is generally understood as the divine love between Yahweh and Israel, and later, in Christian allegorization, as love between Christ and the Church. Likewise, “Guan ju,” the first poem in the Chinese Shi jing, or the Book of Poetry, a lovely little song about the beauty of a girl and the joy and lovesickness of a gentleman courting her, is the prime target of elaborate moral-political exegesis in over two thousand years of Chinese canonical commentaries and has long become, among many other interpretations, an encomium of the virtuous queen of the Confucian ideal ruler King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty (d. 1027 BCE). Why, then, are these canonical texts, different in themselves and divergent in their cultural origins, read, or misread, in a similar way? What are the moral, political, and religious frameworks within which such reading takes place? And is it possible to translate the concept of the allegorical across linguistic and cultural boundaries? These are some of the questions that drive the theoretical venture of Allegoresis. The last question is especially important not only because it points directly to the thesis of the book but also because Zhang’s full and positive answer to this question, along with his insightful note on reading and politics, makes Allegoresis one of the few most informed and most forceful critique of the intellectual and theoretical fashion still reigning in the academy today.

It may appear counter-intuitive, even counter-productive, to raise such a question when examples seem already to speak for themselves. Anyway, Qian Zhongshu finished the monumental Guan Zhui Bian bringing together divergent texts from distant corners of the world without ever asking the question about translatability or comparability. But, in an age of cultural relativism in which a philosophy of difference has effectively deconstructed the concept of commonality and, along with it, the grounds for comparison, Zhang Longxi no longer had that luxury, which is why he begins the book with a long introduction validifying cross-cultural understanding. Invoking the sophistry of Zhuangzi—“You are not me, how do you know that I do not know about fish’s happiness?” Zhuangzi asks Huizi, a skeptic and a relativist—along with the relevant ideas of Aristotle, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Martha Nussbaum, and others about how one knows, especially how one knows the other, Zhang rejects the relativist’s unreflective certainty in his negative knowledge absolutizing difference and argues from a position like Zhuangzi’s, at once universalist and egalitarian, that “the belief in the possibility of common knowledge and cross-cultural understanding, in the availability of conceptual tools for the interpretation of human behavior across the boundaries of language, geography, culture, and time, can indeed come from a genuine appreciation of the equal capabilities of different individuals, peoples, and nations” (p. 11). To clear the ground for an exploration of such knowledge and understanding, Zhang goes on to dispute several well-known positions in the field of China studies that insist on drastic polarities and dichotomies between East and West. These include Stephen Owen’s view that, in contrast to the fictionality and createdness of Western literature, the Chinese written language “is itself natural,” and the classical Chinese poet only “participates in the nature that is” (p. 22); Pauline Yu’s sense of Chinese poetic imagery as “a literal reaction of the poet to the world around him and of which he is an integral part” and hence free from “disjunctures between true reality and concrete reality” or “fundamental ontological dualism” characteristic of Western art (pp. 22-23); and François Jullien’s idea of the fundamental incommensurability of Chinese and Western literatures/cultures as representing natural manifestation on the one hand and human creation on the other. More influential, and certainly beyond the field of sinology, is Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound’s reading of the Chinese written characters as “shorthand pictures of the operations of nature,” which was welcomed by Jacques Derrida as a break from the phonocentric tradition of the West and made Julia Kristeva wonder about the possibility that the Chinese language might have preserved the pre-Oedipal or pre-symbolic semiotic register. Fruitful, and even inspiring, as these myths may have been to a Westerner battling the perceived limitations of his/her own culture, they are myths, nevertheless, as Zhang convincingly demonstrates. A case in point central to his argument about a shared sensibility and common knowledge beyond difference is, of course, the fact that the Chinese language, as “symbolic” as any other language, is a rich medium for metaphor, fictionality, and above all, allegory, a double structure of text and meaning.

In the chapter that follows the introduction, Zhang draws on a breathtakingly wide range of sources from Hebrew, Greek, medieval and modern European, and Chinese hermeneutic traditions and conducts with considerable depths a sensitive, nuanced, mutually illuminating parallel study of the allegorical readings of the Biblical Song of Songs and the Chinese Book of Poetry. On the Judeo-Christian side, from Rabbi Aquiba to Father Origen, from Jewish midrash to Christian allegorization, the Song of Songs has always been interpreted, Zhang notes, as an allegory of divine love. The “strong” reading tends to relate the scriptural text to the doctrines of Judaism or Christianity, sublimate the carnal, and force upon it a spiritual meaning. In the Chinese commentary tradition since Confucius, history, and what the commentators make of history in a moral and political sense, plays the role religion does in the West. With detailed textual analyses, Zhang shows how historical—rather than religious—contextualization has been used as a major way of reading the Shi jing poems allegorically, assigning them, especially the erotic ones, moral and political meanings that a “naïve” reading will never yield, and hence justifying the poems’ canonicity. At the center of such allegoresis is the myth of a lost Golden Age, the reign of King Wen that Confucius held to be a materialization of the tao, a paradigm of moral perfection and political harmony in his historical restoration program. Here the secular has almost become the sacred in a historical imagination that projects a lost Edenic past into the distant future as the human destiny. Apparently, the literal sense of the beautiful poems in both the Song of Songs and the Shi jing has nothing to do with such a vision. But the magic of allegorization, especially with the crucial strategy of displacement as Zhang illustrates it—a way to identify an element or a character in the text (say, the bride or the bridegroom in the Song, or the speaker in a Shi jing poem) with something or someone totally different from what the text literally refers to—effectively changes the rule of the game so that the canonical text can be rid of carnal, erotic, or “improper” elements and is read—or rather, misread—as signifying something other than its literal or “intended” sense.

After contemporary critical theory has made us keenly aware of the possible endlessness of the traces of words woven into a text on the one hand and, on the other, the unreliability of our judgment as readers, given the cultural and ideological assumptions and biases that underlie our own perspective, can we still talk about the literal sense of a text and our grasp of it if there is such a thing? Or, as Zhang asks in chapter 3 of Allegoresis, “having acknowledged our own historicity and blindness, which are perhaps inseparable from our insight, dare we yet judge and evaluate, dare we say that there are, after all, misreadings and misinterpretations? Should realization of our own limitations in knowledge completely paralyze our sense of right and wrong, our ability to distinguish a reasonably valid reading from a glaringly mistaken or willfully distorted one?” (p. 153) Agreeing with Umberto Eco on the “intention of the text,” the idea that “the internal textual coherence controls the otherwise uncontrollable drives of the reader,” Zhang emphasizes the importance of our respect for textual integrity and linguistic normality and sees the literal sense embedded in the “total structure of the text” as the legitimate basis for allegorization and a safeguard against willful ideological interpretations (pp. 126-127). Here, as everywhere else in the book, Zhang’s analysis of the tension between text and meaning, between the literal sense and the allegorization, is nuanced and broadly referential, bringing together history, criticism, and theory. For instance, his discussion of the concept of the literal sense is rarely just theoretical and formalistic, but mostly situated in the hermeneutic traditions East and West. He notes the tradition in Christian hermeneutics from Augustine to Aquinas to Luther that sees the Bible as self-explanatory—i.e. “Holy Scripture is its own interpreter,” as Luther famously put it—and emphasizes the importance of the literal sense for any allegorization, though each of the theologians is bound to have his own assumptions for the sense of the literal. Similarly, in the Chinese commentary tradition, scholars from Zhu Xi (1130-1200) of the Song dynasty down to Gu Jiegang and Zheng Zhenduo of the 20th century seriously challenged the authority of the moralistic readings of the Han dynasty commentators and paid more and more attention to the literal sense. In a largely secular context, the prominent neo-Confucian Zhu Xi who insisted that “the words of sages are clear and easy to understand,” was apparently freer than Luther in the reforming mood: once Zhu Xi, basing his judgment on the literal sense, recognized the songs classified as “airs” in the Book of Poetry to be “mostly folksongs and ballads which originate from the streets and lanes” and, being a moralist himself, dismissed quite a number of them as virtually “licentious poems.” In other words, Zhang writes, “Zhu Xi was ready to acknowledge that not every text in the Book of Poetry enjoyed the status of canonicity” (p. 140). The questioning of, and the dispute over, the canonicity of certain texts is certainly common to the developments of any canon in any culture. Here, a canon, of the East or the West, seems to be duty-bound to both distort and preserve: a poem, like the Song of Songs or the ones in the Shi jing, especially ones dedicated to earthly life, can hardly escape the fate of allegorization once it is canonized, which often means being read as meaning something other than its literal sense. And yet, as the same time, without the protection of a canon with its allegorical armor, the poem is very likely to be forgotten and to disappear. The 20th century Chinese literary historian Zheng Zhenduo noted that the Book of Poetry “has long been buried by layer upon layer of exegetical debris,” from which it is the task of the modern scholar to rescue the poetic text and bring it to the light of new literary studies (p. 148). Zheng was among the first to notice the similar fates that the Shi jing and the Song of Solomon had suffered in the hands of commentators. An iconoclastic scholar of the May Fourth generation, Zheng is confident that modern scholars are now in a position to grasp the “true nature” of texts, while Zhang Longxi, who values Zheng highly, takes a much more sophisticated and more generous approach to allegoresis, with a distinct Gadamerian feel. From time to time, though, Zhang may strike the reader as being a bit too generous, a point I shall discuss toward the end of this review.

Now I would like to turn to Zhang Longxi’s note on reading and politics that I have mentioned earlier. “Reading and Politics” is the title of his concluding chapter, but the theme as reflected in his mention of cases of literary inquisition in Chinese history—instances of persecuting writers for writing allegedly satirical and slanderous poems against authority; that is, cases framed on the basis of allegorical reading—lurks in the background from the introductory chapter all the way through the book, so much so that Zhang’s critique of difference-centered cultural relativism and his ethical concern over subversiveness-hunting political allegorization form a dual thesis of the book. Considering the fact that over thousands of years it was the rulers and those on the side of imperial and institutional power who tended to suspect writing to be political allegory and hence read for traces of subversiveness, it is rather curious that supposedly left-leaning, authority-challenging critics, especially those of the new historicist persuasion, have embraced that tendency and made subversiveness-hunting a vogue today. One may trace the onset of this renaissance, as Zhang Longxi describes in the concluding chapter, to the publication of The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance (ed. Stephen Greenblatt. Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, 1982). In his introduction to the book, Greenblatt attempts to distinguish new historicism from old historical scholarship in a critique of Dover Wilson’s 1939 essay, “The Political Background of Shakespeare’s Richard II and Henry IV.” A major difference between the two is highlighted as they interpret a remark Queen Elizabeth made on August 4, 1601, on a performance of Shakespeare’s play that dramatized the deposing and killing of King Richard II. “I am Richard II. Know ye not that?” the queen responded to the play which was staged one day before the abortive Essex rising. Wilson saw the queen as being oversensitive since the play was not at all politically subversive. For Greenblatt, however, Queen Elizabeth’s remark is a much more adequate response than Wilson’s to the political significance of Shakespeare’s work precisely because she sensed the potential subversiveness in the play and its performance; she understood them as a “political allegory” (219). Later, in his discussion of Thomas Harriot’s evangelical colonialism, his reputation as an atheist, and the charge of atheism brought against Christopher Marlowe, Greenblatt comments on a “strange paradox” of power that both produces its own subversion and is actively built upon it. However, such a paradox, Zhang writes, “appears strange only to us who are not, or no longer, directly under the control of that power, whereas the paradox may well remain a blind spot in the political vision of those who are subject to that control, or who have an interest in keeping that paradox unexplored and invisible” (pp. 224-225). What, then, would be the significance of the new historicist’s intellectual detective work done from a safe distance, the celebrated result of which so often indicates that, after all, the Elizabethan royal police had good reason to conclude that Harriot and Marlowe and others like them were indeed guilty as charged? Wouldn’t it be also a paradox that the new historicist seems to have inadvertently sided with the power he likes to see subverted? Zhang’s ethical concern about politicized reading is further heightened with an existential urgency: “what happens if the subversiveness is found in our time, or more exactly, what if it is perceived to pose a threat to the power of a political establishment that exists today, in our own society?” (p. 227)

The example Zhang offers to illustrate this question is a piece of subversiveness-hunting political allegoresis that literally launched China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Briefly, here is the story. At a top-level meeting of the Chinese Communist Party held in April 1959, Chairman Mao Zedong spoke favorably of Hai Rui (1514–1587), a legendary upright official of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Much concerned with the widespread fear of speaking the truth about the party’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and People’s Commune programs, Mao advised that one should learn from Hai Rui’s unbending character and forthright courage to speak. At another top-level meeting three months later, however, Marshal Peng Dehuai, then minister of defense, was criticized and denounced because he had written a candid personal letter to Mao about the problems of the party policies. Between these two meetings, Hu Qiaomu, of the CCP Propaganda Department, suggested to Wu Han, a famed Ming historian and deputy mayor of Beijing, that he write about Hai Rui in support of Mao’s call for honesty and truthfulness. Wu soon published two articles on Hai Rui and wrote a play entitled Hai Rui Dismissed from Office for the Peking Opera Company of Beijing. The play was first performed in Beijing in January 1961. Between 1962 and 1964, some of Mao’s ideological allies began to talk about Wu Han’s play as a political allegory with a subversive intent and demanded that the play be criticized as such. But their demand was largely ignored in Beijing. Finally, in early 1965, Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) and two Maoist intellectuals, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan, started to plan an attack on Wu Han from their base in Shanghai. For about eight months as Yao Wenyuan was working on the article, the writing was kept secret from top party leaders in Beijing except Mao, who read three drafts of the article before it was published in Shanghai’s Wenhui Daily on November 10, 1965. Making a number of far-fetched parallels, the article accuses Wu Han of disparaging the present with a story of the past and calls his play a “poisonous weed.” Meanwhile, Mao pressured his ranking colleagues in Beijing for a release of the Yao article in the capital as well as nationwide and managed to set the stage for the Cultural Revolution’s initial phase—one against “reactionary academic authorities”—by further allegorizing Wu Han’s play: Yao Wenyuan’s article was good but did not quite hit the vital part, Mao said in late December, 1965. “The vital point is dismissal. Emperor Jiaqing dismissed Hai Rui. We, in 1959, dismissed Peng Dehuai. Peng Dehuai is also Hai Rui.” Soon the attack on Wu Han’s play was recorded in the official history of the CCP as the “blasting fuse” of the Cultural Revolution. And the political allegoresis became the most commonly used strategy for “unearthing class enemies” in the ongoing literary inquisition and political persecution. Wu Han, like many other writers and artists under attack during the Cultural Revolution, was not only verbally abused but also beaten and tortured at numerous mass rallies. After one of those beatings, on October 11, 1969, Wu died, with a broken liver and bladder.

Citing Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie as yet another example of the “hermeneutics of terror,” Zhang Longxi concludes his book with a thoughtful cautionary note on political over-interpretation and the ethics of reading: “When critical discourse tends to privilege and celebrate ‘subversiveness’ in literature, let us not forget the question of taking sides, the moral responsibility of making claims about the political intention of a writer or a text. Ironically, the politicization of interpretation and the celebration of subversive force in literature become possible only when literature and literary scholarship are effectively insulated from the power of the state and can discourse on the subversive from a safe distance. That insulation, let us bear in mind, is also an important aspect of the politics and interpretation” (p. 238). Such insulation distinguishes a comparatively open, tolerant democratic society from a heavily censoring, repressive totalitarian system. It is this distinction that Zhang urges readers to bear in mind as they read, since many concepts “do not travel across boundaries between democracy and totalitarianism without fundamentally changing their meaning and significance,” and it is between social systems anywhere on earth, not between the East and West, that “difference rather than similarity becomes crucial for adequate understanding” (pp. 216-217).

Well-versed in contemporary hermeneutics with a heightened awareness of the tension between text and reading, of the interaction between text and reader, Zhang brings cross-cultural studies of allegorical interpretations to a new level of theoretical rigor and conceptual comprehensiveness. Questions, meanwhile, may arise at this level, too. Traditionally, allegory as text is clearly distinguished from allegoresis as interpretation; in the former case, a double structure of words and meaning is “deliberately and systematically built into the text itself” by the author, while in the latter, a similar kind of structure is imagined, “constructed and formulated in the reader’s response to the text” (pp. 62-63). Zhang, on the other hand, argues that the compositional and interpretive sides of the concept of the allegory are inseparable because “the text is always there as the necessary medium between an author’s particular arrangement of words and the reader’s interpretation” (p. 63). This view of the inter-relatedness of allegory and allegoresis, in combination with an emphasis on the integrity of the text, the literal sense, leads Zhang to a conclusion about allegorical reading, and reading in general, as a dynamic, “open-ended process of exchange and communication in which our preconceived notions are being challenged by the text, constantly revised and adjusted until we come to a better and more adequate understanding” (p. 214). Interestingly, allegoresis has been performed mostly on texts that are not in themselves allegorical, as demonstrated in both Chinese and Western traditions of allegorical reading, while allegoresis is the most limited when applied to a true compositional allegory. This paradox, especially the first half, certainly supports Zhang’s notion of the inseparability of the allegorical composition and interpretation, and yet, at the same time, it also challenges such a notion with questions about the limit of allegoresis: Can we say that certain interpretations are so farfetched, so forced, and do so much violence to the text for whatever reason as to be different from other interpretations not just in degree, but in kind? Should we dismiss them as simply wrong on the basis of the internal textual coherence and integrity, even, or especially, in the case of an allegory of divine love that sees in Eros an embodiment of Agape in an apparently earthly song of human passion, or in the case of an ode to queenly virtue made out of a folk song of courtship? The reader of Allegoresis may find lurking in the background an impulse to answer these questions in the positive. But the author’s generosity, tolerance, openness, humility, and respect for tradition, as well as his theoretical thoroughness, have dictated his articulated answer: useful and important as it is for separating a strongly ideological reading from a less strongly ideological reading, the distinction among different interpretations is still “a matter of degree, not of kind” (p. 152). Against an urge characteristic of our age for relentless deconstruction and rejection of tradition, Zhang, in reading canons East and West, aims for a balance between what the text literally says and what it says as a canonical and sacred text, and in the reconciliation of the latter with the former he envisions a more constructive way of interpretation, a fertile union of words and meaning beyond the wasteland of free-floating, untraceable, ungraspable signifiers. A possible “healthy reunion of the letter and the spirit” to be achieved by the “true catholicity of hermeneutic principles” reviving the letter against Paul’s dictum,” the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life,” is just a symbol of Zhang’s optimistic vision of the future (p. 153).

Allegoresis also includes a fine chapter on utopia. As a genre inspired by, and giving expression to, an idea or ideal of a good society, utopia is a political fantasy, inherently allegorical. In his informed and insightful discussion of the Chinese and Western variations of utopian writing, Zhang emphasizes the close relationship between utopia and secular thinking, the basis of the utopian vision that human beings could build a perfect society here and now without divine intervention. His comments on the dystopia of our times, the nightmarish negative mirror image of utopia, as an allegory of totalitarianism is also highly interesting. However, utopia as a compositional allegory truly deserves a more thorough treatment, perhaps in a separate book-length study rather than a chapter in a book focused mainly on allegorical interpretation. On the other hand, the discussion of the utopian vision East and West does offer a resounding proof for the cross-cultural translatability of the concept of allegory.

As a comparative study of Chinese and Western allegorical traditions, Allegoresis is a ground-breaking work, the first of its kind. Brilliant in conception and broad in scope, it is a most wide-ranging and most intellectually stimulating discussion of the intricate and dynamic relationship between text and reader, between canonicity and ideology. Approaching the issue from a cross-cultural and supranational perspective, Allegoresis offers fresh conceptual frameworks and methodologies not only for hermeneutics but for studies of literature and religion in general. Great is its contribution to the field of comparative literature, and greater to literary theory and criticism at large. It may take some time for readers to digest Zhang’s incisive critique of difference-oriented cultural relativism and his contemplation of the ethics of politicized reading, both based on solid scholarship as well as on lived experience, but these ideas will eventually take hold and have a long-lasting impact on way we think of canon and tradition, words and meaning, reading and cross-cultural understanding.

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