Abstract–Knowing Characters and Knowing Authors: “Poetic Knowledge” in Ancient Greece and Early China

Wei Zhang

This essay submits the earliest articulation of explicit poetics in ancient Greece and ancient China to a comparative study, with special focus on the formulation of the notion of “poetic knowledge” in each tradition. Placed in their respective cultural process, explicit poetics can be seen as the outcome of philosophical confrontation with poetry and its potentially intractable experience in rational attempts to subsume it under a philosophical mode of knowing. While Socrates, Plato and Aristotle deployed a variety of mimetic models to construct a “poetic knowledge”, culminating in the Poetics with the knowledge of characters represented in the fictional world of men in action, in the Ruist tradition from Confucius to the Major Preface poetry was construed to be a special way of knowing the authors, their paradigmatic moral dispositions in attending historical circumstances. When put into a comparative perspective, what essentially distinguished the two modes of “poetic knowledge” can be more concretely located in the originary experience of poetry and the specific cultural process of rationalizing this experience into a philosophical poetics.

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