Interpretation of Chinese modern poetry in light of a proposed theory of Shiyi
Man, Ka Cheong
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Modern Chinese poetry has since its inception been subjected to unfavourable comments as compared to classical Chinese poetry, which can be construed as the result of the alleged unintelligibility problem encountered in interpretation of poetry. This thesis attempts to find out if it is justified to attribute modern poetry’s poorer reception to the alleged unintelligibility problem. Accordingly, a purported criterion of poetry assessment, shiyi 詩意 (literally “poeticalness”), as well as a theoretical framework based on shiyi, is formulated primarily in light of Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson’s relevance theory and Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics. Whereas relevance theory is a cognitive pragmatic approach focusing on recovery of meanings of an utterance by tracing the authorial intention through relevance, Ricoeur’s hermeneutics sees textual interpretation as relying on a hermeneutical circle through which a reader produces a world of the text, itself also a means by which the reader attains or enriches self-understanding. To incorporate the speaker-centred relevance theory, Ricoeur’s comparatively reader-oriented model, as well as other related text-focused approaches into the proposed framework, the central concept of shiyi is put forward with a view to bridging the distance between emphasis on author, reader and text. The framework formulated should be more applicable to literary texts and less vulnerable to the intriguing authorship problematic. In addition, a “subtlety-unintelligibility continuum” is posited and developed within the framework to identify and account for the differences in shiyi, as well as to provide a clear characterisation of shiyi. The framework thus represents an interface between the linguistic, the philosophical and the literary perspectives. The overall objectives of this thesis are: (1) to prove that the proposed theory of shiyi and its underlying framework are theoretically and practically valid by putting the framework to the test through thoroughly analysing a number of representative modern Chinese poems, and (2) to justify or refute the propriety of attributing modern poetry’s poorer reception to the alleged unintelligibility problem based on findings of the analysis of poetry mentioned in (1).