|[a] Filial RF|
Remonstrance 1 Remonstrance 2 Remonstrance 3
Remonstrance 4 Remonstrance 5 Remonstrance 6
Remonstrance 7 Remonstrance 8 Remonstrance 9
Marcel Granet completes his picture of devoted filial piety with further discussion of nourishment, in the broadest sense, for the communal body. It is in this passage that the full importance of hierarchy and the social power of gathering comes to the fore, as feeding the father (the ancestor to be) forms the very foundation of the social order.
Good cookery is not enough: one must also serve the meal and have an eye
to its disposition. There is no family meal, but in every house there are court
repasts, the pretext for hierarchized communions. The eldest son and his wife
(the eldest daughter-in-law) are present, morning and evening, at the parents’
meals, but solely to encourage them to eat heartily. To balance this, they get
what is left (as the leavings of the overlord are the perquisite of the vassals) with
the exception, however, of the sweet, tender, and succulent dishes, which they
must reserve for their own children. The latter themselves require nourishment:
besides, as we have seen, there is a particular nearness in the relationship
between grandparents and grandchildren. As more distant vassals, the secondary
sons and daughters-in-law make an end by eating what is left by their elders.
Thus, in everyday life, the solid hierarchy is established which lies at the root
of domestic order.
In just a few pages, Marcel Granet has echoed the feudal order, as he calls it, with his description of the domestic order of an elite household. At the heart of it is the hierarchical dynamic, and it is set in motion in many ways by the vassal—by the son, the junior member of the hierarchical dyad. Meals, much like festivals, are communal gatherings. Sustenance is important (as are the specifics of its numerically charged components), but the circulation of food and community is at the heart of the social order. The coming together of parents and (eldest) children for repasts gives fuel to the entire social structure through the powerful mechanism of hierarchical patterning. Food constitutes a kind of collective energy for the body social, and politic.
|[b] Nourishment RF|
Marcel Granet understood this, and (for that reason, I would argue) is one of the most consistently interesting and focused Western writers on China. He has often been misunderstood as an overly literal observer of the classical tradition, and more than a few scholars have been contemptuously dismissive of his writings. It is not difficult to see why this may be so (I could show you a dozen examples of ponderous passages in Granet’s oeuvre that would make a “just-the-facts” interpreter snort with dismissive contempt).
They are badly mistaken, as his student Rolf Stein notes.
There are two explanations for the underestimation of [Marcel Granet’s] work.
been endowed with great literary talent and a thorough cultural education, let
himself criticize, sometimes forcefully, those easy, quick translations that, in order
to accommodate dictionary definitions, end up distorting the original meaning of
the text because they set up odd associations for Western readers. Thus Granet,
a world-renowned scholar, was purely French in his form of expression.
Granet’s rich and varied account of the relationship between senior and junior in the ritual setting of the family gets us started in precisely the way that will allow us to build toward more sophisticated understandings of remonstrance. It might seem to be a long way from these passages to corporate dynamics, but more “practical” approaches are sure to miss the point. They always have, and that is one of the reasons why remonstrance remains so little studied, in political and moral philosophy.