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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (11)

[a] Mirroring RF
Click here for other posts in Round and Square's "Rural Religion in China" series:
Rural 1          Rural 2          Rural 3          Rural 4          Rural 5          Rural 6          Rural 7          Rural 8
Rural 9          Rural 10        Rural 11        Rural 12        Rural 13        Rural 14        Rural 15

The chants and the assembled bands of competitors merged with their environment. The themes of their songs were taken directly from the highly charged landscape all around them. It was the interactions of the animal world that drew their attention, and specifically the cries of animals as they moved in concert that made their way into the songs.

           Their themes were obligatory and all taken from the ritual landscape: the
          beasts which also seemed to take part in the Festival in the Holy place,
          by their cries and their movement in the chase, provided numerous
          models for the images sketched by voice and gesture.[1]

          Les thèmes en étaient obligatoires et tous empruntés au paysage rituel : 
          les bêtes qui, dans le Lieu Saint, semblaient elles aussi participer à la 
          fête, fournissaient, avec leurs cris  d'appel et le mouvement de leurs 
          poursuites, de nombreux modèles aux images que la voix et le geste 
[b] Reproduction RF
The point that follows is fundamental. The singing groups were not trying to “reproduce” the sounds of nature. That would give their songs only a repetitive and mimicking quality (“onomatopoeic sounds with immutable values’). They rather merged the sounds of the natural world with the signals of the festival.”  The separate branches, with their paired phrasings, created something much richer, much deeper, than a replica: they created a “complete phrase” that became an abstract sign with a profound spiritual charge.

These pictures were quite other than reproductions of gestures and cries: they were descriptive formulae infinitely surpassing in richness a simple sequence of onomatopoeic sounds with immutable values. What they reproduced were the signals of the Festival, already endowed with a symbolic meaning and rich in all the traditional sentiments of the assembly; and, besides, employed by the alternating choruses that opposed one against the other, they formed by their being paired a complete phrase whose elements, balancing term for term, took from their place in the total design a special syntactic function and all the properties of an abstract sign.

[c] Emblematic RF
The elements of verbal and social intercourse were one. The creation of language, especially when that creation comes from the teeming, merged creativity of groups of young, sexually-ready chanters—is something that becomes a very special form of language.

Here we have one of the key passages in the entire chapter on peasant festivals. Here, we see that the youth are led by the emblematic power of language. This goes far beyond mere sentiment, as Granet makes clear. It emerges from the face-to-face confrontation of opposed and sexually-divided groups of young people. What emerges, however, is more than mere opposition or even contestation. What emerges is a language that both reflects the spirituality of the holy place and helps to (re)energize it. The “constraining force” of the lyrics is fundamental.

They are in tune with the holy place, but they also emerge from social give-and-take. This is a complex merging of the social and the natural to create something, like the festival itself, that is profoundly unusual. 

          But in their contests the choruses did not merely create a language 
          for expressing the sentiments springing from their face-to-face 
          opposition; what they created was a stirring language: their mimed and 
          sung formulae had a constraining force, for they were made up of 
          emblems which, furnished by the Holy place, seemed to possess a 
          power to command.[3]

          Mais, dans leur lutte, les chœurs ne créaient pas un langage qui 
          dût seulement exprimer les sentiments que faisait jaillir leur opposition 
          face à face ; ce qu'ils créaient, c'était un langage agissant : leurs formules 
          mimées et chantées avaient une puissance contraignante, car elles 
          étaient faites d'emblèmes qui, fournis par le Lieu Saint, semblaient 
          posséder un pouvoir de commandement.[4]
[d] Roar RF

Granet himself continues on a surprising course. He seems to argue that the assemblage at the heart of the communal festivals is of a profoundly natural order. “They strove to make one another obey the order to unite.”  Language here casts spells. It is not merely a way of communicating. It is a way of forming an intense bond between otherwise independent groups of people. It is a way of capturing others with rhythmic, repeated words.

          When in their contests the young people represented wild geese, 
          partridges, and quails seeking their mates, they strove to make one 
          another obey the order to unite which was the reason for their assemblies. 
          With all the images of the ritual landscape, flowers, foliage, the rainbow 
          joining two regions of Space, springs flowing together, the composed a 
          litany of seasonal saws by means of which they linked their wills together 
          and placed one another under a spell.[5]

          Quand les jeunes gens, dans leurs joutes, figuraient la quête des oies 
          sauvages, des perdrix ou des cailles, ils voulaient s'obliger les uns et les 
          autres à obéir à l'ordre d'union qui était la raison de leurs assemblées. 
          Ils composaient, avec toutes les images du paysa­ge rituel, fleurs, 
          frondaisons, arc-en-ciel qui unit deux régions de l'Espace, sources qui 
          se rejoignent, une litanie de dictons saisonniers par lesquels ils 
          enchaînaient leurs volontés et s'enchantaient mutuellement.[6]

Incantation and spellbinding language lie at the heart of the communal assembly. Together, they link the holy place, the usually timid groups (who are represented by their assertive and sexually-primed young), and the communal spirit.

Click here for other posts in Round and Square's "Rural Religion in China" series:
Rural 1          Rural 2          Rural 3          Rural 4          Rural 5          Rural 6          Rural 7          Rural 8
Rural 9          Rural 10        Rural 11        Rural 12        Rural 13        Rural 14        Rural 15 
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 42.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 15.
[3] Granet, Religion, 42.
[4] Granet, La religion, 15.
[5] Granet, Religion, 2-43.
[6] Granet, La religion, 15.

Granet, Marcel. The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman]. New York: 
     Harper & Row, 1975.
Granet, Marcel. La religion des chinois. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922. 
[e] Flow RF

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