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Sunday, August 12, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (8)

[a] Holy 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

Lieux saintes—Holy Places
Granet hits one of several poetic peaks with his description of the Holy Place. The details come directly from his extremely careful reading of the Classic of Poetry, and it is clear that he is echoing and compressing the arguments found in his earlier thesis and first full-length publication, Festivals and Songs in Ancient China [Fêtes et chansons de la Chine ancienne]. The details come from the Classic, to be sure, but it is not hard to hear strains of Baudelaire in the lush, watery, florid background.

          Holy was the place, sacred the slopes of the valley they climbed and 
          descended, the stream they crossed with their skirts tucked up, the 
          blooming flowers they plucked, the ferns, the bushes, the white elms, 
          the great oaks and the wood they took from them: the lit bonfires, the 
          scent of the nosegays, the spring water in which they dipped themselves, 
          and the wind that dried them as they came from bathing, all had virtues, 
          unlimited virtues; all was a promise given to all hopes.[1]

          Saint était le lieu, sacrés étaient les pentes du vallon qu'ils gravissaient 
          et descendaient, la rivière que, jupes troussées, ils traversaient, les fleurs 
          écloses qu'ils cueillaient, la fougère, les buissons, les ormes blancs, les 
          grands chênes et les fagots qu'ils en tiraient : les feux de joie allumés, l'odeur 
          des bouquets, l'eau de la source où l'on se trempe et le vent qui vous sèche 
           au sortir du bain, tout avait des vertus, vertus illimitées, tout était promesse 
          donnée à tous les espoirs.[2]

[b] Conjure RF
Granet enumerates details of the Holy Place, and the images he conjures of skirts tucked up and of the spring rush of waters, wind, and vegetation are lasting. The final sentence is at least as important as all of the rest, though. They all had virtues—unlimited virtues. The vertu in Granet’s text is almost always a reference to the Chinese concept of de or daode, and it covers in Chinese a wide range of meanings that encompass schools of thought as diverse as Confucian and Daoist. Granet’s description of peasants dipping themselves in icy waters and smelling spring flowers combined with reference to vertu or daode underlines just how fundamentally connected he found peasant and “advanced” religion.

The Holy Place is not limited to vegetation and human beings. Granet continues his poetic waxing by describing the connection between animal and human life. The teeming animals held their own seasonal assemblies. It is really not as silly an idea as might first appear. He seeks to describe a process much more profound than one in which people check the calendar and plan to come together for a festival. Do not geese, unprompted, fly back to the north in the spring?  Do not animals call out to one another in rhythmic, echoing “chants?”  The point here is to analyze Granet’s thought, not to argue with his usage, and he clearly finds a place for all of nature in the vibrant theater of springtime.

The woods and vales of the Holy Place teem not only with animal life but also with human society embracing the communal bonds of sexuality and rebirth. The holiness of the place, in short, is highly sexual.

          And the animals, which teemed and also held their seasonal assemblies,
          grasshoppers gathering under the grass, the arrested flights of birds of 
          passage, ospreys, gathered together on sandy islets, wild geese calling 
          to one another in the woods, all were part of the festivals and shared in 
          the holiness of the place and the moment. Their calls, their chases, were 
          signals, emblems, a language in which mean heard an echo of their own 

          Et les animaux qui pullulaient et tenaient, eux aussi, leurs assemblées
          saisonnières, sauterelles qui se rejoignaient sous les herbes, vols arrêtés
          d'oiseaux de passage, mouettes réunies sur les îlots de sable, oies
          sauvages qui s'appelaient dans les bois, tous étaient de la fête et
          participaient à la sainteté du lieu et du moment. Leurs appels, leurs
          poursuites étaient des signaux, des emblèmes, un langage où les
          hommes entendaient un écho de leurs propres émotions.[4]

[c] Harmony RF
Beyond the communion of and between animal life and the Holy Place, there is a language at work, as well. Note the important final phrase in the quotation above. Their calls to one another, and even their chases—for predation or mating—were a language unto themselves which men could recognize as a faint remnant of their own primal emotions. It is fundamentally important to "read together" Granet’s connection of humans, animals, and the natural world of the Holy Place. There is something more at work than even human society—more at work than his teacher Durkheim stressed in his own writing. This was homo integratis. All of the world was bundled in the electric energy of the holy place—a sort of social-religious blender weaving animals, trees, men, women, old, young, and cold, icy water into a frothy mix of springtime excitement.

Granet builds to a significant point, and it is enveloped in his remark that “they felt themselves strong by their harmony with the natural order.”  In isolation, the comment means little. In the context of what has come before, though, we are to see the natural order as consisting of place, mammals, vegetation, insects, and the like. The harmony that people “felt” with the natural order is fundamental. But Granet is not finished. Their festivals were something like opening and closing ceremonies for spring and the rainy season. He unabashedly builds to his next point here. Were the festivals regulated by the first and last rainbows to appear?  

Or did they regulate their appearance?   

If one is really to understand Granet’s point, one needs to turn one’s understanding to the point where it makes sense for the festivals themselves to regulate the rainbows. Until we can adjust the bunny ears of our literalistic readings of the world to make the gray picture box turn into a faint picutre (from Bangor, two hours away) of the nightly news...well, we'll just roll our eyes at Granet and smugly sit in our confidence that our two-legged, poor olfactory, mediocre hearing and sight picture of the world is "correct." Granet is making a point here that is meta-Kantian as much as it is Durkheimian. If you read him carefully, you won't ever look at social life on thick grass and rolling hills the same way again. Granet teaches us (pay attention here) that we don't follow the calendar. The calendar follows us. When we understand that, we start to "get"....everything.

         They felt themselves strong by their harmony with the natural order. 
         Their festivals opened and closed the rainy season. Were the festivals 
         regulated by the first and last rainbows to appear?  Or did they regulate 
          their appearance?  In these gatherings where rural concord was forged 
          in rhythmic time, all, exalted by a sentiment of joyous power, imagined 
          that they cooperated in the harmony of Nature.[5] 

          Ils se sentaient forts de leur accord avec l'ordre naturel. Leurs fêtes 
          ouvraient et fermaient la saison des pluies : étaient-elles commandées 
          par les premiers, les derniers arcs-en-ciel apparus ? Ou commandaient-
          elles leur apparition ? Tous, dans ces assises où, à temps rythmés, se 
          forgeait la concor­de rurale, exaltés par un sentiment de puissance 
          heureuse, imaginaient qu'ils coopéraient à l'harmonie de la Nature.[6]

[d] Causation RL
Causation is not the issue, and discussion of it only clutters the matter. Indeed, Granet would just roll his eyes at the question (I imagine this in all sorts of dramatic, professorial wasy).  The appearance of rainbows and the coming together of people (long shut up in the confines of the domestic household over the winter) are one. The festivals and spring itself—which is a kind of grand festival in its own right—are one large, raucous display of union and unusual activity, in the precise definition of that term.

Indeed, the very unusualness of spring and the communal gatherings carried within them a kind of energy (one need only think of rainstorms, wind, and the greening of vegetation) that goes far beyond the limited power of other times. The social foundations of the Holy Place are here to be seen. A collective, creative joy turns toward mutual worship. A key point here is that worship does not take place in isolation. 

There are social-natural “power points” that are specially charged when people and landscape interact.

          Their creative joy turned into a need to worship from which the earth set 
          aside for their gatherings benefited, divine land where everything merited 
          a cult, the great isolated trees, the little woods, the pools, the confluences 
          of rivers, the gushing fountains, the mounds, the split stones, and the 
          rocks which seemed to bear the imprints of giant footsteps.[7]

          Leur joie créatrice se tournait en un besoin d'adoration dont bénéficiait le 
          sol consacré à leurs réunions, terre divine où tout méritait un culte, les 
          grands arbres isolés, les bosquets, les étangs, les confluents de rivières, 
          les fontaines jaillissantes, les tertres, les pierres fendues et les roches où 
          semblaient empreints les pas d'un géant.[8]

The details of nature matter when it comes to worship in Granet's telling. They certainly matter for poetry, and Granet’s sources are distinctly poetic. Note, however, the places that he mentions. “Great isolated trees” are powerful, as is the thicket or the copse. Pools of water, split stones, and strange rocks are also highly charged with religious energy. The Holy Place is incomprehensible without human action, however, and, in almost every case, that action is social. The merging of social action and natural details creates a potential for communion that is far beyond the ordinary. 

Nature and human society are, as it were, set into motion.
[e] Charged 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 
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 41-42.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 14.
[3] Granet, Religion, 42.
[4] Granet, La religion, 14.
[5] Granet, Religion, 42.
[6] Granet, La religion, 14.
[7] Granet, Religion, 42.
[8] Granet, La religion, 14-15..
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.

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