Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece

    Translated by
  • Sophie Hawkes


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May 3, 2004
6 x 9 in.
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In Detour and Access, François Jullien investigates the subtlety, strategy, and production of meaning in ancient and modern Chinese aesthetic texts and political events. Moving between the rhetorical traditions of ancient Greece and China, Jullien attempts no simple comparison between these two civilizations. Rather, he uses the perspective provided by each to gain access to one culture considered all too strange — “It’s all Chinese to me” — and to another whose strangeness has been eclipsed by the assumption of its essential familiarity and originary position in Western civilization.

In Detour and Access, Jullien rereads the major texts and authors of Chinese thought — The Book of Songs, Confucius’s Analects, Mencius, and Lao Tse. He addresses the question of oblique, indirect, and allusive meaning in order to explore how literary and political techniques of detour give access to a world of symbolization and truth not characterized by simple modes of mimetic representation and static essentialism.

Working indirectly, favoring the allusive expression over the direct one, the Chinese art of meaning appears as a complex mode of indication, open to multiple perspectives and variations, infinitely adaptable to situations and contexts. Concentrating on what is not said, or what is only conveyed through other means — such as the distancing produced by allusive poetic and political motifs — Jullien traces the ideological and aesthetic benefits and costs of a rhetorical strategy that lacks a fixed ontological perspective and absolute truth.

Illuminating in its close textual readings, provocative and sophisticated in its theoretical insights and political analyses, Detour and Access provides a necessary refinement of ways of thinking about Chinese strategies of meaning as yet unanalyzed in the Western world.