The Language of Forgetting and Obliteration in the Shiji

Oct 1, 2019, 4:30 pm4:30 pm
202 Jones
Event Description

The Qin (221-206 BCE) bibliocaust might have been the best thing that ever happened to the ru Classical tradition. The threat of loss triggers the instinct to protect and preserve, while the reality of loss sharpens one’s priorities and serves as an impetus to creativity. Taking a cue from the way Han (206 BCE-220 CE) thinkers deployed the memory of the book-burning, I will examine the language of neglect, forgetting, loss, and obliteration in the Shiji, both in the Historian’s own comments and in the sources on which the Shiji draws. I will show how the function of this language is largely motivational and that its upshot is often as constructive as it is tragic. It is no surprise that loss should be portrayed negatively in a text dedicated to preservation. Rhetorically, however, talk of forgetting and obliteration occurs in contexts that are unexpectedly optimistic. Forgetting may well be temporary or avoidable, and losses remediable at least in part. This research is being undertaken as part of a larger collaborative project on “The Craft of Oblivion” organized by Albert Galvany.

Program and Department of East Asian Studies