Cambria Press is proud to announce that the first book in the Cambria Sinophone World Series by Victor Mair is now available. Cambria Press is pleased to present the following Q&A session with Dr. Scott Davis on his newly published book, The Classic of Changes in Cultural Context: A Textual Archaeology of the Yi jing.
Below is the Q&A session Cambria Press conducted with Dr. Scott Davis.
Question: Why did you decide to write this book?
Answer: The Classic of Changes in Cultural Context is the result of several decades of exploration and analysis. Its outline emerged when I first started reading the Yi jing with my teacher in Taiwan. Since then, my work with Chinese classical texts has gradually filled in the cultural context. The interaction of text and context has clarified the analysis and supplemented the cultural details. Only a book-length treatment of my hypothesis can be decisive, as the distribution of signs throughout the text is the primary target for analysis. The analysis must be conducted over a sufficient range of cases to understand how the text was designed and operated. The whole package of symbolism can be viewed with a careful and controlled but flexible method, with a synthetic focus as practiced by structural analysis. This book is by no means an attempt to solve every problem of interpretation in the Classic of Changes, which would be a very ambitious project indeed. Rather it is a first pass over the text using the suggested method, in order to show the plausibility of further analysis in this direction, and to follow the many indications that the text has been designed in the way my book demonstrates.
Question: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
Answer: My book is a paean to the Classic of Changes. It is far from an attempt to impose corrections, reorganizations, formulae, translated meanings or explanations upon the Yi jing, but rather it is an invitation to appreciate it as a textual phenomenon, with respect to its cultural context. When reading this ancient classical work, one gets the impression of a mysterious, magical, holographic device that brings together different kinds and levels of organization into a densely assembled, modular whole. Because it is a divination text, it operates as a template for all kinds of narratives, with linkages between widely disparate aspects of human life. Its genius for making repeatable connections in every direction gives the text a modeling power that befits a sophisticated analysis of ancient social life. The text displays a life. It also captures a sense of the way a text of any kind presents a patterned field of interaction with its potential readers. As a text, it becomes a reflective object with a sort of virtual landscape, inviting explorations into its cartography and topology. My book invites readers to enjoy the deep musical dimensions of this exploration, to experience a conceptual organization that is simultaneously structural—systematic and graphic—and dynamic. Its use of symmetry and symmetry-breaking operations is especially interesting. Ancient Chinese textual techniques have much to teach us about modeling life and social processes in the attempt to understand how we live in cultures.
Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
Answer: Going forward, I see three directions for further work. First, as just mentioned, my book is merely a first holistic pass over the Yi jing as an assemblage of symbols. It establishes the plausibility of using a structural method to read the text. This approach appears fertile, and there remain plenty of details in the Classic of Changes that await further analysis. Second, if early Chinese sages produced texts organized in the manner of modular arrays indicated by my book—as a result of the primary orientation to divination in ancient Chinese culture—then it follows that some later texts might well have still relied on something like matrix operations to organize their material. I believe that important works such as the Analects of Confucius and the Zuo zhuan, the commentary to the Springs and Autumns chronicles (722-468 B.C.), show a categorical orientation to textual composition that would appear to be founded on the earlier masterpiece of the Classic of Changes. Research into this organization, which has lain dormant and unanticipated in these early classics, is now underway, and can be seen as an opportunity to test and confirm this present book’s analysis. Finally, I hope that the experience of reading this hologram of ancient Chinese thought and analysis, which amounts to an extraordinarily successful and sophisticated autoethnography of archaic human society, will inspire contemporary readers to reconsider ways of modeling and reflecting upon conditions of human existence that constitute our cultural lives. By learning to share the insights of ancient Chinese thinkers as they commenced the long human project of writing and literature, I am convinced that we will be able to accomplish new approaches and new syntheses of cultures, which will in turn enhance our own self-awareness and viability as inhabitants of this Earth.
Recommend this book to your library! Librarians can order the book directly from Cambria Press or they can order through their preferred academic book wholesaler (Cambria Press is on the approval list of premier wholesalers like YBP). Be sure to check out the great e-book program from Cambria Press too!