Brushwork as Bloodwork: Character Appraisal, Calligraphy, and the Concept of Individual Literary Style in Early Medieval China


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


East Asian Languages and Cultures


This project gives a new account of the co-emergence of the concepts of individual literary and calligraphic style in China between the second and the sixth centuries CE. Taking an actor-network theory approach, it argues that the tendency, new in this period, to posit a stylistic, characterological, and even somatic identity between author and text is best understood as a complex response to innovations in technologies of writing used to produce and copy texts and to changes in the bureaucratic institutions and archives in which these texts circulated and were evaluated. Case studies of four writers—Cai Yong, Ruan Ji, Xie Lingyun, and Xiao Gang—conducted against the background of the distinctive mediascapes in which they worked, reveal that although these writers developed their own individual styles, they did so with the awareness that this new mode of expression foreclosed other, older modes of engaging with the literary past.