To promote his new book, An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day, Alexander Beecroft blogs for Verso on “a list of five works of world literature which you may not be able to read (even if perhaps you should) – because they haven’t been translated into English, or there is no readily available translation into English.” He adds, “Let these five stand in for the thousands of other books, great, good, and bad, we won’t be able to read until somebody translates them.” He starts with Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210-261), Poems which sing my emotions. 詠懷詩:
I’ll begin with a text I have read (and one which has actually been translated; a translation by Graham Hartill was published in China in 1988 and reprinted there in 2006, but it’s available in only a handful of university libraries, and not for sale at Amazon) … One of the most memorable of these voices belonged to Ruan Ji, one of the so-called “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.” The Seven Sages were a group of intellectuals who had risen to prominence under the Wei dynasty, the short-lived successor to the Han. The Wei ruling house, the Cao family, produced several great poets themselves, and poetry, painting, religious learning and “pure conversation” flourished in their era, but under their successors, the Western Jin, life got more complicated for intellectuals, and the Seven Sages (we are told) cultivated an air of eccentricity to provide an alibi for their detachment from court and continued artistic and scholarly production.
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