Four Quartets in the Light of the Chinese Jar discusses how Four Quartets should be explored afresh with a prosodic-philosophically sustained interdisciplinary and cross-cultural literary approach in ways as the often overlooked pivotal image of the Chinese jar so indicates in the great sequence; the pivotal image suggests the subtle but vital elixir from both “The ‘shores of Asia and the Edgware Road’ [which] are brought together as they had been brought together to The Waste Land.” With a steady focus on the function words-mediated and phonemes-facilitated, and “autochthonously” void-suggesting verbal transformation, the book shows how the verbal transformation, especially of the cases with “parts of speech” in the live context, makes Four Quartets truly a “rhythmical creation of [meaningful] beauty”; it demonstrates how the meaningful poetic beauty culminates in a quintessential state or being of poetry not merely being “poetic” particularly in terms of its prosodically sustained philosophical tenets, which are often so serendipitously transformed into “virtuoso mastery of verbal music.” As genuine poetry, the great sequence flows freely from inside out at once in accordance with and in spirt of any given rhythmical form or rhyming pattern.
Shudong Chen is professor of humanities at Johnson County Community College.
Chapter 1: Geology of Narrative Cultures: Still Motion, Matrix of Void of the Chinese Jar, and Hidden Message of Function Words
Chapter 2: “Burnt Norton”: Timely Timeless Time in Motionless Motion Captured in Worded World
Chapter 3: “East Coker”: Knowing Time as Stranded on Land but Enlivened in Words
Chapter 4: “The Dry Salvages”: Knowing Oneself through Function Words-Mediated Oceanic View of Time
Chapter 5: “Little Gidding”: Reconciliation of the Irreconcilable in the Mode of “a Chinese Jar” through Timely Timeless Time in Motionless Motion
In the dedication of “The Waste Land,” T. S. Eliot called Ezra Pound il miglior fabbro or “the best craftsman,” and like Pound, Eliot also turned to the East for spiritual resources as well as poetic materials. Shudong Chen has made a great effort to explore that aspect of Eliot’s poetic vision that has not been sufficiently discussed in any depth, and this book will be valuable reading for anyone interested in Eliot and modernism, particularly from the perspective of East-West comparative studies.
This book by Shudong Chen marks a successful attempt to approach Four Quartets, the classic of the twentieth century, a masterpiece “to be moved towards, not reached,” It demonstrates new ways of exploring the infinite dimensions of this magnificent poetic work; it reveals the ingenious insight into its “les mots justes,” decodes its meaning-generating void, and opens up the intercultural discourse still hidden behind, between, and beyond the great sequence. From the perspective across linguistics, aesthetics and philosophy, this book is a nice model of stimulating and reflecting the inexhaustible vitality of literature and words, par excellence.
This book opens up a philosophical horizon that facilitates and deepens our understanding of the motion, movement, momentum, mode in Chinese intellectual and cultural landscape; it provides us a wonderful resource for an interplay between literature and philosophy as well as a joy in function-words-mediated flows of verbal music.
Shudong Chen takes his readers on a dance through the Four Quartets like none other. He artfully interprets the text with attention to the invisible patterns, images and words that weave meaning throughout Eliot’s extraordinary poetry. Chen’s scholarship is reliable and meticulous, and he has made a valuable contribution to comparative literary studies.
This interdisciplinary and cross cultural approach to Eliot in Shudong Chen’s new book opens up Eliot’s Four Quartets, exploring new ways to look at the “slippery nature of time,” revealing the flow within the stillness of Eliot’s poetry. This fascinating exploration of the power and eloquence of Eliot’s “moving stillness” resonates through Four Quartets and beyond.
I was happy to read this uniquely well-informed and compelling study of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Shudong Chen has a vivid sense of the radiance of Eliot’s meditations, and he approaches the ‘still point of the turning world’ with his own strong reading. Eliot’s great sequence benefits from this kind of scrutiny. I can recommend this capable and thought-provoking book to anyone who wishes to go more deeply into Eliot’s poetic world.
Shudong Chen in Four Quartets in the Light of the Chinese Jar as in all of his publications demonstrates a deep and passionate appreciation of the interpenetration and thus continuing evolution of our always hybridic cultural ecologies. He is keenly aware that his reading is just one more seat on the carousel of well-argued, textually grounded, and yet bottomless interpretations that Eliot continues to inspire. Still his hermeneutic reading of Eliot is from a cultural perspective that begins and ends with the Book of Changes and its “persistence in change” (biantong) thinking, and takes “a Chinese jar still” that “moves perpetually in its stillness" as his entry point to join Eliot and us all in exploring the still point in the contrapuntal tension between change and persistence, between form and function, between fullness and emptiness, between time and eternity, between what is human and what divine.
Shudong Chen carefully connects T. S. Eliot’s emphasis on the timeless with the “motionless motion” of a humble Chinese jar that holds and shapes emptiness, yet its anonymous emptiness proves fundamentally useful as do those almost invisible “function words” and, but, and other conjunctions that structure language and support it. He details in his book how T. S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets reveals both the Homeric tradition’s delight in everyday physical existence and the Hebraic tradition’s emphasis on the sublime, the mystical, and the religious, thus making explicit the intersection of the visible and the invisible.