commentators and classical scholars have panted prolifically over the
authentic desires and legitimate relations implicated in Sappho (31)
and Shijing (Mao 1) -- two orally performed monuments to frustration
committed to bamboo/papyrus by the 7th-6th centuries BCE. "Authenticating
Desires" looks both at the means by which readers have authenticated
differing desires in and through the two poems, and at the comparatist's
desires to authenticate differing modes of reading each one.
I attempt to show that the restive triangulations of desire that trouble
the identification of both poems' participants prefigure the comparatist's
very frustration at bringing the two poems together. Just as commentators
authenticate their own ethical geometries of desire through the poems,
so the comparatist arranges the relations between ancient Greek and
ancient Chinese traditions, and his/her particular present.
take up the debate over the differentiation of the Chinese "expressive"
tradition from the Greek "mimetic" one, in the context of Sappho as
well as Shijing commentaries. I argue that the distinction overlooks
certain interpretations of Sappho (31) which insist on the implicit
correspondence between the opening image and Homeric ideologies of desire,
not unlike the "categorical correspondence" of the opening image of
Shijing (1) to gender ideology, integral to the Chinese stimulus-response
model. Furthermore, in recalling the second valence of Platonic mimesis
as performance (as well as representation) and its Aristotelian emphasis
as creative emplotment or re-enactment, one might take both the performative
nature of Shijing (1) and its restaging through citation in the
commentaries to be as mimetic as the tradition of Sappho's "breaking
then turn to the kinds of desire and relationships staged in these readings,
looking in particular at how interpretation of gender affects or becomes
affected by different models (from Zheng Xuan's matchmaking Queen Consort
to Wilamowitz's wedding guest Sappho). I look at how gendered
identities have been designated and redesignated (eg through translation,
interpolation, allegory) in the pursuit of the "authentic" textual desires,
and how the poetic female subject of desire becomes appropriated in
the androcentric ethical models of certain Platonic and Confucian citations.
In both cases the desire for gender difference to structure "authentic"
desire emerges as an interpretive lens or social end.
the question is not 'what is the text's real configuration of
gendered subjects of desire,' but 'how have they come to be interpreted
and staged as such?' Likewise the framing question is not 'what makes
the articulations of desire authentically Greek or Chinese,' or 'wherein
lies the meaning or essence of their difference,' but rather: 'how have
the two have come to be naturalized and regulated as unconditionally
distinct?' That is, desires of cultural difference begin to resemble
desires of gender difference within authenticity's regime of 'compulsory
heterotextuality.' And while a necessary task remains to historicize
the cultural differences of ancient cultures from their perceived modern
inheritors (classical Greece and the "West," ancient and modern China),
this paper tries to show that assumed cultural differences need not
be the starting and endpoint of a comparison of these two far flung
ancient poems. Instead I highlight the radically differing stagings
of desire within each culturally defined nexus of readers, and
restage them together with the role of the comparatist as part
of the ongoing emplotment of "authentic" reading.