From Deluge to Discourse

Myth, History, and the Generation of Chinese Fiction

By Deborah Lynn Porter

Subjects: Chinese Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791430347, 284 pages, July 1996
Hardcover : 9780791430330, 284 pages, July 1996

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Table of contents



1. Contextualizing the Text: The Discovery, Compilation, Transmission, and Traditional Appreciation of the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan

2. See Yü Later: A New Interpretation of Chinese Flood Myths

3. Toward an Aesthetic of Symbol in Early Chinese Thought

4. Symbolic Foundations of the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan:K'un-lun, Ho-tsung, and Hsi-wang-mu

5. The Generation of Symbolism in the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan

6. Heaven's Text and the Invention of Fictional Discourse in China





Proposes a sweeping theory of flood myths, applies it to a particular text, the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan, and opens up the world of Chinese fiction to an entirely new type of analysis based on a psychoanalytic theory of the symbol.


Starting with a reevaluation of the critical scholarship done on the Chinese text, the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan, the author challenges the view of the text as a product of historical composition. Porter then argues that the discursive structures of flood myths, elements of which appear in the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan, have their origins in an attempt to mediate linguistically the frightening consequences of the falsification of cosmological truths.

The heuristic potential of the psychoanalytical theory of the symbol is used to explain the specific cosmogonic intentions underlying the genesis of myth, as well as broader manifestations of historical, social, and cultural behavior, most particularly literary works like the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan. The author explains how mythic symbols invested with cosmogonic and regenerative significance are appropriated in the literary resolution of a socio-political trauma analogous to those mediated by flood myths. Finally, she argues that not simply the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan but Chinese fictional discourse in general is most appropriately understood as a wholly symbolic form.

Deborah Lynn Porter is Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages and Literature at the University of Utah.


"Not only does this book remedy major shortcomings of previous research on the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan in terms of textual criticism, bibliography, and methodology, it also lays to rest the view of the text as a product of historical composition. This by itself would be a worthwhile contribution to Sinological scholarship. But for the author this is only the starting point for a tour de force of literary and philological analysis of a problematical text in which a remarkable array of evidence is mobilized in establishing that the Mu T'ien-tzu chuan is the linguistic expression of a symbolic operation: 'a tale of a crisis, of its collective transcendence, of the symbols that emanated from it, and of the memory that preserved it. '"— David W. Pankenier, Lehigh University