THE EMPTY PALACE was first inaugurated as a limited investigation into the logic of literary classification at work in the catalogues of books in the imperial library as preserved in six of the total of twenty-four dynastic histories. This project, however, proved too narrow in scope and context to open up the rooms of real interest: the underlying evolution of the conceptual understanding of the art of letters - the changing logic of the Chinese literary mind.
This soon proved to require a fair understanding of the classical Chinese cosmology of Music, since early notions of letters and scripture were by and large blueprinted on archaean theory of Music.
The major part of the quest is now devoted to the period between the fall of the Han dynasty [+220] and the founding of the Tang , alias the Wei & Jin and the Southern & Northern Dynasties, a historical era blessed with no central imperial power. Here we find the first important texts on the art of letters and literary criticism. Here we find the first notion of true and false in historiography, the idea of fiction and reality in literature, and the problematique of originator and poetical text.
Instead of comprehending this as a strictly evolutionary story, I have tried to adumbrate the conceptual cosmos that circumscribes and conditions this "evolution" and to establish a set of themes I propose to be crucial to the history of Chinese literary understanding, primarily by reading some of its essential texts. Whereas two major sections deal with literary conception according to subject-matter, the following two are written according to a theme. The first of these themes is Utopianism and its sources in Chinese poetry, the second the pre-modern breakthrough and the emergence of an autonomous aesthetics.
Beginning with the concept of music in the -5th century and carrying the analysis as far as to the state of literary affairs bordering on the 1911 revolution, the work, without any claim to comprehensiveness, provides an outline of the formation of the Chinese literary tradition, by mapping out some of its most frequented ruts and ruins
Stockholm: Stockholms universitet , 1998. , 358 p.
1998-05-20, Östasiatiska museets hörsal, Kyrkslingan, Skeppsholmen, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)