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Rereading the Stone

Author: Kevin Wilson, William Jones

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Rereading the Stone is a weekly discussion of historical Chinese literature, philosophy, and poetry, currently focusing on the Qing dynastic Classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber (Hong lou meng 紅樓夢) also known as Story of the Stone (Shitou ji 石頭記).
62 Episodes
Plays within plays, and a meta-cognitive dispute! Is every jade tear still a microcosm? Do two false representations make one shared reality? Part 2 of our discussion of Chapter 29 of Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢,红楼梦), Story of the Stone (石头记).
In Chapter 29 of Dream of the Red Chamber (Hongloumeng 紅樓夢, Story of the Stone 石頭記), the crew is out and about in full force. Even before the plays begin, a spitting is delegated, a collision is mitigated, and a famous jade is investigated.
The poetry party, an artistic dream within a dream, continues! Readers of Dream of the Red Chamber (Story of the Stone 石頭記, Hongloumeng 紅樓夢) are here first introduced to the poetic stylings of Xue Pan 薛蟠, arguably the first postmodern brutalist poet in the classical Chinese literary tradition! 
Baoyu and Daiyu try to work through mutual misunderstanding, and matters of medicine reemerge. At Feng Ziying’s party, verses are improvised on the subject of female joys and sorrows, yet another poetic opportunity for red chamber dream projections.  
In this episode we broach one of the most central questions of Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢 — why bury fallen flowers? Attempting to answer this question, we discuss cuckoos, mottled bamboo, the end of spring, cold pillows, inner chambers, and tears of blood. We also touch upon the relationship between interpretative spaces and values to live by.
Baoyu seeks Daiyu, who is notably absent bemoaning the season. Baochai chases butterflies, and Crimson enumerates a bewildering array of ladies.
A scion of great wealth demonstrates a dearth of erudition, while a legendary worrier transcends nature’s limits.
Real affections between Crimson and Jia Yun are ornamented by dream and fantasy, while the Name of the Father is appropriated for idle pleasures.  Daiyu’s feelings of social exclusion are accentuated by the proximity of desire.
Things get weird when Mother Ma throws down a surprisingly efficacious curse. Xifeng starts slaughtering miscellaneous animals, and Baoyu is consumed by suicidal ideation. We discuss the fortuitous, surprising reappearance of the Daoist priest and Buddhist monk, and Baoyu’s relationship to, and identity with, his magical, metafictional jade. 
A time of danger, with molten wax and curses raining down on Baoyu! We discuss Aunt Zhao’s resentment, Mother Ma’s sesame oil subscription service, and the sublime, surprising role of the supernatural in this chapter of Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢.
Our second twelve-chapter review episode, chapters 13-24. A great chance to review one's rereading, with some fresh takes thrown in for good measure. 
We continue discussing Jia Yun’s perilous navigation of our constellation of stars, while Baoyu from an empty center thirsts for tea and attention.
Let’s talk Jia Yun, a distant and poorer member of the extended Jia universe. How does this peripheral player navigate our constellation of stars? Would you take a loan from a drunken, violence-prone moneylender in order to bribe Wang Xifeng? Likewise, we observe the maids attending Baoyu viciously vying for the most favorable orbits. 
In this episode, we finish our read-through of Baoyu’s seasonal poems, empathizing common themes and images. Meanwhile Baoyu has newly procured scandalous romantic literature and has snuck a few texts into the garden, including the famous Xixiang ji 西廂記 Romance of the Western Chamber. Join us for one of the most iconic moments of Dream of the Red Chamber, Baoyu and Daiyu comparing different methods for taking care of fallen flowers. What undercurrents can be traced? What explosions of love and life are here represented and sublimated?
An imperial injunction — to enjoy? Baoyu and the young ladies of the compound receive orders from the Imperial Concubine Yuanchun to move into the garden and reside in its various small houses. Will a life lived aesthetically affect the soul? Baoyu during the late nights transcribes improvisational visions of his waking dream, each poem dedicated to a season of the passing year. 
In this episode, we explore the enigmatic, prophetic riddles in the second half of Chapter 22 of Dream of the Red Chamber (Story of the Stone). What controversies exist due to there being divergent versions of the text? What branching fates and vicissitudinous fortunes are posited in these gloomy lines? And why is Jia Zheng especially affected by the riddles? Is a riddle likely to make a rectifier of rites uneasy, or is paradox a realm where those accustomed to judgment are apt to excel? 
‘Can’t you be a bit quieter and attend to the play? This is Zhi-shen at the Monastery Gate we’re supposed to be listening to, not Jing-de Acts the Madman!’ Baoyu expresses in poetic verse, following a performance during Baochai’s birthday festivities, his thoughts on Buddhist enlightenment, but Daiyu and Baochai promptly burst his bubble. Are they actively discouraging him from indulging monastic fantasies?
In our coverage of the second half of Chapter 21 of Dream of the Red Chamber, we focus on the infidelities of Jia Lian and the dynamics of his marriage with Xifeng. Observing a ritually-prescribed separation from Xifeng on account of his daughter’s recovery from smallpox, Jia Lian has the opportunity to bed another occupant of the Jia compound known for her promiscuity. Patience’s discovery of an artifact of this affair places her in a difficult situation, facing suspicions and aggression both from a mistress and her excitable husband. 
Chapter 21’s quotidian garden affairs prompt a discussion of desire, identity, naming, and boundaries. Passive aggressive feuding between Baoyu and Xiren is displaced onto Baoyu’s interaction with other maids in the household; fed up with all these flagrantly fragrant designations, Baoyu on a whim re-renames a younger maid “Number 4.” His discontent is further expressed in impromptu Daoist, in particular Zhuangzian, poetic rumination, which we outline and begin to discuss.
Enter the garden Shi Xiangyun, one of the most beloved characters in Dream of the Red Chamber. Meanwhile the status anxieties of Jia Huan and Aunt Zhao are explored, and Baoyu and Daiyu continue perfecting the art of verbal escalation and “maybe I should just die” provocation.
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