Nothing Outside the Text? On a Poem by Li Po.

Can a poem disobey Derrida’s absolutist rule ‘there is nothing outside the text’?

Reading poems from other traditions help see through the assertiveness of postmodern ideology.

Li Po: ‘Staying the night at Summit-Top temple,/ You can reach out and touch the stars.// I venture no more than a low whisper,/ Afraid I’ll wake the people of heaven.’

(David Hinton, Classical Chinese Poetry, 176.)

The behavior that ‘goes with’ a belief in the ‘stars’ is performed in the narrative AND the inner decorum of the poet. The peace of mind assumed here is conveyed by that low whisper and the ‘fear’ of crossing a cosmic line.

Li Po was ‘culturally’ aware of what was inside and outside Ch’an poetics. Complex irony is not necessarily ‘deconstructive.’

Derrida’s hermeneutics is so reductive it would corrupt our capacity to ‘read’ and enjoy this poem and many like it.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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