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Artefacts of WritingIdeas of the State and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing$
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Peter D. McDonald

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198725152

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198725152.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 24 September 2021



Between Sky and Ground—The art of Xu Bing

(p.261) Postscript
Artefacts of Writing

Peter D. McDonald

Oxford University Press

The postscript recapitulates some of the main themes of the book via the work of the contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing. On the one hand, it argues that Book from the Sky (1988), which reflects Xu Bing’s debts to the Chan (or Zen) Buddhist tradition, exemplifies an ‘Eastern’ form of linguistic scepticism directed primarily against writing. On the other hand, it argues that Book from the Ground (2007–), which reflects Xu Bing’s engagement with the pictographic aspects of contemporary ‘world culture’, expresses the equally profound utopianism that has always permeated international language debates. The challenge both works pose for the literate brain has consequences not just for the way we read but for the ways in which states conceptualize languages, cultures, and communities as stable, countable things rather than as ‘centres of revolving forces’ expressing ‘the pervasive truth of inter-relation’, as Tagore put it in the 1930s.

Keywords:   Xu Bing, Zen Buddhism, pictograms, reification, Chinese writing system, the literate brain

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