February 19 Tom Kelly

Friday, February 19, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Luminescent Surfaces: Inscribing a Ming Rhinoceros Horn Cup

Tom Kelly
Ph.D. Candidate, East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, University of Chicago

This paper considers how the creation and reception of an object-inscription might lead to the construction of a political monument in late imperial China. I focus specifically on the case of an inscription for a rhinoceros horn vessel from the late Ming and the story of its re-mediation over the course of three centuries. The first section of the paper reconstructs approaches to rhinoceros horns among collectors from the sixteenth century, examining how the poetic animation of these luxury imports re-calibrated conceptions of the exotic and the antique. Against this backdrop, I ask what might have been at stake for Ming scholars in trying to transform a rhinoceros horn into a vessel with a classical genealogy through acts of naming and marking. The second section of the paper charts the circulation of the vessel and the re-mediation of its markings during the Qing, exploring the ways in which the transmission of the inscription in different formats provided later scholars with a means of working through anxieties of displacement and loss. In doing so, the paper weighs some of the latent desires embedded in object-inscriptions from the Ming against the reception of these texts by Qing antiquarians. At the same time, I use this case to reflect on the divergent values attributed to the act of inscription as a situated political performance and to the “thingness” of an inscription as a physical trace of the past.

Friday, February 19, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156
Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact xizh@uchicago.edu

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