David Madore's WebLog: Gratuitous Literary Fragment #72 (Rising Path of Changes)

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(Sunday)

Gratuitous Literary Fragment #72 (Rising Path of Changes)

Partly rewritten (2006-02-07T22:30+0100)

The Rising Path of Changes is an eight-volume epic which tells not one story, but five, with each succession of five chapters pursuing the different plot lines invariably in the same order. The relation between them is not obvious: though they appear to be all set in the same fantasy world, we are given too few material details to ascertain how separated they are in space and time (and only the absence of familiar names betokens fantasy). The overall tone of the five narratives is varied: whereas one of them is very dark, others are of a much lighter stance, and at least one is meant to be funny. But whereas the stories may be physically and dramatically unconnected, there is a clear resonance between them, and it is apparent that the author is more concerned with this “inner harmony” than with anything else.

The formal structure of the work is heavily based on Chinese esoteric philosophy, and particularly the Yi Jing (I Ching or Book of Changes) and its later commentary the Tai Xuan Jing (variously translated as The Elemental Changes or Alternative I Ching). Thus each of the 145 chapters in the Rising Path of Changes bears, with some appropriateness, the name of one of the 64 hexagrams of the Yi Jing or one of the 81 tetragrams of the Tai Xuan Jing: response, the receptive earth, going to meet, return, law or model, the army, stove, approach, greatness, encounters, modesty, and so on—arranged in a (rather unconventional) order which suggests a path from Yin to Yang. The books are themselves named after the eight classical trigrams: Earth, Thunder, Water, Lake, Mountain, Fire, Wind and Heaven. And the five intertwined stories are probably related to the Chinese five elements. The actual contents, however, have little to do with the Yi Jing—which does not provide much, that is, beyond the titles.

So in effect the Rising Path of Changes is not an esoteric work: it is more accurately described as an exercise in storytelling—namely, how to make the constrained titles into a coherent set of stories. How to turn the Book of Changes from an oracle into a novel. A well met challenge.

Another description of an imaginary book… this time there is a real table of contents for it. I got my inspiration, of course, by reading the tables in Unicode and noticing that the English translations they use for the Yi Jing and Tai Xuan Jing elements make great titles.

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