El camino de las nubes seeks to demonstrate the subtle relationships between the three major schools of Chinese thought, which are often presented as opposites: confucianism, taoism, and Chan buddhism. One of the principles that is perpetuated in all three teachings, across centuries, can be summarized in this way: one's Path (Tao) cannot be taught, goodness is achieved without thinking about it. With the purpose of illustrating the fact that doctrine itself is worth little and that individual experience is all that counts, the text narrates the histories of some emblematic characters throughout different time periods in the course of four chapters, using imagination to breathe life back into them while staying rigorously faithful to historical sources.
El camino de las nubes, far from being historial fiction, aspires to embody the history of these ideas by merging poetic emotion with a historian's desire for truth in a style that is concise and refined, compatible with sources on Chinese thought. Catherine François' writing, which in other texts is rife with metaphors that push the limits of what can be said about sensibility, is notably sparser without losing its beautiful expressions and precise ideas.
This book brings to light characters that are relatively unknown in the West, whose lives are both fragments of Chinese history and examples of wisdom. Following in the footsteps of prominent sinologists like Séraphin Couvreur, Édouard Chavannes, Marcel Granet, Donald Holzman, or François Cheng and Anne Cheng, she sets herself apart from "Orientalizing" ideas born in the 1960s, whose claims of absolutism are often superficial. Catherine François' exploration of the relationship between politics and poetry, which began in her first book about China (Caminos bajo el agua, Pre-Textos, 1999) and continued in her book about Andalusian literary courts in the XI century (Los reyes poetas, Demipage, 2014), culminates here. Like the other themes explored in El camino de las nubes, the question about the retirement of intellectuals and their commitment to the public echoes our current society.
Jenaro Talens, poet, translator, and Comparative Literature professor at the Universidad de Ginebra said of this text:
"I loved La voie des nuages. Apart from your command of the French language, which has always been evident, you've managed to achieve something that was absent from your previous books and that I don't know whether I can express with clarity. Your texts have always had a certain essence, very Baudelairian, much like the master himself says in Little Poems in Prose: "Who among us has not dreamt, in moments of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and rhyme, supple and scaccato enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of dreams, and sudden leaps of consciousness." Here, however, your ability to strip language of all lyricism however wonderful it may be -- that which Beckett called the dryness of the cement, -- which can be the hardest thing for a writer especially in your native language, which has such a strong rhetorical subconscious, demonstrates the strength of your writing. At times it reminded me of the great Lu Xun, who was able to create absolutely poetic prose without the need for almost any flourishes, or perhaps with the greatest one of them all: bareness. To narrate like you do, especially in the part that impressed me the most (Les Sept Sages de la Forêt de Bambous), where you're capable of suggesting more than what is expressed grammatically and turning your narrative into a sort of poem that still remains a story, is something unusual. Not even those closest to you in your cultural universe have achieved what you have in this text, Le Clézio, I've never been so impressed."
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