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Professor Dirk Meyer

I work on Chinese Philosophy with special focus on close philological analysis. My research explores argumentative strategies in early Chinese thought production and the interplay of material conditions and ideas. By studying the impact media change has on the systematisation of thinking, I engage with genre and argument construction in philosophical discourse, manuscript and text cultures, and transition periods in philosophy. As a historian of Chinese thought my goal is to conceptualise Chinese thinking on its own terms.

I currently work on the following projects:

Genres of Argumentation in Early China. This is a cross-genre analysis of the ways different conceptual communities produced meaning in early Chinese philosophical discourse. The project is in particular concerned with ‘silent’ forms of arguments, viz, arguments which are put in non-explicit form so as to avoid deforming the matter they are negotiating.

Songs of the States: The Anhui Warring States Manuscripts. This is a collaborative project with Adam Schwartz, HKBU. It provides complete reading of Songs of the Anhui Manuscripts which, methodologically, we take as not related to the Máo recension. As a thought experiment, we aim to establish an emic reading of this Warring States instantiation of the Songs and contextualise it in the larger framework of studies of the “Shi” (Songs) and meaning production during the Warring States period more broadly. We devise this as a two-volume project. Volume 1 (ALAC 2) discusses the Royal Songs “Zhōu Nán” and “Shào Nán”. Volume 2 discusses the songs of the ‘common’ states.

The Panorama of Silence in Early Chinese Philosophy (co-written with Avital Rom, Cambridge, and Yuan Ai, Tsinghua University). This book (and an attached conference) will discuss early Chinese conceptualisations of silence in Chinese philosophy from three complementary angles, ‘verbal silence’ (Yuan Ai), ‘structural silence’ (Dirk Meyer), ‘aural silence’ (Avital Rom). With this book we seek to develop a comprehensive picture of the rhetorical function of silence in early Chinese argumentative texts.

The Production of Knowledge in China, Past and Present acknowledges that knowledge is shaped, sustained, and framed by material conditions. This is a wider project that takes China, past and present, as a case study for conceptualising the ways material factors enable society to generate information, facts, argumentation and meaning. By focusing on breakthrough moments of systematic philosophical reasoning from the Classical period to contemporary China, it enables comparative analysis of the shaping of ideas in a society throughout time and space. The project was national contender for the Leverhulme Prize in Philosophy.

My planned monograph, Written Thinking in China, will synthesise close textual analysis with macro observations about the interrelation of material change and new forms of philosophical enquiry. Building on my research on meaning construction in Chinese discourse, it constructs a comparative account of the material forces behind thought production across millennia, thus casting light on reduplicative patterns in philosophical endeavour from the ancient to the contemporary.

Literary Forms of Argument in Manuscript Cultures: A Cross-cultural Perspective and A History of Written Thinking in China are long-term projects that will address trends in Chinese written philosophical discourse.

I am Founding Director of the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures at Oxford, which examines material aspects of writing and text production, as well as transmission and the interface between the oral and the written, across pre-modern literate societies. Central to the Centre’s activities are once-termly workshops, twice-termly colloquia, and yearly conferences. At workshop, leading international scholars present a research paper, followed by long and intense discussions. The colloquia are meant to give academics working on any aspect of manuscript and text cultures the opportunity to present their work to an academic audience outside their usual department, and to receive critical yet supportive comments by specialists working on related questions but in different fields. The Centre also hosts a media channel (CMTC media), and it is launching a new journal, Manuscript and Text Cultures (MTC), for which I serve as Editor in Chief together with Angus M. Bowie. (The production editor is Yegor Grebnev, UIC) The journal will appear once a year digitally and in print, in themed issues. It is double-blind peer-reviewed. With the journal we follow a strict open-access policy.