Chapter

Whose Fault Is Failure?

Michael David Kaulana Ing

in The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199924899
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980437 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199924899.003.0007

Series: Oxford Ritual Studies Series

Whose Fault Is Failure?

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This chapter investigates a notion of ambiguity. It argues that interpreters of the text must remain open to the possibility that ambiguity was a deliberate rhetorical device employed by the authors or redactors of the Liji that served to ease the anxiety of ritual failure and consolidate the status of early Confucians as ritual authorities. In other words, it argues for the possibility that ambiguity between causes of ritual failure is not only brought about by spatial, temporal, and cultural distance between the Liji and the contemporary interpreter, but can also be seen as didactic and instrumental devices used within the Liji to further certain arguments about the nature of ritual and the nature of the world in general. The chapter then details two relevant ambiguities in the Liji. The first is an ambiguity between failures in competency and failures in efficacy. The second is an ambiguity between preventable and unpreventable failures in efficacy. Both ambiguities result from the view held by early Confucians that the success of ritual is at least partially contingent on powers beyond those responsible for the performance of ritual. Determining where the agency of one party begins and the agency of another ends is often a difficult affair.

Keywords: Liji; ambiguity; Confucians; ritual failure; competency; efficacy

Chapter.  8912 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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