shén yǔ wù yóu 神与物游
Interaction Between the Mind and the Subject Matter
This term refers to the creative process through which a writer interacts with subject matter and gives free rein to his imagination. During the process, he projects onto real objects his mental sensations and imaginings, and endows them with an aesthetic tone. Conversely, his imaginary sensations and imaginings are given concrete expression by real objects. The free interaction between mind and subject matter, transcending the limitations of space and time, creates a superb artistic work depicted in language. The term originated in the words of “taking advantage of the circumstances to let your mind wander freely” in Zhuangzi. Later, this idea was systematically developed by Liu Xie in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons during the Southern Dynasties to describe imaginative contemplation. The term stresses the importance of interaction between the mind and the poetic subject matter as well as free imagination in the process of artistic creation. It demonstrates the process of thinking in artistic creation and succinctly summarizes the underlying features of aesthetic appreciation and freedom in artistic creation.
When starting to write an essay, one should keep away sounds and sights and keep his mind focused so as to allow the imagination to search freely in the universe. When his mind reaches the farthest end, all confusion will dissipate, and images will clearly emerge in his mind one after another. (Lu Ji: The Art of Writing)
What is marvelous about composing a poem is that it makes it possible for the mind and the imagination to interact freely with external objects. The feelings and imaginings that well up from within are determined by a writer’s aspirations and temperament. We recognize external objects through hearing and vision, but these objects are expressed through the use of language. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)