History for the future: politics and aesthetics in the fifth Dalai Lama's cuckoo's song

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This article translates and interprets several stanzas of poetry from the Cuckoo’s Song (Dpyid kyi rgyal mo’i glu dbyangs), the 1643 political history of Tibet authored by the fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Losang Gyatso. It focuses in particular on the words this work uses to reflect poetically on its own documentary and literary qualities, and hence on the relationship between its political subject matter and aesthetic manner of expression. The article argues that any broader assessment of the Cuckoo’s Song with respect to the immediate sociopolitical context of the nascent Ganden Phodrang regime should heed the ways in which this work self-consciously articulates the purpose and necessity of speaking history eloquently. Looking especially to the self-referential opening verses, it will be suggested that the Cuckoo’s Song portrays literary historiography as an intrinsically political act and politics as a necessarily aestheticized pursuit. What is ultimately at stake in this idea of history is the relationship between authorship and kingship as mutually constituting, world-ordering powers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-38
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Tibetan Literature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 18 Dec 2023


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