AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 81

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Session 81: Modernism in Chinese Poetry

Organizer: Paul Manfredi, Pacific Lutheran University, USA

Discussant: Christopher Lupke, Washington State University, USA

At the opening of the twenty-first century, there seems to be some resurgent interest in the subject of modernism. Modernism-related journals, for instance MODERNISM/MODERNITY, voluminous articles and monographs, perhaps epitomized by Marjorie Perloff’s 21st-century Modernism: The “New” Poetics, are all over in evidence. The field of Chinese Studies is certainly no stranger to this phenomenon, and in the contemporary context, has demonstrated a certain degree of prescience in the subject (though that may be attributed to rather historically narrow effect of “modernism debate” of the middle-to-late 1980s). Certainly, the 1993 volume Inside Out: Modernism and Postmodernism in Chinese Literary Culture (Edited by Larson, Wedell-Wedellsborg) explored the form and dimension of contemporary modernism in Chinese context, as have a wide variety of author studies and individual papers. Our current desire is to revisit the subject of modernist style specifically in Chinese context of poetry. There is, as yet, no monograph that considers the roughly 100-year history of modernist poetic writing in China, and very few articles which attempt a view that addresses multiple modernist “waves,” as they are typically conceived. How, for instance, does early twentieth-century modernism situated largely in Shanghai compare with that from 1950s Taiwan (or Hong Kong), and how do both and others relate to the resurgence in what, perhaps by misnomer, is called “modernism” in 1980s China? In this panel we will explore these questions, laying out a possible framework for understanding modernist style in China and beyond.

Xi Chuan & the Dueling Visions of Modernism
Lucas Klein, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Can reading poetry—and Chinese poetry—help resolve, or at least facilitate understanding of, contradictions inherent to Modernism and World Literature? If literary modernism, as Eliot Weinberger has observed, has a tendency to discover previously neglected writings of earlier generations, and yet is also marked by the placeless universalism of the “International Style” (a term adopted from the Modernist Architecture of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe), then does so-called Modernist Poetry in non-Western languages represent an erasure of local culture at the hands of a Western-derived cultural logic, or does it exhibit the possibility of local cultures rediscovering their own pasts in opposition to the ethics and aesthetics of the dominant West? By presenting the career of contemporary Chinese poet and writer Xi Chuan 西川 (penname of Liu Jun 刘军, b. 1963), who began as a high-lyricist in the post-Obscure (hou menglong 后朦胧) moment of the later 1980s, but developed into a prose-poet continually re-exploring the hidden secrets of Chinese antiquity, I seek to explore both sides of Modernism’s defining aspects and draw links between them. By close-reading Xi Chuan’s writing, both in poetry and in expository prose, I will test some of the grander theories of World Literature that hold sway over literary studies in general and modern Chinese literature in particular. Finally, I will discuss the particular challenges of translating Xi Chuan in light of his dual relationship to Chinese and Western aesthetics in contact.

Picturing Modernist Poetry in Chinese
Paul Manfredi, Pacific Lutheran University, USA

In this paper I am observing Chinese modernist verse, composed across the entire twentieth century, which draws heavily from an Imagist tradition, a tradition itself famously drawn from Chinese aesthetic roots in calligraphy and classical poetry. I am thus turning the narrative of modernism’s appropriation of peripheral aesthetic traditions around, demonstrating the ways in which Chinese poets have used specifically modernist strategies to create new poetic space against closures of form and content brought about by ideological and other aesthetic factors. My argument is that a great deal of aesthetic innovation in Chinese poetry since the beginning of the New Poetry 新诗 movement relies on form of Imagism to achieve its goals. Examples will include early works of Ji Xian 紀弦, Ai Qing 艾青and others published in Xiandai 現代 and Xin Shi 新詩, the concrete poems of Lin Hengtai 林亨泰 published in Xiandai shi 現代詩 in Taiwan. From there, I will examine the function of visuality to the modernist movement which emerged in post-Mao China, focusing on the works of Gu Cheng 顾城 and others. By way of conclusion, I will sketch possible framework for addressing the implications of a visually-based Chinese poetry aesthetic as it appears online, the new frontier for poetry composition and consumption world wide, with China being no exception.

Imprisonment and Banishment: the Cases of Shang Qin and Bei Dao
Chin-Li Lin, Independent Scholar, Netherlands

The return of modernism in the post-1949 era was one of the most prominent literary phenomena in both Taiwan and Mainland China: in Taiwan, this re-emergence began in the mid-50s when the government’s interference in art and culture was at its peak; in China, it happened in the late 70s, shortly after the Cultural Revolution had ended. The rise of modernism in the post-1949 era on both sides signaled not only a break from the political-literary orthodoxy of the day, but was also indicative of a new pursuit of what poetry should be. However, rather than emerging from a highly developed industrial society as it had in the West, the return of modernism in Taiwan and China had a strong connection with the post-1949 socio-political environment, in which sensitive poets experienced the alienation and absurdity of existence that Western modernist artists had expressed in their works. The feelings of “imprisonment” and “banishment” are two of the most significant themes in Taiwanese and Chinese modernist poetry. This paper will look at how modernism motivated Taiwanese and Chinese poets to broaden poetry’s aesthetic dimension and delve into alienation of the individual, as well as conflicts between the individual and society, and will compare the two sides’ unique experiences in regard to this transformative time. By focusing on two modernist poets who both experienced physical exile - one Taiwanese and one Chinese, Shang Qin and Bei Dao, respectively - I will examine how the descriptions of “imprisonment” and “banishment” are not only a reflection of their own personal experiences caused by particular historical circumstances, but also serve as pathways to explore the universal state of human existence, wherein lies the poets’ challenge to what poetry should be.