Today’s Book Review Seminar with Xi Chuan features Chris Lupke’s review of my translations, Notes on the Mosquito. Because it’s still forthcoming in print, I can’t reproduce the entire review, but here’s an excerpt of Lupke’s intricate and sensitive take on Xi Chuan’s poetry and its importance in China and the world:
The density of his poetry aside, the other trial facing me and any reader at this time is that we have no serviceable nomenclature for what Xi Chuan is doing, particularly his work of the past ten years or so. He is engaged in an unprecedented project to recast literary expression in contemporary China. And we do not know, cannot now know, whether the results of his project eventually will be the idiosyncratic work of one man, or whether he is setting a path, one possible path, for other poets to follow. Xi Chuan exists at a special time in Chinese literary history when form has finally matured in modern Chinese poetry, when the anxiety of influence can be tempered by several generations of earlier modern poets who bore the major brunt of being compared with the illustrious tradition of classical Chinese poetry and when experiments with Western poetic structures have by and large been cast aside. The successes of free verse poets from Taiwan such as Yang Mu, Yu Guangzhong, Wai-lim Yip (Cantonese, but educated in Taiwan), and others have established a solid corpus in the vernacular mode. Obscure poets from China have safely neutralized the once suffocating omnipresence of Maospeak. Through the use of internal rhymes, rhythmic repetition, alliteration and assonance, Xi Chuan is able to forge his work in an environment in which the so-called avant-garde (which to date has not been adequately defined in China) is the norm. Liberated from the twin strictures of classical Chinese and Western prosody, Xi Chuan has become a successful bricoleur, a world poet who interacts with the tradition, engages literary giants of China’s past within his work, and also establishes a dialogue with Western greats such as Homer, Petrarch, Baudelaire, Rilke, Pound, Gary Snyder, and others. His work is the product of a creative dialectics that violates Hu Shi’s admonition to eschew literary allusion while embracing his demand to articulate things in the vernacular. The conflicts that Xi Chuan bespeaks in his poetry are not those of a clash of civilizations, of traditional and modernity or East and West. Rather, they are internal conflicts, conflicts of the soul. His work is completely personal and untranslatable to others, not just linguistically but emotionally. But at the same time, his problems are genuine and are no different than those that give pain to each of us: the death of friends and family, frustration over failure, difficulty communicating to others, weakness and ineffectuality, humiliation, fear, lust, and limitation. “The one with the greatest vision is blind” 最具视觉功夫的人竟然是个瞎子, he flatly observers, “if Homer wasn’t blind, then whoever created Homer must have been” 如果荷马不是瞎子，那创作了荷马的人必是瞎子. And he concludes at the end of the same poem: “Nietzsche the last son of Dionysus, never touching a drop, still went crazy in Weimar” 尼采酒神的最后一个儿子，滴酒不沾，却也在魏玛疯疯癫癫 (109). Genius has its consequences. It’s not a game.
Hope you can attend!
Date: 1 November, 2012 (Thursday)
Time: 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Venue: G4302, Green Zone, 4/F, Academic 1, City University of Hong Kong.