In Ancestral Intelligence, Vera Schwarcz has added a forceful and fascinating work to her ever-growing list of publications depicting the cultural landscape of contemporary China. Here, she has created stunning “renditions” of poems by a mid-20th Century dissident poet, Chen Yinke 陳寅恪 (1890 – 1969), and has added a group of her own poems in harmony with Chen Yinke’s. Like his, her poems show a degradation of culture and humanity, in this case through comparison of classic and modern Chinese logographs. Early readers of the book have been universally enthusiastic. Sam Hamill writes, “This deeply engaging celebration of the life and work of Chen Yinke is masterful in its blending of biography, history, linguistics, and poetic adaptation. If the scholarship is vast, the presentation is elegantly swift and insightful. And the poetry (not only Chen Yinke’s but also the author’s own collection of ‘logograph poems’) speaks clearly, powerfully, and passionately. Ancestral Intelligence is a magnificent accomplishment.” Mai Mang (Yibing Huang) adds this: “Through Ancestral Intelligence, Vera Schwarcz proves that a poet and a historian are one and the same: both must work against the flow of time and revive buried voices. That’s why we continue to read and listen.” And this praise from Eleanor Goodman: “The language of these poems lives in two worlds, gleaming across boundaries, thanks to the skill and insight of poet and historian Vera Schwarcz. In the tragic yet inspiring story of Chen Yinke, Schwarcz finds her own powerful way of articulating the horrors of political oppression, and also the smaller but no less difficult personal afflictions of growing old, seeing loved ones suffer, and witnessing the degradation of one’s culture and language. Along with their illuminating exploration of the loss of traditional Chinese ideograms on the mainland, these poems are a kind of primer in empathy, as Schwarcz opens a window onto twentieth-century China and one brave man who, with his intellectual courage and creative output, stood in the way of a dubious ‘progress.’”
Click the image above for more information & sample poems.
The Chinese poet Duo Duo 多多 attended the Prague Writers’ Festival last month, and they have put up a page of his interviews, readings, prose as translated by John Crespi, and poetry translated by Mai Mang 麦芒. Also included is Duo Duo’s acceptance speech for 2010′s Neustadt Prize, also translated by Mai Mang as “This Is the Reason We Persevere,” which seems to voice the starting point of China’s Obscure Poetry 朦胧诗 poetics:
Even as I speak, remnants of the 1970s still resound, and contain every echo of the reshaping of one’s character. One country, one voice–the poet expels himself from all that. Thus begins writing, thus begins exile. A position approaches me on its own. I am only one man; I establish myself on that. I am only a man.
A couple months ago I linked to the Xi Chuan Wikipedia page in German, and mentioned that no one had written a Wikipedia entry for him in English. I also linked to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture entry on him, written by poet / translator / scholar Huang Yibing 黃亦兵 (a/k/a Mai Mang 麦芒), but I’ll take the opportunity now to quote it: mentioning the difference between Xi Chuan’s styles before and after 1989, Huang writes that since the ’90s he has
experiment[ed] with various hybrid forms of prose and poetry to convey what he now calls a ‘pseudo-philosophy’ (wei zhexue), inquiring into the absurdities and previously overlooked dark shadows of history, human consciousness and reason.
This is right, but the passage also stands as a testament to how quickly things change in the life of a living poet. Huang’s entry was only written a few years ago, but since I’ve known Xi Chuan (we first met in the spring of 2006), I can’t think of a single time he’s mentioned the phrase “pseudo-philosophy” 为哲学. At the public discussion at the MLA (see Rachel Blau DuPlessis‘s great write-up here) he mentioned that he was no longer interested in writing normatively “good” poems, and I’ve often heard him speak about the oxymoron and its potential and importance for Chinese poetry today (see versions of this discussion in English here and here), but “pseudo-philosophy” is a trope I think he’s left behind. Actually, looking at his most recent work, I get the sense that he’s more interested in producing texts with real, not pseudo-, philosophical value. I hope you see what I mean when Notes on the Mosquito is published in April.
The next–and perhaps final–installment of news on Xi Chuan in German is the Xi Chuan German Wikipedia page. It’s rather spare, but it’s the only entry in a Western language, and it’s longer than the Chinese listing. For an online encyclopedia entry on Xi Chuan in English, try the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture entry written by Huang Yibing. Unfortunately, it’s a bit out of date. Someone should work on an entry for Xi Chuan in the English Wikipedia. Who might that be?