The new Cha also features my review of László Krasznahorkai’sDestruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Semi-fictional reportage about Krasznahorkai’s travels through China, it features transcripts of discussions with Chinese poets–which I elaborate on in my review:
My own reading experience was one of being amazed at the representative resonances with those whom I know among the book’s characters—critic Tang Xiaodu and poets Yang Lian and Ouyang Jianghe as well as Xi Chuan—while also being enwrapped in the dramatic tension of its various frustrations.
I also take a look at whether the book is fictional, and how Krasznahorkai plays with central questions in Chinese literary studies to
While those trained in European literature are equipped to believe that writing is in itself a fictional act, others have argued, “In the Chinese literary tradition, a poem is usually presumed to be nonfictional: its statements are taken as strictly true.” But this statement is itself at the core of further debates in Chinese literary studies, such as about Orientalism and the mental sequestering of China as an object of study that comprises much scholarship in Chinese literature.
These debates play out implicitly in the pages of the book, I say:
This is the game Krasznahorkai plays. His self-aware presentation of his Westerner’s vision is embodied and embedded in his structure. In Hungarian, Stein’s name is Dante. Changing it to Stein invokes Aurel Stein (1862–1943), the Hungarian-British archaeologist who discovered the grottoes at Dunhuang and removed four cases of relics and paintings and twenty-four cases of medieval manuscripts to the British Museum in London, where they are preserved, or to which they were stolen. But the moniker Dante also implies Destruction and Sorrow‘s knowing Eurocentrism: the book’s three-part structure proceeds through the hell of the narrator’s exasperation to the utopia of the Suzhou gardens … By positing his China as a passage through the hereafter, Krasznahorkai acknowledges his enclosure within the Western tradition. Not that all narratives in Western literature are fulfilled: from Exodus to Ulysses, heroes have failed in their journeys, too. Or that unfulfilled narratives are the only Chinese authentic: don’t the pilgrims in Journey to the West reach Buddha’s Western Heaven?
Paul Manfredi at China Avantgarde writes about the exhibition of the paintings of the Poetic Survivors. He explains:
This exhibition, title The Poetic Survivors 诗意的幸存者, is on a larger scale than many iterations past, with some new members in the line-up. In particular is the calligraphy of Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡, long-time critic and cultural figure whose visual art I had never seen before this collection emerged. Also notable is the preface to the exhibition written by Yang Lian, who is not often so closely engaged with goings-on inside China. The funding will carry this exhibition through numerous cities over the next 12 months, among them and besides Shanghai where the operation kicked off in November, will be Beijing, Shenyang, and Dalian.
The seven-person lineup this time rather different from previous “Poets Group” (诗派) of painters, with only Mang Ke 芒克, and Yan Li 严力 the constant members. They are here joined by Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡, as mentioned, but also You You 友友, Guo Changhong 郭长虹, Li Li 李笠 and Jie Wei 解危.
Click the image above of the painting by Mang Ke for Manfredi’s write-up, and Yang Lian’s intro in Chinese (the English of which I translated for the exhibition brochure).
the international poets sat down one by one with Yang Lian, or Liao Weitang, or Qin Xiaoyu in front of a Skype-connected computer to read their poetry and the Chinese poets’ poetry, and to interact with a faceless, presumably multitudinous online audience. Interpreters and questioners were everywhere; back in a half-lit meeting room in the top floor of a building on the Third Ring Road, a team of ants, armed with laptops, scrambled to turn Chinese into English, English into Chinese, send all of it over QQ to everybody else, then post it to a Tencent microblog stream on which audience members could pose questions to the poets.
Who came? Kwame Dawes, from the Caribbean; James Byrne, British poet and editor of The Wolf; Canadian poet Ken Babstock; Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky; Syrian poet Adonis; and several others whom I would name in full, but the site’s server has stopped responding. They were all well-known, well-published poets and editors, and if the medium of their correspondence, which required stop-and-start maintenance along with as many as three translators (in the case of Adonis, who spoke in French, and therefore had to be translated from French to Dutch, to English, to Chinese), hadn’t been such an obstacle, they might have been able to engage in some truly meaningful discussion. Tang Xiaodu moderated the event on the Beijing side, while Yang Lian moderated most of the event on theirs — and “moderate” may itself be too moderate a description, as a lack of audience questions early on prompted YL to take on the interpreter’s and moderator’s mantles himself, which resulted both in interesting leads and a lot of distracting hand-waving.
Chinese poet and poetry critic Qin Xiaoyu invited the Proletarian to attend a meeting at Peking University last Friday on poetry in online media. The meeting was sponsored and chaired by Yang Erwen, founder of ArtsBj.com (北京文艺网), and Yang Lian, whom Yang Erwen has worked into some advisory position at the website. Having no prior knowledge of the event, the Proletarian thought it was just going to be another stereotypical academic meeting, where people made airy speeches over an audience checking their cell phones; who knew that the first item of news would be one of significant importance? …
Well-known critic Tang Xiaodu moderated the first half of the meeting, while Yang Lian (who sounds a lot more like Ge You than I could ever have imagined) chaired the second half. Also at the table were Zhai Yongming, Xi Chuan, Qin Xiaoyu, Zhang Qinghua, Leng Shuang, Lan Ye, Zang Di, Ou Ning, Yang Xiaobin, Shang Zhen, Jiang Tao and a few others …
Morse also mentions Xi Chuan’s “observations on poetry throughout Chinese history.” Click here for the whole piece.
Having edited Chinese to English translations for the International Poetry Nights‘ Words & the World booklets, I am familiar with all the participating poets who write in Chinese. Still, having a chance to hear Hongkong poet Wong Leung Wo 王良和 read his poems–written in standard Chinese, pronounced as Mandarin in my head–in Cantonese was fascinating for the linguistic disjunctiveness the poems created beneath their poetic smoothness (added to by Canaan Morse‘s excellent English translations, also onscreen behind Wong as he read). But even more exciting for me were the poets I hadn’t had much chance to encounter before; in particular, Mexican poet María Baranda‘s reading from “Cartas a Robinsón” / “Letters to Robinson,” translated by Joshua Edwards in a way that brings out the rolling passion of Baranda’s Spanish, was enthralling, as was Tomaž Šalamun‘s switching back and forth between Slovenian and English as he read (I saw Tomaž being interviewed by Xi Chuan and Chinese poetry critic Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡, an interview I’ll be sure to link to if it appears online).