Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture on Xi Chuan

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.

2 thoughts on “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture on Xi Chuan

  1. hmmm….very interesting. Thanks for quoting me, Lucas!:-) I don’t think Xi Chuan has used “pseudo” in any sense suggesting that the “pseudo” is actually inferior to the “real.” What defines “real philosophy” anyway? Rather, the term “pseudo philosophy” itself is a wonderful case of oxymoron which you’ve heard him speaking about more recently. In fact, I wrote and presented a longer conference paper on Xi Chuan and this topic back a few years ago but never got time to update, polish and publish it. Maybe I should find time to do so and present my reading of him…and I’m looking forward to the publication of “Notes on the Mosquito.” Let’s keep this conversation alive–

    • I understand the difficulties of writing a brief encyclopedia entry–and I didn’t think you meant to suggest that Xi Chuan’s use of “pseudo” was in any sense derogatory, rather that it’s not something I’ve heard him discuss in any sense since I’ve known him. At any rate, the definition of philosophy has been a very contentious issue with high stakes in in the PRC… I’m thinking of slogans like Mao’s “May philosophy be the sharpest weapon in the hands of the masses!” 让哲学成为群众手中的尖銳武器!–in which case, you’re right that pseudo-philosophy is a precursor to his notion of oxymoron.
      I hope you revise & publish that paper!

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