My review of Rui Kunze’s scholarly monograph, Struggle and Symbiosis: The Canonization of the Poet Haizi and Cultural Discourses in Contemporary China, has been published online by Modern Chinese Literature & Culture. Here’s how it begins:
“The death of Haizi the poet will become one of the myths of our time,” eulogized Xi Chuan 西川 in 1990, a year after the suicide of one of his closest friends. Four years later, however, he tried to pierce that mythology: if we continue to “frame Haizi in a sort of metaphysical halo,” he wrote, “then we can neither get a clear view of Haizi the person nor of his poetry.” Testifying to its significance in the promotion and dissemination of Haizi’s writings, the first quotation (differently translated and romanized) also appears on the back cover of Over Autumn Rooftops (Host Publications, 2010), the collection of Haizi translations by Dan Murphy… The reconsideration, however, presents a cognizance essential for literary history and readers interested in approaching the reality, rather than mythology, of the poet. It is also the starting point for Rui Kunze’s ambitious, painstakingly researched, yet ultimately uneven study, Struggle and Symbiosis: The Canonization of the Poet Haizi and Cultural Discourses in Contemporary China.
What readers will find–and enjoy–in Over Autumn Rooftops is a poetry of considerable complexity. Hai Zi draws on a wide range of literary sources: from the Book of Odes and Qu Yuan to Homer and Greek mythology, from canonical works to folk literature. His early poetry suggests influences by his older contemporaries, such as Shu Ting and Duo Duo. His images exhibit a tendency toward the primal (water, fire, sky, earth, fish, bird, seasons) and the sublime (“the king,” God), and he often identifies with village, sun, prairie, and wheat (“beautiful, wounded wheat” , “wheat in despair”). His language is simple yet tinged with mysticism, effortlessly crossing the boundary between the inner and the external world.