Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Rethinking the Roots: The Unfinished Work of Wai-Lim Yip's Daoist Modernism

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Rethinking the Roots: The Unfinished Work of Wai-Lim Yip's Daoist Modernism

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: Foreign text omitted.)

Jonathan Stalling: I know that you have wrestled over your long career with attempts to pigeonhole you as either a critic or a poet, so at the outset, I think it would be useful to give our readers a brief outline of the full diversity of your research and creative endeavors. Could you please give us an overview?

Wai-lim Yip: I have a long commitment to creating and critiquing poetry in intercultural contexts. Often working through forms of tension, I have sought to synthesize the heritage of Chinese poets of the 1930s and 1940s with the modernist expressive strategies of the West from the rise of Symbolism forward, and with the expressive strategies of classical Chinese poetry, in order to create a kind of syntactical flexibility that accommodates the perceptual priorities of both worlds, and, in the case of East-West comparative poetics, can provide new pedagogical guidelines for challenging cultural bias in the study of intercultural poetry. I hope that all of these efforts can point the way toward a more truly open and illuminating dialogue between Chinese and Western cultures. My translations into Chinese of English works like Eliot's Wasteland, modern American poetry, and European and Latin American poets have introduced new ideas, forms, and syntactic possibilities in Chinese, and my translations in the opposite direction-into English- of modern Chinese poetry, of poetry from Taiwan in the 1960s and '70s,1 and poetry of the 1930s and '40s from the mainland,2 plus the work of the so-called Misty poets of the post-Mao period as well as the classical Chinese tradition (such as Wang Wei), have worked to offer modern American poets a way to review and readjust their current poetic and cultural strategies in relation to their Chinese counterparts.

JS: That was a wonderfully concise overview of the global breadth of your work. You have commented in the past on how your poetry emerged from the "knot of repressed melancholy" (yujie ...) that stems from your exodus to Hong Kong and Taiwan and from your wrestling with two cultural forces you encountered in both places: the cultural imperialism undergirding Hong Kong's British colonial education regimes and later the suppressive tendencies of Taiwan's KMT government. I think our readers would benefit from hearing more about how and why you have sought to resist these varied forms of cultural violence through a return to classical Chinese poetry and poetics. How can we bridge the historical geo-politics of your youth and the complex world of classical Chinese poetry? Perhaps, out of our dialogue, our readers will come to understand how an intercultural poetry drawn from East and West as well as the past and present might positively combat such large-scale power imbalances.

WY: When the Chinese comparative literature scholar Yue Daiyun asked me to sum up my life in two sentences for her introduction to my nine volumes of writings released in 2004 in China, I developed this basic answer to the impulses of poetry and criticism: "To recover the vivid, vivacious Nature and vivid, vivacious (w)holistic life-world, I wrote poetry; to enable this vivid, vivacious world to be freed from the constriction of framing, I wrote essays." Each of these two statements is a book in itself, but the two can be and must be connected as different modes of expression, or counterdiscourses to the crises we are talking about. During the May fourth era, two primary new discourses-Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy (as they were known in the popular Chinese vernacular of the day)-were imported into East Asia, where they indeed created favorable turns for Chinese culture: skepticism, critical spirit, and openness, allowing young intellectuals to challenge and question the authoritarian power structures in traditional China. This included deconstructing the interpretive strategies that once helped consolidate traditional power hierarchies (See, for example, the series called Rethinking Ancient Chinese History [Gu shi bian . …

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