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AT THE CROSSROADS OF CULTURE: THE INTERSECTION OF
INTERLANGUAGE, RESIDUAL MODERNISM, AND NOMADIC HYBRIDITY IN
BEI DAO AND EZRA POUND'S MODERNIST POETICS
JAMES INNIS MCDOUGALL
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
James Innis McDougall
Thanks to 11il .',; whose love and support helped me to unlock these words.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CKN OW LED GM EN TS ............... ......... ..... .................. ........... iii
1 INTRODUCTION................... ............................................... 1
2 ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES................................................... 4
3 MODERNIST INTERLANGUAGE ............................. .......................12
4 RESIDUAL MODERNISM........................................... ...............16
5 OBSERVING PERFORMANCE ........... .....................................23
6 NOMADIC HYBRIDITY..........................................................31
7 C O N C LU SIO N .............................................................. ........... 37
L IST O F R EFER EN CE S ...................................................... .................................. 38
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .. ..... ................................................... .............. 45
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
AT THE CROSSROADS OF CULTURE: THE INTERSECTION OF
INTERLANGUAGE, RESIDUAL MODERNISM, AND NOMADIC HYBRIDITY IN
BEI DAO AND EZRA POUND'S MODERNIST POETICS
Chair: Marsha Bryant
Major Department: English
The main thrust of this thesis is answering the question: when poets attempt to use
voices and styles outside of their immediate cultural location, what sense can we make
out of the cultural artifact that they produce? To answer this question the imagist poetry
of Ezra Pound as well as the misty poetry of Bei Dao are both investigated, concentrating
on the cross-cultural aspects of their poetry. The paper takes three different approaches to
analyze the way that cross-cultural material is used in poetry: interlanguage, residual
modernism, and nomadic hybridity. As such linguistic, literary, and cultural studies are
employed to show how poetry challenges the boundaries of a national aesthetic and
participates in redefining what those boundaries might mean.
Bei Dao and Ezra Pound make good subjects for re-evaluating theories of cross-
cultural appropriation-a topic fraught with political implications-because both have
written poetry questioning concepts of "foreign" and "national" to the extent that their
poetry serves an indexical function, marking aesthetic changes in literary modernism.
Their lives, too, as ex-patriots and exiles, have established each poet as representative
figures of twentieth century hybridity and displacement. One of Ezra Pound's noteworthy
projects, even before he published the 1915 collection of Chinese poems, Cathay, was
rethinking English language poetry as it refracted through cultural indices, from medieval
Italian poetry to Chinese. He later established theories of poetics and language based on
Chinese ideographic writing. Out of a radically different context Bei Dao, resisting the
proscriptive ideological constraints of the Gang of Four at the end of Chairman Mao's
regime, wrote poetry using techniques and aesthetic principles associated with English
language high modernist poetry. The implication of Bei Dao as writing like a "westerner"
has come about through criticism from Chinese government officials, as well as a his
effort to write and publish in an idiom other than the didactic slogan-saturated
revolutionary romanticism and social realism. Moreover, Bei Dao is writing out of a
tradition-residual forms of literary modernism had been an important part of Chinese
avant-garde poetry movements throughout the twentieth century.
This thesis will show how the two poets are writing in response to their historical
context through a dynamic complex, involving interlanguage, residual modernism, and
nomadic hybridity. Just as these intersecting ideas form a crossroads of diverging
political and critical theories, the poetry of Bei Dao and Ezra Pound can also be
represented by the figure of the crossroads. The crossroads is a place for congregation,
commerce, and changes of direction, thus, serves as a starting point for our discussion on
Ezra Pound and Bei Dao's poetry.
The critical pathways that intersect here are informed by linguistics and
postcolonial theory. The term "interlanguage" is an important concept in language
acquisition studies, which assumes that the learner's language is a linguistic theory of the
language that the learner is trying to speak. That is to say that the utterances of a language
learner are not wild and random, but a way of knowing. Linguists, such as Chomsky and
Selinker, also claim the language learner's interlanguage output has two components,
performance and competence. In this paper we will look at possible literary applications,
concentrating on the aspects of interlanguage performance. The term residual modernity,
as used by the scholar Xiaobing Tang to describe the modernist techniques employed by
Chinese fiction writers in the 1980s, resonates with the work of postcolonial theorists like
Chakrabarty and Duara who have been working with problems of historiography. They
look at ways to bifurcate a Euro-centric historiography that is popularly conceived of as a
natural development. At the same time they try to avoid reconstructing a narrative of
history with an equally totalizing discourse. To attack this problem is to attack some of
the popular, and somewhat invisible ways that history appears to be a natural evolution,
or an all-embracing process (the Hegelian model, for instance). Finally, the term nomadic
hybridity refers specifically to the concept established by the theorists Deleuze and
Guattari. For instance, in A Thousand Plateaus, they try to establish a theoretical
framework for the role of the nomad in the nation state through a historiography of the
nomad. Here the term will apply to the literal movement of the poets and the figurative
movements within their poetry in relation to mass social movements. The figure of
nomadic hybridity is a longstanding tradition imbricated in both Chinese and Anglo-
American culture, which will be seen in Qu Yuan-an exiled poet statesman who writes
in a hybrid style poetry and in a symbolic gesture sacrifices himself.
ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
Pound's university training was philology. He left his studies for Edwardian
London in 1908, disgusted with the academy. The academic discipline of studying and
comparing languages, however, is implicated in his fearless translations of cross-cultural
forms from the Troubadour poets to the early Saxons. Working with T.E. Hulme and
other poets in London's avant-garde literary salons, Pound inculcated the foundational
principles of the Imagist school soon after arriving in England. It was Hulme, a student of
Bergson and heavily influenced by continental modernists, who in a 1910 lecture on
modern art said that "the mystery of things is no longer perceived as action but as
impression," he also said that art "no longer deals with heroic action, it has become
definitely and finally introspective and deals with momentary phases in the poet's
mind"(qtd. in Pratt, 21). The group experimented with vers libre and short forms, like the
Deleuze and Guattari describe the writing of Kafka, using the metaphor of music
to posit that a minor literature resembles a minor chord: "as though music set out on a
journey and garnered all resurgences, phantoms of the Orient, imaginary lands, traditions
from all over" (Delueze and Guitari 95). From this criticism we not only see how the
"Orient" is a continuation of several problems Looking at Pound's contribution to the
March 1913 edition of Poetry Magazine, we see him establishing these kinds of qualities
in his poetry, the titles include: "Tenzone," "The Garret," "Dance Figure," "Pax Saturni,"
"A Pact," and "In a Station of the Metro." One of the best examples of this can be found
in "In a Station of the Metro," a poem that has been dissected and labeled to the extent
that it serves metonymically as the imagist school: "The apparition of these faces in the
crowd/Petals on a wet black bough." Dropping the copula from the metaphor, instead of
syntax, parataxis creates the discursive continuum. The platform of the metro station
provides the bricolage where the people of the city, rich and poor, foreigners and
nationals, comers and goers are momentarily united underground by modern
transportation. The metro serves as a place of journey (divergence) as well as community
(convergence) in a juxtaposed collage. The composition of daily experience living in the
cosmopolitan city (any city at the time big enough to support a subway system) is one of
Taking into account the theme/rheme argument, which states that word order
determines the "point of departure"(Celce-Murcia and Larson-Freeman 22) of a clause,
"[t]he apparition" suggests that "these faces" are less important than the sudden
appearance of the supernatural. The haunting is caused on one hand by the immanent
beauty of the faces suddenly precipitated from the crowd. On the other hand the people
are haunted by the organizing principles of the cosmopolitan city that forces people
underground, like souls in a Greek hell. William Pratt points out that Pound re-uses the
"Metro" formulation in his Cantos to describe both heaven and hell (26).
The poem is also haunted by "phantoms of the Orient." Not only does the form
borrow from the Japanese haiku, the content uses a motif of classical Chinese ink brush
painting: "Petals on a wet black bough." Eisenstein in his "The Cinematographic
Principle and The Ideogram," discussing the Japanese approach to painting a cherry
branch, points out that the artist will "frame the shot"(41). Eisenstein writing in 1930
seems to refer specifically to this poem as a prototypical montage. First, the image that
Pound provides does not allow the reader to view the entire shrubbery. He cuts it, leaving
only the bough and petals. Next, Pound's editing also includes a cut from the crowd in
the familiar "station" to the ink brush painting. The ink brush painting is the framing
device that situates the faces and the crowd within the image. This construction
juxtaposes exterior and interior, nature and modernity, familiar and foreign.
Imagist poets and Anglo-American poets in general were able to make a tradition
out of literary modernism, that is to say they were heavily influenced by the French
symbolists, yet they manage to clear out a space for critical difference. This can be seen
not only in Hulme, but also in Pound's study of Gauttier (Homberger 13). Baudelaire,
twenty years prior, in addition to writing about the "orient" and "exotic," often writes
about the city through the eyes of the flanneur, strolling about the avenues of Paris.
"Metro" certainly has this quality. The poem seems like a casual observation that a city
walker might make, using an artist's eye to appreciate the experience of being in the
metro. The poem also has a sense of Mallarme's vigorous phrasing. In addition the haiku
form has a vers libre quality, which at the time was foreign to English poetry. In fact, it
was a concept so revolutionary to English poetry that throughout much of the twentieth
century the easily translatable term remained French, non? This combination of the city
walker seeing the vision of the oriental print in a crowd of people, during an unprivileged
moment in the metro intensifies the haunting. Deleuze describes this situation as it exists
in a minor literature as: "be[ing] a foreigner, but in one's own tongue, not only when
speaking a language other than one's own. .. is when style becomes a language" (98).
Style becomes language in poetry, because it is part of the poet's "enunciation" or
"performance." As such, the "Metro" poem has haunted poetic language since 1913.
The poem "In a Station of the Metro," in terms of literary history, performs as the
station where Ezra Pound arrived as an imagist. It also serves as a point of departure that
would take him across the across the classical Chinese literary landscape as we see in the
re-worked translations that he included as representative pieces of imagism in the 1914
Des Imagistes anthology.
Moving across time and space to 1970s Mainland China, Bei Dao wrote one of
his most famous poems, "The Answer" ("[ H Huidd). It was an enigmatic answer to
the poetry and politics during the oppressive regime of the Gang of Four:
1. ,' i i,' Debasement is the password of the base,
S,. ,* i'1 '- Nobility the epitaph of the noble.
APE, 1,.i Jl. :11 'i 1, See how the gilded sky is covered
*11 il With the drifting twisted shadows of the dead
(August Sleepwalker 35, lines 1-4)
The first four lines consist of a parallel construction of two definitions followed by two
lines containing a single image. The poem is written in quatrains with an abab end-rhyme
structure ("iE" zheng and "tf" zhong are off-rhymes, while "W"ming and "I" ying are
feminine rhymes). On the surface of the poem, the ideas are syntactically disconnected;
the structure of the verse allows for parataxis as the ideas to comment on each other. The
tone is decidedly eulogistic as even the sky, ," dijin (gilded) artificially golden"
does not house the "rising sun" (a common revolutionary motif used to represent
Chairman Mao), but rather "drifting twisted shadows of the dead." The translation reads "
0 l] "djoying as "shadows," but can also be translated as "reflection in water" or
"inverted image." This play on surfaces transforms clouds into an image of an image of
the dead. In this simulacrum "nobility" is only a simulation of an ontological "noble"-
ness, and, thus, its "epitaph." All that is left is the "gilded sky" and "debasement." When
compared to the state-proscribed1 literature, the content in the poem is radical, unfamiliar,
and not a little obscure.
"The Answer" began circulating during the first Tiananmen incident of 1976 (the
April Fifth Movement). People gathered at the square during the Qingming festival
bringing eulogies and funeral wreathes to mourn the death of the extremely popular
premier, Zhou Enlai. The gathering was also an implicit critique of "the gang of four"
and the ailing Chairman Mao's leadership of the Cultural Revolution. In this context, the
allusion to "nobility" and "debasement" corresponds to revolutionary idealism, and the
realities of the Cultural Revolution. With the April Fifth movement as the milieu, the
performative value of the poem can be found in its cutting irony, and critique of
degenerating culture. The poem as a performance in an event that served as both protest
and eulogy explains some of the reason for ambiguity; a direct affront to authority
yielded severe consequences. At the same time, the poem radiates the high modernist
"imperious gesture of the charismatic Master" (Jameson 2). The syntactic disconnects in
Bei Dao's early verse represent the available linguistic space that existed outside of the
Party's political speak. Bei Dao and the avant-garde poets searched out a linguistic
response to the crisis of expression, and the disconnected syntax is evidence of the
linguistic repression of the time. As such Bei Dao finds a literary modernism within the
1 In his famous Yan'an address, Chairman Mao declared all literature must be a aid the proletariat
revolution, calcifying an official state proscription that all literary styles must either conform to the
conventions of social realism or revolutionary romanticism. Chairman Mao said literature must "operate as
powerful weapons for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and destroying the enemy, and
that they help the people fight the enemy with one heart and one mind" (Mao 567).
cultural context of the Cultural Revolution not as an imitation or appropriation of
Western Modernism, but a use of language in response to the historical moment. Jacques
Derrida suggests that Ezra Pound and Mallarme are prototypical grammatologists who
established a "graphic poetics" in order to break the "entrenched Western traditions" (92).
Likewise, Bei Dao, searches out language beyond an entrenched system, and in the
process significantly alters the poetic landscape.
In the first verse of the answer, the "debasement"/"nobility" opposition, in terms
of class and class consciousness, deviates from the ideologically "pure" revolutionary
romanticism poetry, and is a topic that Bei Dao treats with ambivalence. Like Gu Cheng,
Mang Ke, and other poets that emerged from the Cultural Revolution in the Beijing
literary scene, Bei Dao found the project of building a new aesthetics more important if
not completely separate from politics. For example, Mang Ke said, "Poems, after all, are
not popular cookbooks" (Pan 199). Rey Chow sums up the attitude of these Chinese
artists as follows:
Contrary to orthodox Socialist beliefs, the protest made in contemporary Chinese
popular culture is that such collectivization of human lives is what produces the
deepest alienation ever, because it turns human labor into the useful job that we
are performing for that 'other' known as the collective, the country, the people,
and so forth. (Chow 469)
This ambivalence attains a fuller expression in the poem "Declaration" that was
published two years after "The Answer," where Bei Dao claims, "In an age without
heroes/I just want to be a man" (August Sleepwalker, lines 5-6). We are faced with the
tension between the loss of the "heroic" and everyday mind of the individual, resonating
with Hulme's pronouncement on modern art. The avant-garde movement in which Bei
Dao took part was an elite group reshaping a national aesthetic, while at the same time
having a certain degree of "radical chic," putting the poets in a position similar to the
imagists as "profoundly contradictory: at once revolutionary and reactionary"
(Homberger 6). "The Answer" projects some of this complexity onto the sky, which
starts out a Tartarus of shades and then changes to a starlit expanse of the "watchful eyes
of future generations" (line 28).
The movement Ezra Pound makes in remodeling modernity (the metro) into
vegetation (petals and bough) exudes an aesthetic that is foreign yet familiar. Bei Dao
also provides a similar uncanny foreign in the everyday by constructing a defiant
subjectivity in a literary climate where the "I" had almost completely disappeared. In
1983, during the anti-"Spiritual Pollution" Campaign debates over the legitimacy of a
Chinese modernism, the poet Xu Jinya expressed his support for the new aesthetic
possibilities that literary modernism offered. He claims that the new poetry is, "the exact
opposite of all poetry since 1949: it has clear syllable images; the entire mood is obscure,
the internal rhythm violent" (qtd. in Larson 52). Xu also notes that the beginning of the
new style of poetry began in 1976 during the Tiananmen incident at the height of China's
repression of foreign influences (Larson 53). It seems that Xu has Bei Dao's "The
Answer" in mind. The parataxis, obscurity, and the focus on the image relate to the very
roots of Anglo-American London avant-garde in the early 1910s even though the poem
does something completely different than the poem "In a Station of the Metro." For
example, as "The Answer" continues, a subjective "I" emerges with a prophetic voice
having "to proclaim before the judgment/the voice that has been judged" (lines 15-16).
The poet proclaims: "I don't believe the sky is blue/I don't believe in thunder's echoes/I
don't believe that dreams are false/I don't believe that death has no revenge" (lines 17-
20). These statements move from rationalistic toward intuitive thinking, and tend toward
a complexity that stylistically echoes the poem's resistance to simplistic ideologically
"pure" slogans, and state-proscribed forms. These statements in their naked declarative
mood are something we rarely see in Anglo-American high modernism without highly
ironic or hopelessly unreliable personae.
The reason for this juxtaposition of two very different poets from two different
places and times is that their names have already been spliced together in interweaving
narratives of modernism, translation, and appropriation. Both have become notable
figures through poetry, gathering talent, editing, and compiling poetry for publication.
They prove that the greater talent of modern poetry is not producing words on the page as
much as producing poetry in the sense of the film producer producing a film. One of the
few critical texts to put Bei Dao and Ezra Pound on the same page is Chen Xiaomei in
her book Occidentalism. She problematizes Said's seminal text Orientalism by showing
how after the Liberation of 1949 official, artistic, and academic discourses reconstructed
the West to reinforce as well as oppose an entrenched linguistic regime. She devotes a
whole chapter on the "misunderstanding of Western modernism," where she plays on the
"creative misunderstanding" criticism of Pound's "ideographic" poetics (73). Using Chen
Xiaomei's point that these discourses of misunderstanding are mutual, we engage the
question of interlanguage.
When poets attempt to use voices and styles that exist outside of their immediate
cultural location, what sense can we make out of the cultural artifact that they produce?
One way to approach the question is to view poetry as an event that occurs in language.
Thus, it follows that the poet's understanding of a culture, to the point that it becomes a
theory, forms what language acquisition studies call an interlanguage.1 The interlanguage
is the language learner's language distinct from the native language and the target
language. It not an inherently biological ability to process and produce a poetic grammar,
but a site of mediation between the poet's imperfect understanding of a second culture,
and the possibilities that exist in creating art. Whether the source of inspiration comes
from ancient Greece or China, the poet's understanding of that literary heritage
determines its application to literary production. "Interlanguage" is the term that Selinker
applies to language learning that refers directly to Chomsky's "theory of language
learning. .. an internal representation of a system of rules that determine how sentences
are to be formed, used, and understood" (Chomsky 25). Along with this idea, Chomsky
offers two terms, "performance" and "competence": two separate ways of evaluating
language acquisition (25). By applying the concept of interlanguage to the appropriation
of cultural artifacts, ranging from Ancient Greek architecture to early Tang Chinese
lyrical poems, we can see that the understanding of the building or the verse when graded
on a level of competence may seem lacking, and dependant on the artist's understanding
of the history, culture, and the form itself. Because the artist's audience does not include
the ancients, the mastery of reproducing a traditional form as understood in the conditions
in which it was originally produced remains secondary to the purpose for which such a
project is undertaken. Instead the performance or the use of this cross-cultural model in
producing an aesthetic or political effect is the critical factor. Just as learning a second
language creates insights into the paradigms and structures of the first language, the
1 Selinker introduced this term in his 1972 article "Interlanguage" to describe the learner's language that is
different from both the native language and the target language. The term conceptually follows Chomsky's
theory of language acquisition, see Aspects of the Theory ofSyntax.
learning of a cross-cultural aesthetics reveals cultural possibilities and limitations. These
possibilities and limitations in English language literary production are foregrounded in
the experiments of literary modernism; to quote Eliot's "Prufrock," "It is impossible to
say just what I mean/ but as if some magic lantern tossed the nerves in images upon a
Transcribing a poetics across cultural boundaries shows how a poet identifies the
extent to which culture is always hybrid and in flux, and uses this fact as a way of
rethinking cultural paradigms and conventions. This performance functions similar to de
Certeau's argument for a non-linguistic "enunciation," which involves the "realization of
the linguistic system that actualizes some of its potential," as well as the "appropriation
of language by the speaker who uses it," and the "organization of a temporality. .. and
the existence of a 'now' which is the presence to the world"(33). As such, the conditions
for performance require residual materials from which to draw. They lie embedded in the
syntax of material culture beneath the ken of cultural consciousness from centuries of
familiarity that the regular ebbs and floods of commerce, war, hospitality, and empire
continually bring home (such as the habit of drinking of tea, or in the circulation of silver
through different economies). In literary modernism the foreign surfaces in unexpected
ways, such as T.S. Eliot's Buddhism, and Ezra Pound's Confucianism. Both are informed
by their respective interlanguage, which mediates a performance of their respective
artistic and political statement. Buddhism and Confucianism become a polemical
positioning of values that are foreign to both the domestic audience as well as the
traditions from which they are derived. Using the high modernist voice and wasteland
images Bei Dao is able to perform a poetic speech act, that at once criticizes the
saccharine revolutionary romanticism, as well as speak in a new and innovative way. But
Bei Dao's modernism is something different from the elite Anglo-American literary
modernism of the early twentieth century.
When Ezra Pound says that there is a "new Greece" in China (Qian 18), he
speaks neither of geography, nor an algebraic genealogy that modern Americans or
Europeans could trace back to a cultural and intellectual "home." Instead the statement
acknowledges that the identification of Classical Greek texts as the spring that feeds the
stream of European and American culture not only privileges those texts, but also is both
arbitrary and limiting. The polemics of situating modem European and American cultural
heritage in China involves an argument against a historiography of progress, which is an
ideology that understood "Western Culture" as resulting from a natural evolution of
dominant cultures from imperial Greece and Rome, to imperial England and America.
Pound suggests that the identification of England or America with a Classical Greek past
is an artifice that leads down a blind alley, or at least, as seen during the first two decades
of the twentieth century, several blind trenches. Pound's "new Greece" is a rethinking of
cultural hybridity, not as bastardization or cultural hijacking, but as an aesthetic
opportunity. It also marks a change from colonial discourses where "Chinese" is coded as
inscrutable. Instead Pound's "Chinese" is something vital and necessary. Finally, it
provincializes Europe, lightening the weight and temporality of a Euro-centric universe,
and allowing for new possibilities and aesthetic experiences. The discovery of the
Chinese print in the metro is akin to Homberger's idea that: "It was the discovery of
modernity within Edwardian culture itself which seems such a remarkable phenomenon"
Theorizing the experimentation that Chinese fiction writers were making with
form in the early eighties, Xiaobing Tang applies the term "residual modernism." This
term describes writers who deal with the issues of modernity, like tradition, economy,
and national identity through identifiable discourses of literary modernism:
Residual Modernism in China, furthermore, appears to be not merely a
transplantation of modernist techniques, but also a repetition of a modernist ethos
and even themes, only in a much more intensified and self-conscious form.
("Residual Modernism" 10)
This concept asserts that the "repetition" is something other than mechanical
reproduction of modernist texts, and stresses performance over competency (if not
drudgery) of copying, say, The Cantos. Residual modernism is found within Pound's "In
a Station of the Metro" and in the imagist movement in general. The movement found a
greater linguistic intensity and a heightened "self-consciousness" through ideas already
existing. In this regard, modernism itself is a play on the pastiche, problematizing the
aesthetics that have gone into defining post-modernism. Additionally, identifying the
location from which the works are being transplanted becomes a messy business to
explain. This problem exists in literary modernists like Amy Lowell, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra
Pound where the aesthetics are heavily determined by the transplanting of foreign cultural
artifacts. It is also found in Matisse and Picasso's painting and sculpture, as well as
Eisenstein's theories of film. Is this simply a continuing of Orientalist discourses, or does
can it represent something different? One explanation comes from Peter Wollen who
shows how the cross-cultural materials figured by the French surrealists:
For Breton, the fact that reactionaries consistently warned against the danger of
Oriental influence, as they warned against any threat to the stability of their own
Western culture, simply meant that those who themselves wished to destabilize
the dominant culture could and should make use of the myth of the Orient as they
might an other potentially subversive force. This concept of the Orient was the
rallying cry for those who wanted to create an alternative aesthetic, which stood
apart from the binary opposition of Western modernism and social change versus
Western academicism and the ancien regime. (26)
That is to say that by adopting a phrase, pattern, image, or narrative strategy the writer
chooses a way of clearing out a discursive space. It marks the poet's becoming rather
than a deterministic ontological historiography. As in the case of language acquisition
studies, interlanguage either goes toward language via performance or it atrophies.
Literary history is very much at fault for reinforcing the binaries involved in a
cross-cultural aesthetics by framing literary innovations with a model that naturalizes a
history of development. The historiography of development suggests there is natural
evolution of writing; thus, literary modernism comes after the Victorian period and
before postmodernism. From the fallen towers of postmodernism we find our current
"state" of evolution, whatever you might wish to call it-post-postmodernism is it? More
accurately, residual modernism, as a performance of becoming helps to disrupt the
concept of literary modernism as a homogenous, hermeneutic literary era. Residual
modernism re-conceptualizes their work as a condition of and a response to modernity.
This also explains why there are so many conflicting narratives of modernity, making the
One narrative of literary modernism follows a postcolonial reading where the
invisible circuits of colonial administration are foregrounded. Said's Orientalism depicts
ways in which cultural interaction between Asia and "The West" has been mediated by
networks of imperial administration, coercion, and domination, that have been
supplemented with a massive academic and missionary project. This accounts for much
of the European and American presence in China at the beginning of the twentieth
century. The year 1900 marked the end of the Boxer Rebellion, among other things.
According to a journalistic accounts the 19,000 soldiers in the allied forces that Europe
and America sent to crush the rebellion were relentless in exacting revenge: "Every town,
every village, every peasant's hut in the path of the troops was first looted and then
burned" (qtd. in Tuchman 33). After the six armies smashed the anti-foreigner Boxers,
they imposed indemnities on the Qing administration for "crimes 'against civilization'
and crimes against the nation" (Tuchman 33).
This outrageous miscarriage of power and domination was continual as it was a
continuation of Orientalist discourses that involved "civilizing" and "teaching lessons" to
"uncivilized" countries. Here, too, is the historiography of progress cementing an
ideology. The events of the Boxer rebellion also facilitated an increased flow of Chinese
cultural items to England, like the scrolls that were collected in the British Museum.
There, in the British Museum, Ezra Pound would frequent, often dining at a nearby cafe
with Binyon, the British Museum curator who promoted exhibitions and lectures on
Chinese and Japanese art (Qian 13). The culture of China moving into the center of
London would have a profound effect on Anglo-American poetry.
The translations, reworking of translations, and imitations of Chinese poetry from
the time of Pound onward often appeared in an anti-colonial context in Anglo-American
poetry. Poetry as "performance" can be seen in the strains of this anti-imperial sentiment
found in Ezra Pound's Cathay. For example, "The Bowmen of Shu" depicts forlorn
soldiers in a far imperial outpost stricken by hunger and homesickness. Later in the
poetry of the San Francisco renaissance of the 1950s and 60s, this positioning of Chinese
poetry as having an anti-war connotation appeared again, particularly in the work of
Allen Ginsburg and Gary Snyder. Through these poems China works as a way of clearing
out a space outside of conventional poetics, if not politics, as seen in Fenollosa's
notebooks: "The duty that faces us is not to batter down their forts or exploit their
markets... [w]e need their best ideals to supplement our own"(4). This notion parallels
statements made by Bei Dao and other Chinese writers of the late 1970s and early 1980s
about the possibilities of an applied "Western Modernism." Pound's persona, Mauberly,
lamented a breakdown in culture and looked beyond England to find it. Pound did not
have to travel to China; the cultural artifacts were residing in the British Museum. In fact,
David Porter, in his Ideographia: The Chinese Cipher in Early Modern Europe, shows
how Chinese cultural artifacts have been a part of British commodity and intellectual
culture for over four centuries.
In the very same century that saw massive social rifts and unprecedented
economic and technological changes in Europe and America, China experienced a series
of unparalleled upheavals. Throughout the twentieth century, Chinese literature was
marked by avant-garde literary movements that translated, studied, and incorporated
stylistic innovations from foreign literature. These movements used the appropriations as
a means of clearing out a space to express a unique condition of modernity. From the
May Fourth Movement in 1919 continuing to the late 1970s and early 1980s democracy
movements, avant-garde literary circles employed modernism as a critique to oppose
dominant discourses, and as established aesthetic opportunities.
The narrative of "learning from the West to defeat the West," beginning with the
Opium War, was later to be repeated by the invasion of the Six Armies in the Boxer
Rebellion and again during the Japanese invasion. For example, Li Hongsheng in a 1979
Guandong Ribao article summarizes a conference of historians who were outlining
"China's Learning from the West"; in the article Li states that the historians identify the
end of the Opium War through to the 1870s as the time when pioneers first "perceived
China's backwardness," thus, beginning the "modern" age of China (3). The perception
of "backwardness" and "humiliation" versus "modern" becomes part of the poet's
"interlanguage," and mediates the performance of using literary modernism as an
aesthetic. The attitude toward "Westernization" as a way of strengthening China, coupled
by the presence of European, Russian, American, and Japanese imperial administrative
networks and infrastructure (schools, missionaries, printing presses), had, in addition to a
large translation project, created a linguistic hybridity that would alter not only the
literary aesthetic but also the Chinese language itself. Early twentieth century Chinese
iconoclastic avant-garde literary movements, which formed a hybrid style of content and
form, appeared roughly contemporaneous with the high modernists. By the time Bei Dao
emerged as one of the key figures in the menglong group, techniques and ethos of literary
modernism had already been used as a tactic in Chinese literature and literary movements
for over sixty years. As a performance, the menglong poets' use of literary modernist
techniques was a statement (artistic and political), which can be seen as a response to the
Gang of Four's mono-logic demands for an ideologically pure language.
The term menglong can mean either "obscure" or "misty," and there is a tradition
of menglong as "misty" poetry dating back to the ninth century Tang dynasty poet, Li
Shangyin. The menglong poetry of the late 1970s early 1980s, however, according to
Michelle Yeh, receives its name from a negative review by a critic Zhang Ming who
wrote an article called "The Infuriating Menglong," criticizing their work as "obscure"
("Light a Lamp" 385). Tang Zhengxu, a scholar from Mainland China, points out that the
target of this attack was not the major menglong poets of the time (Bei Dao, Shu Ting, or
Gu Cheng), but rather Yuan Kejia and the Jiuye (Nine Leaf) group that formed in the
1940s. This group was heavily influenced by T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and even wrote
articles on poetics of the image (Tang 523). Tang suggests that the Yuan Kejia and the
Jiuye group deeply influenced the sensibilities of the menglong poets (523). Members of
this group met in Xinan Lianda (Southwest Associated University) in Kunming during
the Japanese invasion, where several famous modernist poets, like Feng Zhi and Bian
Zhilin, held teaching posts, and the American modernist poet and critic William Empson
lectured from 1938-1939 (Yip, Lyrics From .,\helhli 49). Later Yuan Kejia became the
compiler of the first anthology of Western modernism that was published in China during
the early 1980s (Tang 523). Before the Cultural Revolution in the early 1960s, the Jiuye
group translated books that "systematically introduced Western modernist literature" (Bei
Dao, "Translation Style" 63). These books were only available to Party cadres; yet during
"the chaos of the Cultural Revolution," they began to spread out to the "educated" youth,
and, according to Bei Dao, provided a necessary basis for the birth of underground
literature (63). As far as influence is concerned, there had been an internalization and
codification of Western modernism (which included everything from Kafka to Lorca to
Camus) within elite poetry circles in China after the Cultural Revolution. Though critics
like William Tay marvel at the imagist quality of Gu Cheng's poems (Tay 139)-Gu
Cheng had never read any of the imagists. The fact that the ideas of imagism had been
circulating amid Chinese intellectuals and literary elites for sixty years should change the
inquiry from "how are the characteristics of the two different poetic movements so
similar?" to "what were the different poetic movements doing with the similar styles of
literature?" And even more fundamentally, since the ideas of imagism were sustained
through classical Japanese and Chinese poetic structures and subject matter, what are the
implications of this cross-cultural commerce in aesthetics? Through this question we can
appreciate how some of the avant-garde Chinese poets of the late 1970s situated their
literary modernism, moreover we can gain a fresh way of looking at the avant-garde
The point of these brief historical narratives is to show the extent to which
Chinese culture had been entering Europe and America during the waning stretch of their
colonial forays into China, and the extent to which literary modernism was residual in
China. Hopefully this demonstration shows that Bei Dao and Ezra Pound's "enunciation"
uses an available language because it was already there.
Bei Dao said:
Our poems must absorb the techniques of Western poems, while the mood and
emotion must be national. In this case, "national" should not be mechanically
understood as referring to traditional Chinese literary forms such as Chinese folk
songs, but as trials and tribulations uniquely experienced by the Chinese nation.
(Pan and Jie 199)
In this statement, we can see Bei Dao working through the performance aspect of a
hybrid poetics. Bei Dao would agree with Xiaobing Tang's "residual modernism" where
hybridity is a tactic for poetic "enunciation." This statement also shows the anxiety and
ambivalence Bei Dao has toward the nation-state. The nation-state provides a foundation
for describing a community who have suffered similar "trials and tribulations," but with
the rigid cultural borders of the modem nation-state comes a limit on the artistic
possibilities and static "mechanical" reproduction. Hybridity, especially as expressed in
the conventions of literary modernism has been a continual tactic in dueling with "an age
of mechanical reproduction." Explaining, perhaps, why Pound in "H. S. Mauberly" says,
"the age demanded an image," and the imagist poets began to look seriously at classical
(August Sleepwalker 35)
Bei Dao published this one character poem as a part of a collection of brief
imagistic blank-verse fragments, titled "Notes from the City of the Sun," pushing the
limits of lyric compression. Ezra Pound describes the "'one image poem' as a form of
super-position, that is to say, one idea on top of another"(Gaudier 89). If we follow
Pound's aesthetic theory into "iM [Life]", we can make sense of" "l[net]" as supporting
the idea of "Life". The possibilities for interpretation are endless. Regardless, of
interpretation, the poem, like the other poems from "Notes from the City of the Sun," can
be seen to follow the principles that Pound labors to explain throughout his article on
Vorticism in his Gaudier-Brzeska: a Memoir. Pound states: "The image is the word
beyond formulated language"(88). Through this image of the "net," Pound would later
argue through Fellonossa, the concept of "life" emerges un-tampered by rhetorical forms,
because it is presented in a more "natural" language where the Chinese ideogram
"represents the thing itself... [i]t retains the creative impulse and process, visible and at
work"(Fenollosa 25). Another example from the "Notes" is "Freedom" which is
comprised of the single image: "Scraps of paper, fluttering" (August Sleepwalker 32).
The pattern in these poems is consistent. "Notes from the City of the Sun" relies on
super-position to take words that have rhetorical distinction, like "Youth," "Love," and
juxtaposes them with a singular image. This returns us to Hulme's 1910 observation of
modern art that the heroic in is replaced by the subjectivity of poet's individual mind.
The poem "Life" strips down all representations of life to almost nothing but a
single character that is fraught with meaning, leaving most of the page empty. Also, the
position of the poem, contiguous to surrounding poems that employ similar devices,
creates the effect of a collage. Through this collage the irony cuts through the
representations, and the critique becomes more and more apparent. The poems, taken
collectively, serve as a pedagogical tool for reading each poem individually. In a poem
like "Freedom," we are presented with an image of "Scraps of paper/ Fluttering"(August
Sleepwalker 32). Here "freedom" is stripped of its romantic and idealistic connotations.
"Motherland" depicts the idea of an organic nation-state situated as a museum piece:
"Cast on a shield of bronze/she leans against a blackened museum wall" (32). The poems
are driven by an objective correlative, which is semantically disconnected from the title.
"Motherland" gives the clue as to the subtext behind these poems. Bei Dao with a biting
irony reduces the idealized nation-state to something orientalized, exoticized, and
propped up, perhaps in some back corner of the British Museum.
The poems work as a space clearing gesture, sweeping out the formulaic and
proscribed answers that were demanded in literature by officials. These imagistic poems
were published in 1978 two years after "the Answer." "Notes from the City of the Sun"
functions similar to what Ezra Pound describes in his "A Few Don'ts By An Imagist" as,
"the presentation of such [intellectual and emotional response to an image] a "complex"
instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation"(200). Quite literally, Bei
Dao adheres to Chairman Mao's proscriptive purpose of poetry, which is to "liberate" the
masses; (the title of the poem has a play on Chairman Mao, "the rising sun," making
Beijing, the city where Bei Dao was writing, "the City of the Sun") the liberation
occurring in the poems found in "Notes from the City of the Sun," however, takes words
like "freedom" or "life" and liberates them from pre-determined, if not over-determined,
signification often found in the slogans that saturated the Mao-era cultural milieu. Later,
throughout the 1980s and especially after his exile in 1989 his poetry would become less
and less represented by the prophetic voice of "the Answer" and move on to different
aesthetic principles. Bei Dao has said that he did not like the poem "The Answer" very
much, and that it did not represent his poetry. This statement reminded me of Pound's
turn against the imagist school, dismissing it as too restrictive a form.
Pound's contributions to the first anthology of imagist poems, Des Imagistes, in
1913, demonstrate his experiments in refiguring Chinese translations with imagist
characteristics, as seen in "Fan-Piece, for her Imperial Lord":
O fan of white silk,
Clear as frost on the grass-blade,
You also are laid aside.
The poem uses juxtaposition differently than Bei Dao's "Life" or "Freedom" but the
main idea remains: the juxtaposition of concise phrasings, produces "an intellectual and
emotional complex in an instant of time" ("A Few Don'ts" 200). If we are to understand
the intellect as that which registers the image, and the emotional as a locus of affectations
produced by an image, we are left with a lyric that forms a circular bond between the
personae who sees the fan, registers its delicate coldness, and experiences an emotional
response. The persona, then, experiences the ideal response to reading an imagist poem.
1 This conversation took place during a dinner with Bei Dao, Dr. Carlos Rojas, and the poet Suzanne
Zweizig, after his poetry reading at the University of Florida in March of 2002.
The poem's title, "Fan-Piece," suggests that the poem would be printed on a fan,
heightening the poem's self-consciousness of its own subject matter; it is situating the
"fan," as the subject of the persona's consciousness, on the "fan." This also brings the
poetry out of a page in a book, and resituates it as a decorative art. The intention of Pound's
decorative art is to breach the surface of ornamentation; Pound states this intention in his
article, "Vorticism," where he claims: "The point of Imagisme is that it does not use
images as ornaments. The image is itself the speech" (qtd. in Pratt 23). Pound tries to
defy the laws of physics with the alchemy of poetry, attempting to transform the signifier into
The representation of the Chinese subject matter is familiar, recalling at once the
trope of tragic beauty, as well as the "Oriental" image of the unappreciated concubine
cast aside by her despotic "Imperial Lord." In the poem, as the persona apprehends the
fan, which triggers a subjective identification with the object-a fan misplaced, and
unappreciated. The "emotional complex" of the piece is sorrow, dejection, and loss of
having been objectified and then discarded. Moreover, the words, "laid aside," add
another layer, suggesting, perhaps, a post-coital depression and the sexual politics of
virginity, beauty, youth, and value. These codes are already familiar to English and
Postcolonial theorists, like Appiah,2 would suggest that this is an appropriation
necessary for commercial reasons. The poem adheres to a pattern of chinoiserie. With its
"Chinese" branding, it clears out a market space for imagist poetry, differentiating it from
competing avant-garde poetry movements, like futurist poetry. A more complicated
2 For further discussion see Appiah's article "Is the "Post-" in Postcolonial the "Post-" in Postmodern?"
answer would involve Pound's "interlangage" of Chinese poetry, which would have been
affected by the sheer amount of chinoiserie residual in Europe. Undoubtedly, the
interlanguage would be negotiating orientalist discourses, especially since the source
material for the poem comes from the English academic Sinologist, Giles, who was
engaged in producing knowledge of the "Orient." Despite the participation of Orientalist
tropes, Pound's poem as a performance also provides a different paradigm for thinking
through a theory of aesthetics, and performing an oblique criticism of the "imperial."
As in Bei Dao's "Notes," the title of the poem works towards establishing a
superpositional relation. The title "A Fan-Piece, for her Imperial Lord" situates the reader
as the "Imperial Lord" who is in the privileged position with the agency to chose this and
lay aside that. In doing so Pound is able to complete a parallel circuit where the fan, the
poem, and the speaker of the poem charge the reader with a mean lack of sensibilities.
The fan, the poetry on the fan, and the poet-they have all been laid aside. "Fan-Piece" is
a performative use of language and art to critique the "Imperial Lord," the reader, and the
patron of the arts. These themes of lost patronage, lost identity, corruption, and
decadence continue throughout literary modernism. We see, for instance in Pound's work
emerging after World War I a different approach to form and an unrestrained attack on
British culture. This appears in his blast of the imagist literary scene in his poem "H.S.
Mauberly," where we find a damning critique of the British imperial authority:
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.
("H. S. Mauberly," Part V, Lines 1-4)
Another poem by Pound that appeared in Des Imagistes is "Liu Ch'e." Like "Fan-
Piece," Pound reworks Gile's translation. This poem was originally written by the Han
dynasty Emperor Liu Che as an elegy for the deceased Li Furen:
The rustling of silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the court-yard,
There is no sound of foot-fall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them:
A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.
Beginning with the last line, we are reminded of one of Pound's, "In a Station of the
Metro" where the "petals" are clinging to a "wet, black bough." This image also appears
in another reworked Chinese translation that appears in Des Imagistes, "Ts'ai Chi'h,"
"the orange-coloured rose-leaves/ Their Ochre clings to the stone"(Qian 46). We see this
repetition of technique and imagery as a way to "encapsulate some psychological state or
experience related to the rest of the poem" (Wilson 141). Furthermore, the "clinging"
creates a play of presence and absence that we find underlying both modernism as well as
classical Chinese poetry. The "wet leaf," here, along with the dust, manifests the
"emotional complex" formed by the absence of rustling and footsteps. Time, as sensed
through sound has lost its presence ("rustling," "sound of footfall") and is overtaken by
the image of "A wet leaf that clings to the threshold." This can be seen in the graphic
outlay of the poem as a colon followed by a space separates the final line.
The symbol of the wet leaf recapitulates Orientalist discourse by positioning the
"Oriental" as feminine. The wet leaf symbolizes the loss of feminine beauty, and
fecundity, and by doing so it also foregrounds the opposite-the condition of the
courtyard, where dry dust drifts. Here we have the archetypal wasteland image ("I will
show you fear in a handful of dust"). This comment on the infertility and dryness
represents a lack that literary modernism tries to fill through cross-cultural material. The
trope of the feminine with both beauty and fecundity, also figures prominently in
environmental discourses of the twentieth century. The study of Chinese culture and
artifacts in English language discourses of environmental criticism might be fruitful. For
example, Gary Snyder, one of the leading voices of environmental criticism, too,
translated Chinese poetry and was influenced by Ezra Pound. This is another way that the
poets' Chinese interlanguage performs what de Certeau calls "enunciation."
"Liu Ch'e," "A Fan-Piece, for her Imperial Lord," and "Ts'ai Ch'ih" were all
represented in Des Imagistes-the anthology that included artists that would become key
figures in twentieth century English literature, such as James Joyce, HD, D.H. Lawrence,
Richard Aldington, and Amy Lowell, among others. If the edition was in some way a
definition of the imagist school of poetry, and Ezra Pound was the central figure in the
production of this first anthology, then the poems that Pound chose to represent himself
with can be viewed as representative for his vision of imagism. The making of the
anthology also shows how, by 1913, avant-garde modernism was already residual self-
consciously piecing together its own image. Pound's inclusion of the three Chinese
translations shows the extent that imagism was invested in "the Orient."
We have seen that both Ezra Pound and Bei Dao bring into circulation the
immanence of cultural hybridity. They not only carry foreign poetry into the domestic
cultural arena, but they, themselves, also physically crossed cultural borders. This movement
applies to the metaphor of the crossroads established at the beginning of the paper, with
the third intersection, nomadic hybridity. Ezra Pound first moved to London in 1909. At
the beginning of the Cultural Revolution Bei Dao ended his studies at one of the few elite
middle schools in Beijing. He joined the Red Guards and went to the countryside to
receive a proletariat peasant "re-education." From these movements I want to suggest that
their "nomadic" position as an outsider perhaps triggered their sensitivity to the residual
culture to which they became identified. I also want to suggest that consciously or
unconsciously both poets followed the archetypal "nomadic hybridity" of Qu Yuan. As
such, they became relatively self-contradictory in creating an aesthetic that "no longer
deals with heroic action and ... deals with momentary phases in the poet's mind," they
both tried to assume the dauntless responsibility as the saviors of culture.
Qian Zhaoming describes Pound's early exposure to Chinese poetry though Giles'
translation, showing how Pound was captivated by one of the earliest canonized poets of
China, Qu Yuan. More importantly, Pound's notion of brevity was affected by his
reading of Qu Yuan': "They hold if a man can't say what he wants to in 12 lines, he'd
better leave it unsaid. THE period was 4th cent. B.C.-Chu Yuan, Imagiste"(qtd. in Qian
25). Qian also shows how Pound would have identified Hulme's imagist principles in Qu
Yuan's poetry, because Pound had read Giles' statement that Qu Yuan's poetry was a
"choosing and working-up of analogies" (qtd. in Qian 34). Pound, like Qu Yuan, was
affected by his "biculturalism"(Qian 30) as "a mediator of refined northern civilization
and the barbarians of the South" (Schnaider 210). In addition to Qu Yuan, Li Bai (Li Po)
the Tang dynasty poet is another famous example of cultural hybridity within the nation-
state, as he was born in what is now Kazakhstan, and spent much of his life traveling to
different parts of China. Even today Li Bai's poetry is perhaps the most celebrated in all
Bei Dao and Ezra Pound were familiar with both of these poets, and their lives.
With this being said, the poet as a figure is a text that runs underneath the question of
cross-cultural appropriations. The poets' movements, like nomadic existence, and the
working across boundaries form a readable rhetoric. This rhetoric is also a deep part of
the poets' interlanguage of the cross-cultural poetics, determining to a certain extent what
the poet translates to the surface of the page. So when Bei Dao, who was sent down to the
countryside from one of the best middle schools in Beijing during the Cultural
Revolution, claims that he is experimenting with a hybrid aesthetic, he is doing something
that is intensely national that dates back to China's earliest canonical poets (Pan 200). It
also shows how Ezra Pound could call China the "new Greece," as Pound splices himself
1 Pound, in "A Few Don'ts By An Imagiste," said: "It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to
produce voluminous \ oi ks I 2111).
to a tradition of poets who were revered by the nation, yet, they, themselves, were
working through the problem of nomadic hybridity.
Qu Yuan was a poet-official of the Warring States period (403-221 BC) from the
state of Chu, who is one of the earliest poets to be recognized in the Chinese classical
canon. The story goes that he was in good graces with the emperor of Chu, but jealousy
overtook the emperor's court; Qu Yuan was slandered, and then exiled. He again tried to
win an audience with the emperor to warn him of impending danger from a rival
kingdom, and again he was denied; the kingdom's capital city was sacked; he then threw
himself into the Milo River after writing a poem that serves as a suicide note (Schnaider
19-21). The Han dynasty historian Sima Qian, in his biography of Qu Yuan, explains that
the poet: "chose to die rather than seek a place in the world... Like a cicada slipping from
his shell, he shook off the filth that surrounded him and soared far beyond its
defilement"(qtd. in Schnaider 21). When we look at the performance aspect ofBei Dao
and Ezra Pound's poetry, they can be seen as responses to massive geo-political
transformations, of which residual culture is a symptom. Their poems voice a protest
against a corrupt regime of power, even if the regime of power is simply popular taste.
They also construct tragic and self-sacrificing personae (for example, Bei Dao's "The
Answer," and Pound's "H. S. Mauberly") for which poetry is the act of cultural
purification as well as an emphatic notice to the public advertising the sacrifice.
In "The Answer" the trope of Qu Yuan crops up after the poet declares he "does
S^Vu S, 4 If the sea is destined to breach the dikes/
Let all the brackish water pour into my heart
Taking this passage literally, the persona of the poem threatens death by water.
Figuratively, the conjunction between the prophetic voice and the purification sacrifice
combine to save the culture that has endured pollution, suggesting a liturgical if not
magical quality of poetry that at once critiques and restores culture.
"The Answer" recollects the artist as an alienated figure who threatens death by
water. This creates a complex of narcissism and heroic selflessness found not only in
"The Answer," but also in many modernist texts including "Mauberly" (who also kills
himself, perhaps by drowning as seen in the lines: "The chopped seas held him in," and,
"here drifted an hedonist"). Pound says this about Mauberly: "The worst muddle they are
making is in failing to see that Mauberly buries E. P. in the first poem" (qtd. in Wilson
158). Wilson points out, "[i]fthe voice that buries E. P. in the first poem is Mauberly,
then the narrator of the other poems in the sequence would revert to him too, resulting in
the dead Mauberly narrating his own life and reading his own suicide note (158). Here
the confusion between poet and persona is magnified, especially in figures like Pound
and Bei Dao-Pound would leave England soon after "Mauberly" for Italy due to a host
of political, economic, and cultural reasons. Bei Dao would leave China due to his role as
an activist in the democracy movement that came to a head in 1989. Thus, the trope of
"nomadic hybridity" is written across their very lives.
Schnaider shows how some twentieth century Chinese intellectuals and artists saw
their work, which seems to also adequately describe many modernist writers and their
ambivalence toward national forms and the reception of their work:
This barbarianlike alienness of Ch'u Yuan's [Qu Yuan] individuality made him
attractive to poet-officials who themselves were driven to extremities. In the
twentieth century, it was all the more attractive to the self-proclaimed deracine,
those intellectuals who saw themselves as 'superfluous,' and 'made useless by the
times'-those "imitation foreign devils" who had traveled in and learned from the
barbarian West. (208)
We cannot say for sure whether or not Bei Dao and Ezra Pound felt this way about their
work, but critics such as Ai Qing, a poet who had established his fame before 1949, and
survived the various waves of criticism and rehabilitation to achieve a weighty status at
the end of the Cultural Revolution, criticized Bei Dao by saying: "Poems cannot be
evaluated as good or bad unless they are understandable in the first place... The
incomprehensibility of some poems results from their mechanical imitation of Western
poetry"(qtd. in Pan 199). This criticism was typical of the critical reception that the
menglong poets received as their poetry was circulated around Beijing between 1978 and
1980. The criticism brings up the question of "mechanical" reproduction in a way that is
in dialogue with Bei Dao's claim that not experimenting with a different aesthetic would
lead to "mechanically understanding." Ai Qing's criticizes the poem "Life" from "Notes
from the City of the Sun" as something "Western" (199). Taking for granted that Bei Dao
wrote imitations of Western poetry," the criticism brings up the question of the
legitimacy of poetic appropriation. To this effect the critic has become what Bruno
Latour calls a "policeman," determining the legitimacy of appropriation and
misappropriation; Latour adds, "appropriation is a typically modernist term that means,
of course, that there is a rightful owner" (Latour 266), and this question of ownership of
metaphor are the challenges that both Bei Dao and Ezra Pound bring about through their
poetry. In Bei Dao's poetry the voices and aesthetics that have been affected by the
experimentation of the literary modernism that took place in Europe, America, and China
during the first half of the twentieth century, and in Ezra Pound's poetry has been
affected by aesthetics of classical Chinese art.
The comparison of these two poets shows how their poetry is a response to
modernity that is already in itself residual. The Ezra Pound's use of classical Chinese
poetry, and Bei Dao's use of literary modernism are tactics for enunciation, which have
generated new ways of expressing the poet's relation to the nation and national form.
Both poets ended up defined by national politics. Bei Dao along with a few other
menglong poets went into exile after the Tiananmen Square incident; Ezra Pound was
admitted into an insane asylum after being acquitted for treason. Later, he died an ex-
patriot in Pisan, Italy. Both poets to an extent have recapitulated the nomadic hybridity of
Qu Yuan and as such have challenged the boundaries of a national aesthetic. In the
process they have altered the cultural landscape within the boundaries of the nation from
which they have departed.
Bringing this discussion full circle, the comparison of these two international
literary figures hopefully allows us to do two things at once. First, the comparison helps
to locate a nexus of theoretical approaches in dealing with the complicated issue of trans-
cultural poetry. Combining interlanguage, residual modernism, and nomadic hybridity
that I see intersecting in the poetry ofBei Dao and Ezra Pound represents one approach to
understanding this complex. The comparison also helps to rethink the field of literary
studies that tends to treat poetry within a monolingual, if not monolithic, literary
tradition. That is to say that English or American poetry is not a phenomenon that occurs
within the isolated confines of national borders. The comparison of these two poets also
opens up a broad horizon for further inquiry. For example, the material production and
circulation of the poetry is another important consideration, because both Bei Dao and
Ezra Pound were instrumental in consolidating their respective schools of poetry
imagismm and menglong poetry). This also involves a study of the other poets in these
schools, like the menglong poet Gu Cheng and the imagist HD. In terms of literary
history, looking at the nuances of the "Orientalist" and "Occidentalist" discourses is also
very important in understanding our present geopolitical situation where the foreign
"other" is continually figured as a threat to a national existence.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1983.
Appiah, Kwamme Anthony. "Is the 'Post-' in 'Postcolonial' the 'Post-' in
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Perspectives. Ed. Anne McClintock, Hamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat. Minneapolis:
U of Minnesota P, 2002. 420-444.
Barbara, JT. "Ezra Pound's Imagist Aesthetics: Lustra to Mauberly." The Columbia
History of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Columbia U P, 1993.
Bei, Dao. August Sleepwalker. Trans. Bonnie S. McDougall. London: Anvil Press
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James Innis McDougall was born in Victoria, British Columbia in the year of our
Lord 1974. Since that time he has spent many hours learning from Prince Edward Island
brook trout, and staring at the corners of many different ceilings, trying to understand
principles of the line. Countless highway miles in between have effortlessly reconstituted
space around him. Several countries have allowed him to drift around the streets of their
cities like a sleeping cloud across brilliant skies. Gan Liulu, Family, friends, strangers,
hoary faced Russian writers, Rhinish Medieval mystics, alcoholics and dropouts, soldiers
and sailors, modernists that oppose modernity, poets and great doubters, warriors
despising war, vegetation springing from deep August heat, the ice pack of a Buffalo gray
winter, and all our glorious dead have produced a love that sustains him, and a stability
stronger than fate. He has learned essential movements of the cosmos from the color of
the sea. Ian, Robert, William, Duncan, Ali and Brian, and his father and mother made
him what he is. Gan Liulu made him what he is to become. He studied Europe from the
back of an R-5. He studied America from the Great Lakes to the Bronx. He studied
English Literature from SUNY Buffalo. He has earned meager sums of money at dairy
farms, pizzerias, drive-in movie theatres, scarified clear-cuts in the jack pine/black spruce
ocean of northern Ontario, English teaching institutes in Pusan Korea, the basement of a
Rochester radio factory, a few months in the libraries (and chemistry labs) of Chapel Hill.
He has been to the highest places of his life in China and has come down into the swamps
of Florida. There he goes by the grace of God.