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Abstract: Klein

Here’s Looking at Yu:

Chinese Silences & the Trope of China in Contemporary American Poetry 

Ever since Ezra Pound’s Cathay (1915) and his editing of Ernest Fenollosa’s essay on “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” China has figured large among the tropes of modern and contemporary American poetics. At times this figure has served to highlight certain facts about China and its relevance to American society and poetry (Pound’s “Chinese History” Cantos, Gary Snyder’s Cold Mountain Poems or Mountains and Rivers without End), and at times has served to illustrate the futility of fixing linguistic deixis beyond the self-referential (John Ashbery’s Chinese Whispers or Bob Perelman’s “China,” which gained attention for being featured in Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism)—and at many times the distinction between the two has been unclear. Yet how has China been configured into the aesthetic, and to what ends, of American poetry today? Asian-American scholar and poet Timothy Yu has been taking on and complicating this question in his ongoing poetic project, 100 Chinese Silences, a series of poems that satirize the way China figures in contemporary American poetry. Starting with parodies of Billy Collins, Yu’s project runs a range of aesthetic, sociological, and poetical implications as it moves on to tackle figures from Snyder to Eliot Weinberger to Jonathan Stalling—writers who are, and whose deployment of China as a trope is, to say the least, different from that of Collins. My lecture will contextualize and offer close readings of Yu’s Chinese Silences and its engagement with the various images of China on display in contemporary poetry from America.

 Lucas Klein, University of Hong Kong

Talk on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 3:30pm in CHD 420