Avant-garde Lyric Classicism in the Sinophone Cyberspace
(manuscript in progress)
This monographic project proposes to examine the relation between technological transformation and lyric writing through the case of avant-garde classicism that became a striking literary phenomenon from the late 1990s to the early 2010s, thanks to the unique Chinese internet culture at the time. Works by representative poets like Lizilizilizi, Xutang, Dugu shiroushou, and Tianxuezhai are critically investigated to shed light on issues like the legacy of Maoist revolutionary classicism, the relation between free-style verse and classicist verse, the “ethnic” bookshelf in the World Wide Web, and conservative forces that continue to shape the gender discourse in classicist poetry today.
The Haunted Prosody: Lyric Classicisms in Revolutionary China
(manuscript in progress)
The conventional narrative of Chinese literary modernity is dominated by the ideological discourse of revolution, progress, and nation-saving. A hundred years after the 1917 Literary Revolution, this Darwinian historiography has been entrenched in institutions of literary production, publication, dissemination, research, and canonization in China and beyond. Literature following or inspired by classical genres, despite its broad base of writers and readers, is marginalized for its purported anachronism. A rare exception is the Maoist classicism, represented by Mao’s poetry and “new folk songs,” which appropriated formal elements of classical Chinese poetry in the service of revolutionary iconoclasm.
In this monograph, I propose to investigate poetry that harks back to Chinese classical literary traditions from the end of the Cultural Revolution to date, with a focus on contemporary avant-garde classicist poetry written and disseminated in the cyberspace. More than one ghost haunts the house of post-revolutionary poetry in China. Lyric classicism evokes the traumatic memories of the Maoist era and of the “linguistic monstrosity” (Lydia Liu) committed on the Chinese language by colonial modernity. I argue that “new poetry” and “classicist poetry” are mutually-defining genres in the sociology of modern Chinese poetry. The continued dominance of an ideological discourse of literary modernity, however, has decisively elevated one genre as a local candidate for “world literature” while designated the other to an obscure ethnic book shelf—or a local-language URL in the World Wide Web today. The “phantasmic return and mnemonic incantation” (David Wang) of the classical lyric traditions, however, open potential new dimensions to rethink the dynamic dialecticism between avant-gardism and canonicity.
A collaborative project spanning across fields like literary, cultural, and media studies. It further attempts to engage practicing writers and artists in an ongoing dialogue on representing Chineseness in a multicultural, multilingual, and increasingly digitalized world. This project has resulted in the following events and publications:
- Zhiyi Yang, “Sinophone Classicism: Chineseness as Temporal and Mnemonic Experience in the Digital Era,” The Journal of Asian Studies 81.4 (2022): 1–15.
- Zhiyi Yang and David Der-wei Wang eds., Special Issue “Classicism in Digital Times: Textual Production as Cultural Remembrance in the Sinophone Cyberspace,” Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature (under review).
- Harvard-Frankfurt-Lingnan Symposium “Classicism in Digital Times: Textual Production as Cultural Remembrance in the Sinophone Cyberspace,” co-organized by Zhiyi Yang and David Der-wei Wang
- “Sinophone Classicism: Chinese Cultural Memories in a Global Space” lecture series at Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Bad Homburg (2021-25), organized by Zhiyi Yang