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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Non-Human Voices in Chinese Literature
4: Light, Heat, Power: Futurist Poetics in Republican China
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Columbia University, United States
“If poetry is the product of industry, then poets are the machines that produce it,” wrote the poet Ouwai Ou in 1942. This sentiment reflects the post-human concerns of futurism, which spread throughout the world in the wake of the fascist political uprisings of the early twentieth century. But, despite growing interest in futurism sparked by Chinese Nationalist politics in the 1930s and '40s, futurist poets are often left out of anthologies and analyses of modern Chinese poetry, or their poetry is attributed to other movements such as concrete poetry or new sensationalism. This paper will examine Ouwai Ou, Xu Chi, and Qian Juntao, three of the most important Chinese futurist poets, and their aesthetic negotiations between poetry and politics. What kind of poetic machines were they, and how did they speak? Reading these poems alongside the futurist model reveals not the everyday speech-centric language of baihua poetry, but rather an attempt to remake syntax and script in the image of the non-human machine. To achieve this, I argue, the poets not only drew on the models of Marinetti and Pound, but also remade classical poetic and calligraphic techniques. Furthermore, what were the ethical consequences of their attempts to aestheticize industrialized warfare? This paper will draw on the futurists’ essays, translations, and drawings to understand how they adapted not only the futurist aesthetic, but also fascist ethics to the context of wartime China in the 1930s and ‘40s.