4: It's Really Nothing: Absurdity, Abyss, and Absence in Contemporary Sinophone Poetry
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 312
University of Alberta, Canada
We generally think of notions of the void, abyss, and absurdity in metaphorical terms that connect with issues of the human predicament: mortality, ineffectuality, isolation, and malaise. In the postwar period, rising in tandem with the popularity of modernism in Taiwan, several mainland-born poets became attracted to such notions. But the shared experience of these poets was displacement. The question remains, then, was the appeal that these poets made to the philosophical void the result of metaphysical contemplation, or was it a strategy by which poets coped with and contained their own specific despair due to the displacement caused by the end of the Chinese Civil War? Was the provocation to such anguish metaphorical or metonymical? In this paper, I explore the works of such poets as Zhou Mengdie, Luo Fu, Ya Xian, and Yip Wai-lim, linking together the philosophical contemplation of the abyss with the political reality of exile. Zhou Mengdie, for example, taking his penname from the Zhuangzi butterfly legend, meditates on emptiness in such poems as “Embrace the Void,” “Under the Bodhi Tree,” and “Coming to the End of the Flow.” But was his confrontation with such existential questions the product of pure philosophical reflection or born from historical experience? A similar question could be asked of Luo Fu’s laments of the folly of war and Yip’s brooding and pensive sense of rootlessness. An examination of these poets tests the hypothesis that a tension exists between their metaphysical expression and their own situatedness in the postwar world.