Hauntological Poetics: Specters in Modern Chinese Poetry
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Hauntological Poetics: Specters in Modern Chinese Poetry

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This thesis demonstrates how ghosts are conjured, examined, and transformed in modern Chinese poetry. Modern Chinese literature never lacks ghosts; however, they are either abstracted to a symptom of totalitarian power, especially for scholars in fiction and drama, or rarely discussed because they are too figurative and ambiguous. For these reasons, the study of ghosts is fragmentary and simplified. This thesis challenges this phenomenon and brings the undercurrent of poetry writings on ghosts which speaking to ghosts, of ghosts and with ghosts to the surface of criticism with theoretical justifications. In the process of directly confronting ghosts, the thesis establishes a genealogy of ghosts, in which apparitional presence is delineated, differentiated, and interrogated, toward the goal of developing a hauntology of modern Chinese poetry. Hauntological poetics is discussed both social-historically and aesthetically. For the first perspective, I argue that ghosts conjured by poets to disrupt the chronology and settled space are widely used to provide a counter-discourse to the official narrative of history where the dead are neither properly remembered nor fully buried, so they return to be exorcised with justice. For the aesthetic perspective, I argue that ghosts actively participate in the intrinsic construction of modern Chinese poetry from three dimensions: first, the deconstructive power of specters is important to the poems in the 1990s as they attempt to “revive an ability to speak of history”; second, the ability of ghosts to see but not to be seen penetrates a space where different layers of history coexist; third, the voices of dead western poets are appropriated to help the living to express what is unspeakable, they also to some extent overwhelm the living. Chapter 1 focuses on a specific space, Tiananmen, in modern Chinese poetry and traces a genealogy of a haunted space through the lens of spectrality. I juxtapose three historical moments and poems that directly or indirectly respond to them: March 18 Massacre in 1926 and the Tiananmen poems written by Wen Yiduo and Rao Mengkan, the establishment of People’s Republic China on 1 October 1949 and Hu Feng’s epic “Time Has Begun”, the Incident on 4 June 1989 and An Anthology of June Fourth Poetry. Chapter 2 develops a close reading of Zang Di’s “An Unerected Monument” and identifies two deconstructive ghosts: the specters of monumentality and the returned dead. I argue that traces of specters reveal a trajectory of the aesthetic transformation from Misty Poetry to Post Misty Poetry. The thickness and heaviness of history as a burden in Mistry Poetry is not fully abandoned but transformed into a deconstructive aesthetic tactics via spectralization. Chapter 3 specifies the haunting of Marina Tsvetaeva in Duoduo’s “Crafts—After Tsvetaeva” and Zhang Zao’s “Conversation with Tsvetaeva”. I argue that both Duoduo and Zhang Zao speak to Tsvetaeva, and it is with the help of this ghost that poets understand the crafts of poetry. In Duoduo’s poem, his voice is inseparable from Tsveateva’s spectral voice through which a polyphony that crosses the boundary of the living and the dead is created. In Zhang Zao’s cycle sonnet, Tsveteava’s apparition is an indispensable figure to fulfill a dialogue structure in which a paradoxical parallel between objects and human lot, between language and national identity, between love and death is established.

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This item is under embargo until August 10, 2023.