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Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic By Paul Manfredi

Chapter 1:  Li Jinfa
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Modern Poetry in China:


耶穌教徒之靈,
唹,太多情了.
感謝這手與腳,
雖然尚少
但即覺夠了
昔日武士被著甲
力能撲虎
我嗎?害點羞
熱如皎日,
灰白如新月在雲裡。
我有革履,僅能走世界之一角,
生羽嗎?太多事了呵!

(Li 1996, 26)

This posture is a typical Li Jinfa combination of self-deprecation and opacity, with the opening lines reading more like puzzle than poetry. The lyrical subject observes the moon’s reflection in the river, a reflection in the Li Bai tradition suddenly interrupted by this “too emotional” Christian—the poet himself—who cannot bear the ease of nature, the camaraderie of that which is outside himself. The figure is alienated, not up to the tradition of a brave warrior, and not able (or willing) to really soar. The exercise of seeing Li, revealed and concealed in such enigmatic textual self-figuring, is the core process introduced by this father of Chinese symbolism, where “symbolism” is understood to be something that can be seen but not in fact understood.

The exercise of rendering the human figure visually, rather than verbally, was again a major part of Li’s work as an art student, in fact the single most rigorous element of his training. Li’s sculpture Asian Woman (figure 2) is a good case in point. Seeing and then reproducing the nude human subject is a core element of Western aesthetic tradition and completely new to the Chinese context. For all of his love of Western art, visual, verbal, and musical, Li ultimately found such nudity hard to accept, as the following comment from a 1965 essay indicates: