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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:

The Asian Woman is also, though, of importance generically, as it was likely such a sculpture viewed in the Musee du Luxembourg that determined Li’s career path years before. In his decision to produce an “Asian” form of this canonical figure (something one would not see in a museum in the 1920s in Europe), he was bringing his own ethnicity to bear on the subject. As such she is a work nearing collage, or at least manifesting a rupture in visual language from top to bottom. The effort itself to depict such a figure notably stretches the ability of even a competent artist. If this were viewed as a poem, for instance, one could observe a similar break in syntax, smooth lines of the brow and lips clashing with the rough, sinewy edges of muscle and bone, a breaking off of sculptural sentences, so to speak. The commonalities therefore linking Li’s visual expression with his verbal experiments are on the fault lines of modernity, the progressive episteme applied to aesthetic forms (be they sculptural or literary) showing the same tendency to stress fractures and breakage. Her rather lifeless head and face, in some respects connected to the obscure face of his own Self-Portrait, is the face of Oriental presence set atop a Western modern exercise in naked human anatomy.

Visible Fragments of Poetic Chinese Modernity

Li’s positionality as poet and visual artist are somewhat divergent. His poetics are radical and visionary to his supporters and simply failed to his detractors, but both acknowledge them as unprecedented one way or the other. His visual art, meanwhile, is competent but in no way cutting-edge, in any context. Seen in conjunction, however, there is more overlap than is typically recognized in discussions of verbal or visual art of the period. The “symbolist” poetry Li created was chaotic because the experience of writing modernity at this time was chaotic, involving recapitulations of often non-mutually reconcilable materials, thematically, formally, or generally culturally. Li’s poetry, according to Sun Yushi’s analysis discussed earlier, “draws from afar”—indeed. His life experiences, like those of the other students of the West in his