Living an Emperor’s Life, Dying a Nobel Death. Li Hongwei’s Novel “The King and Lyric Poetry” as a Journey Through the History of Chinese Poetry
Słowa kluczowe“The King and Lyric Poetry”, contemporary Chinese poetry, poetry discourse, the post-70 generation, dialectics
The present paper discusses Li Hongwei’s novel The King and Lyric Poetry (2017). The novel tells the story of the suicide of the last Nobel Prize laureate in the future history of literature, Chinese poet Yuwen Wanghu. Following the detective thread of the book, the essay reconstructs utopian and dystopian semi-virtual landscapes of the mid-21st century China which feed into two different models of lyricism: the poet as a knight errant who seeks inspiration far from modern civilization and the poet as a lonely warrior against (technological) tyranny. In the final scene, the two landscapes blur and the antithetical forces that infuse them: lyricism (Yuwen) and power/knowledge (the King) merge into what may be seen as their dialectical synthesis to be fulfilled by the novel’s third protagonist – Yuwen’s young friend, Li Pulei. Mobilizing various contexts, including the suicides of famous mainland-Chinese poets, important poetry polemics, and intertexts ranging from classical Chinese literary theory through to Truman Show and Matrix, I argue that the novel mirrors the development of poetry discourse in the PRC with its various myths, conflicts, complexes, and ambitions. I also show how this discourse, shaped for a long time largely by the so-called Third Generation poets born in the 1950s and 1960s, translates into the situation of the poets who belong to a younger generation (“post-70”) represented by Li Hongwei among others, and what (self-)expectations, challenges, and limitations they face in their writing.
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