‘Typographic Bodies: Futurist Biopoetics in Republican China’

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Speaker: Chloe Estep
Because of Futurism’s brief life in modern Chinese letters, Futurist poets and their poetics of speed, violence and technology, are often left out of anthologies of modern Chinese poetry, or their poetry is attributed to other movements such as concrete poetry or new sensationalism. This talk examines the poetry of Qian Juntao, Ouwai Ou, Xu Chi and others, and argues that the little-studied Futurist literary movement in Republican Era China was part of a broader aestheticization of politics by the Nationalist state. It proposes the term ‘biopoetics’ to articulate how Futurist representations of sublimated violence, industrialization and mechanized female bodies mirrored the New Life Movement’s attempts to regulate the bodies and desires of the population. To achieve this, these poets both drew on the models of F. T. Marinetti and Ezra Pound and refigured classical poetic and calligraphic techniques. Specifically, through the Futurist technique of ‘typographic analogy,’ Chinese Futurists conceived of the zi, or character, as a site where nationalism could be aestheticized and fascist politics could be enacted.

Chloe Estep is the Joseph E. Hotung Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asia Institute at Columbia University. Her research focuses on poetry and the politics of script aesthetics in modern China. Her translation of Lu Yao’s novel Life, known as the ‘migrant workers’ bible,’ was published in 2019.