Monday, June 28, 2010

On poets, poetry, and philistines... [updated]

Excerpted from "詩的申辯" by 梁文道.
"幾個月前,我以一首詩結束在北京大學的一場演講。儘管那首詩不短,但同學們還是很有耐心地默默聽完。我還發現,隨著自己不由自主地漸漸投入,台下的空氣也逐步繃了起來,緊張到最後一句讀完,整個空間好像才釋然地舒了一口氣。後來大家都說,這首詩真好。當然,那是楊牧的《有人問我公理和正義的問題》。

[...]

不,任何真誠的詩以及正直的詩人都一定是抗世的。因為我們所在的這個語言世界是這麼地空洞和扭曲,把屠殺說成事件,把蝸居說成豪宅,更深深地從根處斬斷了語言與事物之間最源初最神秘的命名關係,而且還使我們習慣它的虛妄,以為這才是常態。不用憤怒,你只要認真對待語言,詩自然就是一種反抗了。"

楊牧的《有人問我公理和正義的問題》can be found here: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/snail1207/31075723

As I myself have previously written, poets aren't just artsy fartsy narcissists with castrated manhoods. I really appreciated 梁文道 mentioning gutsy contemporary Chinese poets like 楊牧 and 陳智德 in his essay cited above. There are also plenty of war poets in the English canon like Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling, the existence of whom flatly contradicts Daisy Wong from Lancashire Road's false dichotomy between poetry and heroism (Owen and Kipling had diametrically-opposed takes on war and imperialism, but they both wrote inspiring poetry on the subject of war and country and believed in the power of poetry to effect change in society), a false dichotomy that was proclaimed, with her usual self-aggrandising bravado, in her most recent blog-post entitled "別纏住我的裙腳":
"要是你問我,hey Daisy,究竟「詩人」實際上是幹什麼的?Honestly,I don't know。我只能答你,詩人是寫詩的。Well,okay,我知這個答案有點反智,但對於「詩人」,我實在已盡了最大的努力。[...] 男人寫情詩,有女人覺得浪漫,我覺得太沒出息。我喜歡做大事的男人,比我叻很多很多的男人,有本事看穿我的刁鑽,駕馭我的刁蠻,這樣的男人才有趣。男人老狗寫什麼情詩?溫溫吞吞,婆婆媽媽,浪費青春。我Daisy最瞧不起那些纏住我裙腳的男人,我一腳就伸開這些廢人!"

So according to Wong above, a man who writes love poems cannot by definition be the kind of man who could carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, who could ever effect any real change in society, or who could ever amount to any greatness.

Ha! As if! She must have never heard of W.B. Yeats then. Not only is Yeats famous for his love poems to Maud Gonne (e.g. "He wishes for the cloths of Heaven", "No Second Troy"), but he is also at the same time famous for his poetry which mocked the rich and powerful in society, championing the cause of the poor at a time when it was deeply unpopular to do so ("September 1913"); and as a committed nationalist, his poetry also provided intellectual succour for the Irish resistance against British rule (e.g. "Easter, 1916").

Oh, and don't give me the crap that Yeats's the exception that proves her rule -- there are plenty of poets, apart from Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling as already mentioned, who wrote genuinely heroic poetry -- heroic in the sense that they are unflinching in laying bare the social injustices and the human folly of their times -- such as Siegfried Sassoon, Walt Whitman, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Hardy, and so on and so forth. And, if my poor Chinese serves me, aren't there plenty of heroic poetry in the Chinese canon also? Even an old romantic like Li Bai wrote about the "Nefarious War"?

And, at the most basic level, as Leung himself has noted in his essay, poetry gives due respect to the fundamental relation between language and reality. Poetry speaks truth to power like no other medium, and beauty itself, by its mere existence, is already an affront to brutality. To indulge in the beauty of language, even in (or especially in) poetry dedicated to love, and especially in the times of war and social upheaval, demands both courage and a special kind of wisdom, a kind of wisdom that says, "We shall not let the ugliness of this world numb us to the existence of beauty; we shall not allow rationality to annihilate fancy; we shall not let hatred triumph over love."* To describe romantic poets as 廢人 and a waste of space, as Daisy Wong had done, really says far more about her lack of reflexivity and appreciation of the arts and humanities than it does about the poets themselves.

Funny how Wong always professes her Anglophilia and snobbishly boasts about her tastes in all things refined and enlightened, and yet seems to not even have gotten a GCSE level's grasp of English literature, or perhaps just literature in general -- a more laughable philistine and fraud I'd never seen**.

Perhaps let me conclude this post with a declaration by a group of Southern Chinese poets who travelled to Hong Kong in 1947 (一九四七年詩人節宣言/黃藥眠), taken from 《香港文學散步 (增訂版)》(p. 174, 2009, 3rd reprint) (Note: every single Chinese word below was slowly inputted by me, word by painstaking word as unfortunately I'm not trained in any Chinese inputting methods).

The declaration may be a tad melodramatic in places, and the politics it expressed may be out of step with the times (the optimistic sentiments expressed between the lines regarding communism being able to serve the public good are certainly misplaced, although their reading of the causes underpinning the social injustices they observed were accurate), but remember this was 1947, when China was in the throes of the civil war after World War II, and in any case, the central message about life itself being an expression of poetry is not outdated even more than two thousand years later:

列名在本文上的, 是曾經致力過, 或現在醉心於詩歌事業, 也有已終止寫詩而新的工作仍不忘情於廣義的詩的幾個人。以這種種關係, 在紀念偉大詩人屈原沉江殉國二千二百二十四周年的時候, 對於當前饑餓、流血以及一切不公平的事實和詩的連結的問題, 公開發表一個共同的意見。

我們認為:一切悲劇的發生,根源於最多數的生產者勞而無獲,最少數的浪費者坐享其成,最多數人的辛勞的果實被掠奪,受盡千辛萬苦,求生不得,被迫起而作自衛的反抗。 而最少數人掌握着統治的極權,視勞役眾人為天賦權利,不惜採取高壓手段,以屠殺、放逐、監禁種種野蠻的行為,加之於勞動人民身上,甚至出賣祖國、出賣最多數人的勞動成果,以博取外力的援助,來延長它殘暴的統治。 這是歷史的不幸,這飢餓的時代,血的時代,比起屈原的時代還要慘苦,更為黑暗。但又不同屈原的時代。 那百姓起來點燈,不准洲官放火的信號上升了。 這是悲劇時代裡的福音。 由於最多數勞動人民愛國的忠心,和戰鬥的神勇,已經取得勝利的保證。

無論在純粹的詩歌事業,或是廣義的詩的工作,我們自問是學習屈原,繼承他的優良的精神的。 他生長在那襤褸陰濕的國土上,憂天下之憂,而行吟澤畔,顏色憔悴。我們以他的憂天下之心為我們的心。 只是二千多年以前的屈原,沒法看見二千多年以後的事實,而我們已經聽見看見福音的實現,那未來在召喚我們。今天,我們有比屈原更慘的遭遇:被放逐、被侮蔑***、行吟海濱,有國難投。 但心神是爽朗的。 在這方生未死之間,那勞動人民的戰鬥是一個英雄的榜樣,堅定我們抗死求生的決心。殺身死諫是對最少數人的忠貞,是絕路,唯有對最多數人的事業的獻身,才能絕處逢生。

這是大的震撼,大的澎湃的時代。 屈原的詩章,教給我們以「生命的本身就是詩」的道理。 我們的詩,必要記錄這大的震撼的主題,大的澎湃的音節,「言區」歌這巨大的前進的潮流。這潮流豈是暴力的鞭笞可以阻斷?

我們順着這潮流,跟着最多數人的步伐前進。我們是歸屬於最多數裏的,那代表着光明、進步,和健康的最多數。"

-- 謹此宣言
黃藥眠 等人

How ironic that this quote from 1947: "而最少數人掌握着統治的極權,視勞役眾人為天賦權利,不惜採取高壓手段,以屠殺、放逐、監禁種種野蠻的行為,加之於勞動人民身上,甚至出賣祖國、出賣最多數人的勞動成果,以博取外力的援助,來延長它殘暴的統治。 這是歷史的不幸,這飢餓的時代,血的時代,比起屈原的時代還要慘苦,更為黑暗。" still pretty much applies to "modern China". To those who are infected with HIV/AIDS because they had to sell their blood due to their poverty, to those whose children suffer from cancer due to contaminated foodstuffs and who were brutally silenced when they dared raise their case, to those who are driven to the end of their tethers through inhuman hours and work pace demanded from their factory bosses, it is tragic and unjust that this line dated from a war-torn China in 1947: "這飢餓的時代,血的時代,比起屈原的時代還要慘苦,更為黑暗。" still resonates to this day.

Throughout the centuries thus, across both East and West, a simple fact remains: poetry continues to speak truth to power. Always has, always will.

* Readers interested in understanding the kind of wisdom it takes to indulge in fanciful verses in times of war and social upheaval, beyond what my plaintive plea above could ever hope to encapsulate, should read (or re-read) "1984" by George Orwell.

** Once upon a time I thought Wong was somewhat genuine -- not "genuine" as in whether she is a "she" or a group of bloggers or what have you, I really couldn't care less -- but in the sense that she could appreciate how intellectuals could easily be found amongst the so-called grassroot classes (even though she blogged about it as if she's just discovered a whole new continent), but given her latest offering, she's reverted right back to the stereotype of the bourgeoisie. But I guess she has form in this -- given how she self-styled herself as a "Bo-Bo" ("bourgeois bohemian") whilst being totally oblivious to the fact that her very lifestyle contradicts David Brooks' thesis about NOT indulging in acts of conspicuous consumption and respecting 1960's liberal values. Pity she's turning out to be just a phoney, though I'm still willing to be surprised...

*** For the life of me I can't find a way of inputting this particular word, it kind of have connotations of "輕鄙" and "輕挑", can somebody help? (Update 12 July: Thanks to LCL for his kind assistance in inputting this Chinese word).

(Btw, for my previous almighty rant in defense of poets and poetry, see here)

Further listening:

For a completely anti-utilitarian take on poetry (something I'd imagine the Daisy Wongs of this world could not abide), the below is brilliant (thanks to Lu for sharing):



Excerpted lyrics:

別理我 愛胡說 就胡說
你就不懂 詩是什麼
超聲波 曼陀羅
兩個東西 放在一起 有什麼 沒什麼
我怎麼知道
我還沒有試過

管他的 好結果 壞結果
我只負責 清心直說
是詩歌 是胡說
一開始的時候聽來 大概也 差不多
所~以別煩我

管他的 好結果 壞結果
我只負責 想到就說
是詩歌 是胡說
偉大夢想 最初聽來 大概也 差不多
你~就讓我說

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4 Comments:

At Wed Jun 30, 02:05:00 a.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

Do you mean "to insult" 侮辱?

 
At Tue Jul 06, 07:24:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thanks LCL, I really wish it were that word, but it isn't and I STILL cannot find a way of getting that word in here. I should say that the word itself is usually prefaced with 輕 as a phrase, with connotations of "輕鄙", and that the character itself kinda looks like the character for "dream".

I actually tried googling "輕" (minus a lot of other unrelated words as an advanced search) and went looking through about 30 google search pages before I finally gave up. That's how dedicated I was in my procrastination!

Oh well, I guess I just have to learn those bloody inputting techniques one of these days.

 
At Wed Jul 07, 08:52:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

輕蔑?

I don't know any input method either. It's a pain. I grew up learning computer without any Chinese input method whatsoever now I really don't need it job wise.

 
At Mon Jul 12, 05:18:00 a.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thanks LCL, that is exactly it!! I can't imagine how you managed the impossible and finding that word, but I'm extremely grateful all the same. Yep, I grew up without learning any Chinese computer inputting methods either. I hope I'll still get to learn one of these techniques one of these days though while proper Chinese (i.e. 正體中文) remains current.

 

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