Nick Admussen

Associate Professor of Asian Studies, Cornell University
Faculty Advisor: Perry Link
Title:  Twentieth Century Chinese Prose Poetry
Abstract:  The term prose poetry has been used to describe works of literature in China ever since the term was translated into Chinese in 1918. This dissertation studies that act of generic naming, as well as the formal practices that the term most consistently describes. Its methodology combines genre study, literary history, analysis of the literary field, and close reading. The dissertation finds that Chinese prose poetry is most aptly described not as a static category made up of measurable qualities of shape, size or sound, but instead as the result of a series of compositional and conceptual processes, most important of which are condensation, recitation, and refusal. It further finds that Chinese prose poetry before 1949 is neither similar to prose poetry after 1949, nor similar to itself: strong generic and formal identities appeared later, as a result of prose poetry's process of self-justification during the literary-political transformations of the Hundred Flowers period (1956-7). Contemporary official prose poetry, which has been published and disseminated widely since the early 1980s, therefore maintains a strong generic and formal identity, and continues to have many characteristics of socialist literature. Meanwhile, avant-garde poets who work in prose forms have defined their work in contradistinction to politically orthodox work, and often avoid the category of prose poetry even when their works have formal and procedural affinities with other prose poems. Finally, this dissertation is an anthology of translations. Artists translated include Ke Lan, Guo Feng, Liu Zaifu and Ouyang Jianghe. Due to copyright restrictions, these poems have been redacted from the online version of the dissertation. A complete copy is available at the Mudd Documents Library, 26 Olden St., Princeton NJ 08540.