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The Paradox of "Women's Poetry" and Literary Feminism
- Author / Creator
- Li, Wenzhu
This thesis argues that the concept of “women’s poetry” in contemporary China emerged not as a feminist critical approach or a methodology for women poets to question gender values of the patriarchy, but as a new analytical method for the critic and a poetic strategy for the poet to refute the binary of form and content, which simultaneously reaffirmed the binary mode of the patriarchy.
My analysis rests on how the critic Tang Xiaodu and the poet Zhai Yongming appropriated the idea of “women’s poetry” in markedly different ways and how in doing so both of them carried out the mission of what I call “formal experimentation.” I use the term to refer to the situation in which the critic and the poet transformed the text into a discursive space. In this space, Tang promoted critical innovation that not only valued poetic form but also poetic function from a social perspective, and Zhai pursued poetic experimentation that harmonized what to write with how to write it.
My reading of Tang’s articles on Zhai’s poems and his theory of poetry alongside Zhai’s essays on poetics suggests that nesting in their prose is an implicit patriarchal stance: Building a sociocultural criticism on the idea of “women’s poetry” and working it into the traditional formalist criticism, Tang essentializes the biological male-female divide and hints at the lower poetic value of gender-marked imagery; while registering female consciousness as both poetic subject and form, Zhai repudiates feminism and feminist approaches to women’s poetry in her essays on the idea of “women’s poetry.” However, my understanding of her poems indicates that feminist concerns are the chosen subject matter Zhai speaks on in varied formal structures. Tang’s reading of Zhai Yongming’s poems and his idea of “women’s poetry” end up replicating and consolidating the patriarchal male-female binary, which undermines his efforts to advance the notion that poetic form and content are equal. In an attempt to disassociate herself with feminism, Zhai renders her statement of the unity of form and content controversial. Zhai holds the view that when we talk about whether a poem is feminist or non-feminist, we are referring to the subject of the poem rather than the form. In addition, the subject is not as significant as the form, as formal elements define the literariness of a poem and thus its significance. In addition, in order to propound the idea of “women’s poetry” as a poetic strategy for women poets to prove the aesthetic value of their works, Zhai ends up perpetuating an aesthetic value system which has long subordinated women’s writing to male supremacy.
My hope is that this study will, on the one hand, act as a corrective to reveal the limitations of the concept of “women’s poetry,” and, on the other hand, invite more scholarly reflections on the larger implications of feminist poetics in the Chinese context through the “limitations” of Zhai’s prose and extensiveness of her poetry.
- Graduation date
- Fall 2020
- Type of Item
- Master of Arts
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