Thursday, November 08, 2007

LHOOQ: Kang Youwei Readymade, Even

Here's an example of a readymade I found that I did while in school. I remember the circumstances: It was a class on China's transition into the twentieth century, and was quite boring. Not because China's transitions aren't fascinating - they are - but the instructor was run-of-the-mill. But I did come across Kang Youwei, an interesting character during this period.

This is a poem Kang wrote while overseas, in Canada, desperately by some sources, trying to raise funds for his pro-emperor aspirations. The poem - written in August 1899 for the celebration of the imprisoned Emperor's birthday - speaks to the incipient dominant culture and the longing for stability, familiarity, conservatism... represented in his endorsement of the monarchy. Oddly enough, Kang would go on to champion very progressive social ideals. Here's his poem:

Far across the seas we celebrate Your Majesty's birthday,
The dragon banner unfurls above the white men's buildings.
White people, clinking their glasses, assemble grandly beside us;
While the yellow race squeeze, with lighted lanterns,
through narrow lanes.

The Lord on high grants You life, and has pity on us here below.
A petty official, prostrate, in tears, lies in bitter obscurity.
Far from this distant Canadian island I gaze toward Beijing:
Waves around the Emporer's palace-prison; how often I return
in my dreams.

I recall being struck by this poem at the time by the conflict, and its economy; there's quite a bit going on here within two stanzas.

At any rate and at this time, I'd been deeply ingrained in Surrealist principles, so I thought I'd make a readymade. Here it is:

Far across the sea I celebrate her
the banner unfurls above buildings
there is no clinking of glasses assembled grandly beside us
while the race proceeds with lighted lanterns through narrow lanes below us

Life on high has pity on us below
A petty official, prostrate, in tears, lies in bitter obscurity
From this distant island I gaze toward her
Waves around her palace
How often I return


While I don't think Kang's poem is bad, (my only knock is that it's a tad obvious, but on the other hand Surrealists can be really abstract and obscure, while the creme de la creme is very lyrical and sometimes, a'la' Peret, funny in ways beyond recognition by traditional "umor" - [sic: yes, this is an obscure allusion for my benefit]) bad poetry is particularly good insofar as readymades are concerned. At least that's been my experience. In fact any bad text will do, poetry, songs, proclamations, transcripts, lectures, speeches, essays... blogs...

Orale pues, Marcel, ella tiene una cula calor, verdad!