23. Art is unsettling

Actually, none of the works by Li Bifeng I have read up to now sound very dissident at all. They are “just art”, so to speak. He could have published them, as a different person.

I am currently translating a long poem by Li Bifeng into English, and have translated several small texts into German. Two of these will appear in the literary journal Wienzeile this summer in bilingual fashion. The artist Sara Bernal is supporting the reading on June 3rd with a display of paintings.

What other texts will be read at Vienna University on June 3rd?

On May 3rd, 2013, we had a very interesting workshop and discussion at Vienna University’s East Asia Institute, on literature in Korea, China and Japan. It was initiated by Lena Springer, who invited Zhang Chengjue 張成覺, expert on the year 1957 and the so-called Anti-Rightists-Campaign in China. Zhang and Springer were inspired by Lu Xun expert Qian Liqun from Peking University, who called for research on the late 1950s in China across disciplines. The workshop in Vienna was about censorship, political changes, publishing conditions and (self-)perceptions of artistic quality. Professor Schirmer told us about a debate in South Korea 45 years ago, in 1968. A big-wig critic who became culture minister later published an essay, lamenting the lame state of Korean literature. A poet responded and said he had poems that could not be published, and his friends also had literature that could not be published because it would be considered dangerous, unstable, unsettling. 不穩。The critic said he didn’t understand. Surely good art would be independent of politics and would only need imagination and talent? Not so, the poet replied. Art is potentially unsettling, if it is powerful art at all. The critic didn’t get it again. Sounded very much like Prof. Kubin and his friends in China. Also like Taiwan 30 years ago, of course. / 中国大好き

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