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The Cartoon Cat and Postmodern Poetry

By Ya Shi 哑石

Translated by Nick Admussen

The cartoon cat has not yet found its true identity. The cartoon cat is a kind of cat that was made out of nothing, a mountain from a molehill cat, a cat of pure intelligence. We watch it, in its two-dimensional world, endlessly deduce the many phenomena of human existence, of its incredible bustle. The cartoon cat’s fate is therefore to take the whole panoply of life from “presence” and turn it back into “absence,” even to cancel out that sticky, partially self-serving hiss in the night.

If we wait for it, atop a dried leaf we will simultaneously dream of two epochs that rush off in two opposite directions. Now, the condition of this desiccated leaf is not important, what’s important is methodology—it is the moment when all the various lines of thought are focused, in which a dried leaf available for the claiming floats to the ground. Don't people say, “You never step in the same river twice”? Didn’t someone once say, “A falling leaf only arrives at its floating”? At some particular moments, don't we truly become conscious of the fact that opposing the errors of the self is opposition to all people?

So far, the cartoon cat has only revealed three interpretable types of itself: the violent berserker; the mild and neutral; the fake sentimentalist. There is not a one of them that was not schemed of in secret by the brilliant Prince (Dunce) of Darkness.

Sometimes, the berserk cartoon cat will also mildly lap at a hidden geode; the neutral cartoon cat will act like a sissy; but the fake sentimentalist cartoon cat will never be able to turn to violence because its backbone is cotton-soft. Even if it would like to go a little bit berserk, the best it can do is to pull a face, and even that makes it so tired it has to lie down. So it's still a sissy, still a fake sentimentalist. The old proverb has it right: “After the divorce, don't come crying back to me.” This is how it really is. All of the cartoon cats are well versed in serving as specialized symbols that are steadfast in their responsibilities and in their ethics. This is of the utmost importance!

If we’re not so adept at deep thinking—don’t know Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and the rest—maybe we won’t have any unusual feelings about the dried leaf; who knows? In any event, it can’t figure the passing of anything ever again. This is why finding one’s own amusement while dying is incredibly appealing and difficult. Each object might have a way to describe dying many times, providing us a little platform in the ocean. Whether we jump off it or not is all up to us, it’s all up to the dark and amused pearl inside the body, deciding whether it’s willing to blow itself open or not.

Each cartoon cat must necessarily have a dainty little mouse as its partner; together they bear up humanity’s responsibility to deduce the endless manifestations of nature. It’s often like this: the honest mouse has a hankering to do some pranking, and this attracts the interest of the cartoon cat, who then bounces up and down in that two-dimensional world, hoping to grab the mouse. In the end, though, the mouse gets off scot-free, and the cartoon cat is left wholly defeated. People say, “Cartoon cat, you’re an idiot! You’re addle-headed!” These kinds of people don’t know that here is exactly where the cartoon cat’s deepest aesthetics are hidden, or that its intelligence assuredly exceeds even the smartest guy in the great field of morons: there exists no mouse! Not only does it know this, it knew way before we did.

If the cartoon cat mimicked the endless manifestations of the human world in a slightly prettier way, it would know this: the unplugging sound, cla-chunk, that people take a brief interest in is in fact the power source of the two-dimensional world. Yes, it’s true! Cla-chunk, unplugged!

Ya Shi is the author of four collections of poetry and one of prose, including The Selected Poems of Ya Shi and, most recently, a special issue of the alternative magazine Blade devoted to his work. He has won the Liu Li’an prize and edited several influential unofficial poetry journals. His work has appeared in English translation in many magazines, including the New England Review and Asymptote. A graduate of Beijing University, he currently teaches mathematics at a university near the city of Chengdu.

Nick Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese literature at Cornell University. His first scholarly book, Recite and Refuse: Contemporary Chinese Prose Poetry is forthcoming from the Hawaii University Press. His poetry and short fiction have recently appeared in Privacy Policy, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and Inch.

From Chinese Literature Today Vol. 5 No. 2

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Table of Contents







  • 3 Editor’s Note
  • 4 Contributors
  • 98 Chinese Literature in Review
  • 108 Pacific Bridge

THIS ISSUE’S ART: “Seductive Evolution of Animated Illuminations, 2013.” By Shih Chieh Huang. (Modification of fifteenth-century Renaissance period Murano glass chandelier. Combined with micro controller, computer cooling fans, LEDs, garbage bags, and plastic shrink wrap.) Image courtesy of the artist.


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