“Eloquence, Anger, Sincerity: Henry Wei Leung’s Goddess of Democracy” by Jason S Polley

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Henry Wei Leung, Goddess of Democracy: An Occupy Lyric, Omnidawn, 2017, 128 pgs.

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Here’s a long opening-sentence: when I saw the Chinese characters quoted above in Henry Wei Leung’s piece “An Umbrella: Revolution,” characters I recall from the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Admiralty, characters I saw hanging—illegally—from the top of Lion Rock (which were visible from the Hong Kong Baptist University campus, where I’ve worked for over a decade), characters on a large banner I posted facing outward from my office windows, I asked my girlfriend (who accompanied me on many of the thirty-or-so days and nights I spent wandering the car-free-corridors of Hong Kong during the “official” seventy-nine-day Revolution in Fall 2014) to once again translate the characters that had been etched onto the tables of my non-ideogram-deciphering brain for over three-years.

I want real public elections, she answered without missing a beat, or even visibly sighing, given I’d asked her the same numerously.

Ya, but, are you contextualising them, like the French Tu me manques or Spanish Tu me faltas translate literally into you are missing from me, but we typically turn these into the English locution “I miss you.

No. I’m literally translating it—again, she answered, her well-deserved sigh now un-swallowed.

Here’s the footnoted-as-“*My translation” Leung provides following the five characters I saw as the rallying cry of the Umbrella Revolution:

When all but the top is torn off, what remains? “I.”*

This prose poem, which features the empty space that formally contextualises the thirty-six pieces in Goddess of Democracy, concludes nine sentences later with “Eventually, the I is torn off”—thus, the blanks, redactions and erasures in Leung’s evocative book. Hong Kong has, Hongkongers have, been increasingly silenced. How even to speak, to be, if, when, there’s no more I, no more desire, no more public to speak of and to?

{Read the entire review, published on Cha Review of Books and Filmshere.}

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jspJason S Polley is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by JSP.]

 

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