Senior Wins Award for Thesis on Cyberfeminism

Ben Landauer ’17 translates Chinese poetry and rethinks literature in the digital age

By Isabel Lyndon '17 | July 18, 2017

Chinese major Ben Landauer ’17 has won the Unrue Award for their senior thesis on cyberfeminist poetry, focusing on three internet poets based in China and Taiwan.

The Unrue Award recognizes outstanding work in the Division of Literature and Languages. It was created with a gift from John and Darlene Unrue in memory of their son Greg Unrue ’84, who died in 2008.

Ben began to research online Chinese poetry during a study-abroad in Bejing in 2016. That research led to a 15-page research paper their junior year, which led in turn to a senior thesis  titled “Cyberfeminist Poetics in China and Taiwan: Zhai Yongming, Yin Lichuan, and Xia Yu.”

“I decided to focus around three research questions,” Ben says. “One, why is there such a negative backlash against modern Chinese poetry of the 21st century? Two, how do the internet, the personal computer, and cyber-networked culture at large affect the production and reception of poetry? And three, what do we notice when we examine women’s poetry therein?”

Ben used web archives to collect work by poets Zhai Yongming, Yin Lichuan, and Xia Yu and devoted a section of the thesis to each author, beginning with Zhai Yongming, a post-socialist poet who produced work in the 1980s. By focusing on a writer from the early days of the internet, Landauer sought “to establish a ground for where the majority of women’s poetry stood in the decades before the proliferation of the internet and digital culture.”

The second section explored the work of poet Yin Lichuan, who worked closely with the avant garde Lower Body Writing Group in the early 2000s. Many of her poems address female sexuality. “Her work is so straightforward and raunchy that it would have been unpublishable through normal channels, yet the internet provided a platform where her avant-garde poetry found a welcome home and fanbase,” Ben says.

The third and final section of the thesis addressed the multi-media work of Xia Yu, a Taiwanese native who works both online and in print, and who has experimented with Chinese-English translation machines.

Prof. Jing Jiang [Chinese 2006–] served as Ben’s thesis advisor. “Through this whole process, Jing was my steadfast rock,” Ben says. “Her willingness to let me run wild with crazy ideas, and simultaneous ability to point out the specific points I needed to work harder on, never ceased to amaze me.”

According to Prof. Jiang, Ben’s thesis was a “brilliant combination of three traits: a historian’s sense of mission, a translator’s delight, and a budding literary scholar’s open-minded and original rethinking of the category of literature in the digital age.” The thesis also impressed Prof. Hyong Rhew [Chinese 1988–], who sat on the orals board. “Ben chose the most unstable topic, poetry in cyber-space,” Prof. Rhew says, “and that was the best and the most challenging way to ask basic, but very important questions, including the definition of literature.”

“My favorite part about the thesis process was the sheer variety of material I was able to translate and present,” Ben told us. “I translated everything from poetry to academic writing, from blog posts to magazine entries, from song lyrics to opinion essays. It was fulfilling and thrilling to be able to put my three years of Chinese training to a really difficult problem.”

As for postgraduate plans, Ben might attend graduate school at Nanjing University this fall. Or they could travel to Japan to learn Japanese. For now, Ben is in Taiwan. “I honestly don’t know what will happen come September,” they say. “Which is scary and fun.”

Tags: Awards & Achievements, Thesis