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“Why Mainstream” Lecture and Forum Series VI “Where is the Life We Lost in Living?”: Book Launch of Lyndall Gordon’s The Imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot

Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum




“Where is the Life We Lost in Living?”: Book Launch of Lyndall Gordon’s The Imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot

Speakers: Wang Jiaxin, Wang Wei, Xu Xiaofan

Organizers: Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum, Eons Books

T. S. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for the poetic masterpieces that won his worldwide critical accolade. His literary criticism has been paragon of the genre and his life has long been great inspiration for all readers of his.

Coming from a prominent New England family, the calling of poetry overcame the expectation of familial obligations for him when he was a doctoral student of philosophy in Harvard: ‘The Arts insist that a man shall dispose of all he has, even of his family tree, and follow artalone. For they demand that a man be not a member of a family or a caste or of a party or of a coterie, but simply and solely himself.’ Eliot puzzled and alarmed his parents by staying in London in 1915 instead of finishing his doctorate at Harvard, and by spending years writing poetry that was published only sporadically and in little-known magazines. His father died in 1919 under the impression that his youngest child had made a mess of his life. He had a long, night marish marriage, worked as a school master yet felt the job ‘took too much out of me’: it made him reluctant to write even during days off. Then he worked for eight years as a bank clerk, and wrote The Waste Land—the timeless masterpiece — during the time. Later he was a successful publisher in Faber & Faber. Throughout his life, he treated each day’s work with utmost industry and care.

For years on end, people have been drawing upon one early description he made of himself, that he is ‘a classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-catholic in religion’, despite the fact that towards his later years he revoked the statement in a talk. He often spoke of the ‘unspoken’. In a solitude guarded by public masks he lived a hidden life. It would be unreachable if he had not been a poet with a need to explore and define that life.

Dr. Lyndall Gordon from Oxford University is a world-renowned biographer. She is primarily known by her work The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot, which is an exemplar of biographic writing. The aim of this biography was to bring together life and work so as to follow the trials of a searcher whose flaws and doubts can speak to all of us whose lives are imperfect.

How should we approach Eliot in these days? How, then, will his writing benefit us? This event seeks to respond to these questions through a conversation about this great poet. The conversation will be coordinated between Wang Jiaxin, poet and professor in Renmin University of China, Wang Wei the poet, and Xu Xiaofan, lecturer in English literature and translator of the book. The conversation will revolve around the poet’s enigmatic life of mixed memory and desire as well as of the vacillation between his pursuit for worldly happiness and his spiritual yearnings. It also seeks to unravel how for the great poet life and work were reciprocal parts of one design.


Wang Jiaxin, professor and PhD supervisor of the school of literary studies, Renming University of China, one of the most important contemporary poets and critics in China. On 2017, he published Darkening Mirror, his English poetry collection in the U.S, with the foreword written by the accomplished American poet Robert Hass.

Wang Wei, poet, critic, playwright. Wang also writes on historical philosophy and political philosophy.

Xu Xiaofan, translator of The Imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot. Lecturer at school of English and International Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University. English literature PhD, University of Nottingham.


The Archives and Narratives of Modern and Contemporary Art: Book Launch of Discourse and Movement——Two Keywords of the History of Art in the 80s

Speakers: Carol Yinghua Lu, Sheng Wei, Wang Zhiliang

In the summer of 2006, Gao Minglu initiated the monographical study and exhibition project  of “The No Name Painting Association.” Wang Zhiliang, at the time, worked as an assistant and partook in these projects. In the summer of 2007, Wang Zhiliang then worked again as a scholarly editor, participating in the reediting and reprinting of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985-1986 led by Mr. Gao Minglu. Only by having participated in the collecting and sorting of the archives of contemporary art directly,  the author was allowed to attempt a construction of a historical narrative as such. Besides, the writing of this book was also contextualized by the exhibition, “ ’85 New Wave: the Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art” by the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, the following publishing of “’85 New Wave-Archive” book series, as well as the incidents of 20th, 30th anniversary of ’85 New Wave, and the  series of oral histories that emerged through out the time. One could say that the ’85 New Wave related writings that were publicly published in the first 10 years of the new millennium construe the foundation for the completion of this book.

This book adopts a post-structural theory of semiotic art history, and discusses the relationship between “discourse” and “movement” in the 80s’ developments of art, especially in narrating the rise and development of “rational discourse,” and how this discourse became intertwined with the entire development of ’85 art movement. The classification and propagation of the 80s art discourses was another weighing point in this piece of literature. The public space constructed by meetings and printings which composed the development of art at this particular time were in a large sense decisive for the general orientation of art developments. In public spaces as such, different discourses presents a sense of uniformity, where the traditional, the modern and the avant-garde are mutually influential, in which construed the basic profile of the uniform discourse of art of the 80s. Among that, “rational discourse,” which span over modernism and the avant-garde, became one of the mainstreaming discourses of that period of art development after 1985.

Besides the specific point of views presented by this book, how do we, as witnesses of contemporary art history, deal with the relationship between oral histories presented by those who have lived through this history, the original archives and the historical narratives? This may be a more relevant question to be discussed as for today. With the publishing of Discourse and Movement—Two Keywords of the History of Art in the 80s, we have invited the associate editor of Arts, Sheng Wei, the curator of Inside-Out Art Museum, Lu Yinghua, and the author of book, Dr. Wang Zhiliang, to talk about contemporary art archives and historical narratives. 


Sheng Wei, Doctor of Art History, Associate Editor of Arts.

Wang Zhiliang, Doctor of Philosophy, Associate Professor at College of Art, Hebei University.

Carol Yinghua Lu, Director of Inside-Out Art Museum, PhD student at the University of Melbourne.