Contemporary Islam

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 173–192 | Cite as

Claiming the mystical self in new modernist Uyghur poetry



By recuperating the Sufi poetics of the Uyghur past, “avant-garde” Uyghur poets such as Tahir Hamut and Perhat Tursun are claiming a right to speak as heirs to both a religious and a literary tradition. For these modernist poets, finding one’s own way forward through the past is a way of reclaiming the discourse surrounding Uyghur identity, and the cultural symbols built into it, as an extension of the self. By channeling affect in such a way that it appears to derive from conventional Uyghur imagery, these poets demonstrate a measure of self-mastery that restores a feeling of existential security in the midst of political and religious change. This article argues that the purpose of their poems is to force the reader to accept new interpretations of images of Sufi embodiment and spirituality as valid and powerful. It further claims that the new indexing of Sufi imagery in this emerging corpus disrupts the unity of Uyghur poetry in the genres of Chinese Socialist Realism and ethno-nationalist Uyghur tradition, not in a negative process, but in order to create new forms of thought and subjectivity. It forces the reader to interpret the world not by trying to return to mythical Uyghur origins or reaching for a Socialist or an Islamic utopia but instead as a means of self-determination and affirming contemporary life itself.


Sufi Self-determination Modernist poetry Uyghur Xinjiang China Avant-Garde 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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