The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition

The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 256
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    The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition
    Book Description:

    First published in 1919 by Ezra Pound, Ernest Fenollosa's essay on the Chinese written language has become one of the most often quoted statements in the history of American poetics. As edited by Pound, it presents a powerful conception of language that continues to shape our poetic and stylistic preferences: the idea that poems consist primarily of images; the idea that the sentence form with active verb mirrors relations of natural force. But previous editions of the essay represent Pound's understanding-it is fair to say, his appropriation-of the text. Fenollosa's manuscripts, in the Beinecke Library of Yale University, allow us to see this essay in a different light, as a document of early, sustained cultural interchange between North Americaand East Asia.Pound's editing of the essay obscured two important features, here restored to view: Fenollosa's encounter with Tendai Buddhism and Buddhist ontology, and his concern with the dimension of sound in Chinese poetry.This book is the definitive critical edition of Fenollosa's important work. After a substantial Introduction, the text as edited by Pound is presented, together with his notes and plates. At the heart of the edition is the first full publication of the essay as Fenollosa wrote it, accompanied by the many diagrams, characters, and notes Fenollosa (and Pound) scrawled on the verso pages. Pound's deletions, insertions, and alterations to Fenollosa's sometimes ornate prose are meticulously captured, enabling readers to follow the quasi-dialogue between Fenollosa and his posthumous editor. Earlier drafts and related talks reveal the developmentof Fenollosa's ideas about culture, poetry, and translation. Copious multilingual annotation is an important feature of the edition.This masterfully edited book will be an essential resource for scholars and poets and a starting point for a renewed discussion of the multiple sources of American modernist poetry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4692-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Conventions
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Haun Saussy
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Fenollosa Compounded: A Discrimination
    (pp. 1-40)

    The place of Ernest Francisco Fenollosa’s essay “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” as a major document of twentieth-century American poetry and poetics is secure—if only that is the right place to put it. Donald Davie considered it “perhaps the only English document of our time fit to rank with Sidney’sApologie, and the Preface toLyrical Ballads, and Shelley’sDefence.”¹ And Charles Olson: “the damned best piece on language since when.”² In the eyes of Ezra Pound, its first editor, it was “a study of the fundamentals of all aesthetics” and “the first definite assertion...

  7. The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: An Ars Poetica
    (pp. 41-60)

    This twentieth century not only turns a new page in the book of the world, but opens another and a startling chapter. Vistas of strange futures unfold for man, of world-embracing cultures half weaned from Europe, of hitherto undreamed responsibilities for nations and races.

    The Chinese problem alone is so vast that no nation can afford to ignore it. We in America, especially, must face it across the Pacific, and master it or it will master us. And the only way to master it is to strive with patient sympathy to understand the best, the most hopeful and the most...

    (pp. 61-74)
  9. The Chinese Written Language as a Medium for Poetry
    (pp. 75-104)

    This Twentieth Century not only turns a new page in the Book of the World, but opens another and a startling Chapter. Vistas of strange futures unfold for man, of world-embracing cultures half-weaned from Europe, of hitherto undreamed responsibilities for nations and races.

    [Especially for Great Britain and for the United States it sounds a note of hope, and, at the same time, a note of warning. They alone, of modern peoples still bear aloft the torch of freedom, advance the banner of individual culture. They alone, perhaps, possess the tolerance and the sympathy required to understand the East, and...

  10. Synopsis of Lectures on Chinese and Japanese Poetry
    (pp. 105-125)

    As East and West permanently come together, their literature, as well as their arts, will demand a comparative study. It would be Chinese narrowness in us to assume that the only literature or the only laws of literature are ours, which Europe has built up from Homer to Kipling. Already we have to admit Sanskrit language and Buddhist thought to the ranks of literature. But Sanskrit and Pali are alphabetic in writing, and so akin to ours. Is it possible that any of the hieroglyphic languages could possibly attain in their written records to the rank of literature? The Egyptian...

  11. Chinese and Japanese Poetry. Draft of Lecture I. Vol. II.
    (pp. 126-143)

    This process of devitalizing language¹ we have already seen to be only partially accomplished in the case of Chinese. Practically all words are verbs, and all retain some transitive meaning, and we saw the little parasites of prepositions, adjectives, intransitives & passives, even negatives, only beginning to grow up. It is we who mistranslate Chinese words into our modern weak vocabularies.

    Falling back, then, upon the certainty that the transitive sentence is natural and primitive, we can easily see how, in grammar, more complex forms of sentences grow out of it. The germ of this is the fact that one act...

  12. Chinese and Japanese Traits
    (pp. 144-152)

    I have repeatedly heard it said, and seen it written, that the Chinese race and civilization, compared with the Japanese, are of a decidedly inferior type. Unprogressive China is supposed to be ugly, prosaic, and degraded; mechanical in temperament, sordid and practical in aim. The art of Japan, especially, is thought to shine by contrast with that of her western neighbor. It is expressly asserted that the Chinese have never been a nation of artists, poets, and idealists.

    This prejudice I believe to be unfounded. Although a lover of things Japanese, I can best show the grounds of my esteem,...

  13. The Coming Fusion of East and West
    (pp. 153-165)

    The character and meaning of the far, alien world we call the East have merely pricked the curiosity of stray scholars, or spurred the ambition of a few adventurous merchants. Most of us read of British diplomacy at Peking with a vague curiosity, as an echo from another planet rather than as the crisis of modern history. Of those who have lived in the very theatre of the East, few were able to discern the plot of the unfolding drama, or attempt to warn their countrymen with pen and speech. The prophet is yet heard sneeringly who claims in Chinese...

  14. Chinese Ideals
    (pp. 166-173)

    Considering its enormous size, its great age, and its importance to the world, it seems strange that Western knowledge of China should have been, from earlier days, a matter of extremely slow growth.

    To the ancient Greeks and Romans, China was hardly more than a remote producer of the silken fabrics which they loved, but of the nature of which they were quite ignorant. To the Nestorian Christians and the Arabs who were privileged to reside in that far land at the height of its genius in the eighth century, it seems to have presented merely a promising object for...

  15. [Retrospect on the Fenollosa Papers]
    (pp. 174-176)

    After meeting Mrs Fenollosa¹ at Sarojini Naidu’s² in in or about 19 she read some of my verse and decided that I was “the only person who could deal with her late husband’s note books as he would wished.” I was then totally ignorant of ideogram but published three attempts to follow her wishes, the contents of “Cathay” being what most interested me.

    From his lecture on the Chinese Character I took what seemed to me most needed, omitting the passages re/ sound. Prof. Carus delayed publication with the true spirit of American professoriality.³ He did not ultimately lose the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 177-208)
  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-216)