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Transpacific Displacement

Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Yunte Huang
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Transpacific Displacement
    Book Description:

    Yunte Huang takes a most original "ethnographic" approach to more and less well-known American texts as he traces what he calls the transpacific displacement of cultural meanings through twentieth-century America's imaging of Asia. Informed by the politics of linguistic appropriation and disappropriation,Transpacific Displacementopens with a radically new reading of Imagism through the work of Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell. Huang relates Imagism to earlier linguistic ethnographies of Asia and to racist representations of Asians in American pop culture, such as the book and movie character Charlie Chan, then shows that Asian American writers subject both literary Orientalism and racial stereotyping to double ventriloquism and countermockery. Going on to offer a provocative critique of some textually and culturally homogenizing tendencies exemplified in Maxine Hong Kingston's work and its reception, Huang ends with a study of American translations of contemporary Chinese poetry, which he views as new ethnographies that maintain linguistic and cultural boundaries.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92814-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    When I was growing up in a small town in southern China, I had a nextdoor neighbor who was old and blind. As the story goes, he was born in that same house next to mine. At the age of two, he lost his vision as a result of an illness. At seven, he was sent toMeiguo(America; literally, the “beautiful country”) to live with his relatives there. He learned the English language and later pursued a career as an interpreter. After retiring, he moved back to our town and planned to live there for the remainder of his...

  6. ONE Ethnographers-Out-There: Percival Lowell, Ernest Fernollosa, and Florence Ayscough
    (pp. 26-59)

    Franz Boas’s 1903 vision for a deepened and expanded American understanding of Asia was anticipated, corroborated, and inherited by the many ethnographers, travelers, scholars, diplomats, and missionaries who went across the Pacific Ocean around the turn of the century. Some ethnographers even worked to a great extent in the fashion of Boasian cultural and linguistic anthropology, whose essential doctrine lies in identifying cultural traits in linguistic patterns. The ethnographers I study in this chapter, namely Percival Lowell, Ernest Fenollosa, and Florence Ayscough, are three who followed Boas’s lead. In a quintessential Boasian manner, they chose language as a path to...

  7. TWO Ezra Pound: An Ideographer or Ethnographer?
    (pp. 60-92)

    When Ezra Pound wrote down the first of the three Imagistic principles, as seen in the epigraph, he was of course playing cards at the table of poetry rather than ethnography. What he meant by the “thing” was poetic matter that lives mostly in one’s imagination—an image. It really would be far-fetched to claim that a poem like “In a Station of the Metro” is a semantically ethnographic description of Oriental culture or race:

    The apparition of these faces in the crowd :

    Petals on a wet, black bough .¹

    In reality, “these faces in the crowd” were those...

  8. THREE The Intertextual Travel of Amy Lowell
    (pp. 93-112)

    What follows is not a coda or supplement to Imagism, although Amy Lowell’s work is often denigrated as such—“Amygism” is the usual epithet used to parody the poetry activities that went on after Lowell took over from Pound the leadership in promoting Imagism. My focus is on a new mode of conceptualizing Asia as manifested in Lowell’s work. In the preceding chapter, I described the ways in which Pound founded his pancultural program on intertextual ground; in this one, I explore a unique feature of Lowell’s ethnographic writing: her intertextual travel. As a traveler in the world of texts,...

  9. FOUR The Multifarious Faces of the Chinese Language
    (pp. 113-137)

    Imagism has created an “image” of Oriental cultures projected in language. Whether in Pound’s giant pancultural program or in Lowell’s intertextual travel narrative, an Orientalist “image,” in the form of both poetic effect and cultural description, stands out conspicuously, like “petals on a wet, black bough.” This double meaning of “image” thus bespeaks the twin projects that the Imagist Pound and Lowell were pursuing: on the one hand they were creating a modernist poetry, and on the other hand they were writing ethnographies of the Far East and looking at culture from a particular standpoint. And these two projects, as...

  10. FIVE Maxine Hong Kingston and the Making of an “American” Myth
    (pp. 138-163)

    Compared to Lin Yutang and John Yau, who are ambivalent about their ironic intercultural positions, another Asian American writer, Maxine Hong Kingston, is evidently more committed to a notion of Americanness. Regarding her first book,The Woman Warrior(1975), Kingston insisted, “I’m not even saying that those are Chinese myths anymore. I’m saying I’ve written American myths. Fa Mulan and the writing on her back is an American myth.”¹ Kingston declared of her second book,China Men(1980), that her goal was to “reclaim America.” And in her third book,Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book(1989), the hero Wittman Ah...

  11. SIX Translation as Ethnography: Problems in American Translations of Contemporary Chinese Poetry
    (pp. 164-182)

    And Wittgenstein was right. As Marjorie Perloff shows us in her beautiful study,Wittgenstein’s Ladder(1996), this exiled philosopher, writing and teaching in a country and language not his own, was keenly aware that “words like ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ have no intrinsic meaning, and that, on the contrary, what matters is the ‘occasion’ on which these words are said, the uses to which they are put.”¹ Therefore, not only is some understanding of ways of living a prerequisite for appreciating aesthetic words, but also aesthetic words are deeply entangled with descriptions of cultural reality—a point I have been arguing...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-188)

    What I have described as transpacific displacement is a historical process of dislocation and relocation of cultural meanings via ethnography, translation, and intertextual travel. Interestingly, this complicated cross-over, of which Imagism’s appropriation and reinvention of “Chinese” poetics constitute an important part, now seems to have taken an unexpected turn: readers of contemporary Chinese poetry have been told that the work in front of them is influenced, inspired by Imagism. As the story goes, Chinese poets, such as Bei Dao and Gu Cheng, living in the poetic wasteland of the Cultural Revolution, turned to Western literature for inspiration. The books circulated...

    (pp. 189-202)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 203-209)