The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry

The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry

The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry

The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry

Synopsis

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 America
and 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.

Excerpt

Ernest Fenollosa’s “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” edited and published by Ezra Pound, is one of the cardinal references in American poetics. Every generation since 1919 has revisited it. But the version of the essay that has circulated for the last ninety years reflects Pound’s understanding of the text. Fenollosa’s manuscripts, preserved with Pound’s editorial markings in the Beinecke Library of Yale University, allow us to see this significant essay in a different light, as an early document of sustained cultural interchange between North America and East Asia. Certain difficulties fall away thereby—and others emerge. the restoration of the quasi-dialogue between Fenollosa and his posthumous editor Pound, the inclusion of earlier drafts of the essay showing the development of Fenollosa’s ideas about culture, poetry, and translation, and the contextual clues provided by copious multilingual annotation are the main features of this edition. We hope, by making it unfamiliar once more, to renew discussion of this text.

The research that went into this book has been supported by a Griswold Faculty Fellowship and a grant from the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. Preliminary investigations were carried out under a President’s Career Grant in the Humanities, University of California. With their comments, facial expressions, and questions, audiences, including the Whitney Humanities Center Fellows, the Yale Working Group in Comparative Poetics, a Princeton Society of Fellows in the Humanities workshop, and a workshop on translation at the . . .

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