Fenollosa's Legacy: The Japanese Network of Ezra Pound

Article excerpt

Ezra Pound's initial understanding of Japan clearly involves Ernest Fenollosa's papers, and Pound's encounter with Fenollosa's work is well known. (1) He met Fenollosa's widow, Mary, in London in 1912; she asked him to become Fenollosa's literary executor; and between 1913 and 1915, Pound received Fenollosa's notebooks, his translations of Japanese Noh dramas, his translations of Chinese poetry, and his essay "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry." Pound then published "Noh" or Accomplishment (1916), containing Fenollosa's essays on Noh and a collection of Noh plays that Pound co-translated from Fenollosa's papers. (2) An examination of Fenollosa's works reveals that Fenollosa saw Japan as an artistic culture whose disappearing traditions needed to be preserved and as a viable resource for the West to use even though that use contributed to the disappearance of certain traditions. These contradictory views will be explained later in this article, and more importantly, they will be connected to Fenollosa's legacy and its impact on Pound. Pound corresponded with a series of modern Japanese artists and writers including Yone Noguchi, Michio Ito, Tami Kume, Sadakichi Hartmann, and Katue Kitasono. (3) In some cases, these correspondents had their own connections to Fenollosa and supported Fenollosa's version of Japan. In other instances, Pound first had to convince his correspondents of the importance of forms such as Noh drama so that he could then rely on them as authorities on these same forms of art. Such a role was not unusual for Pound, who dedicated so much time and energy to defining and circulating his version of Anglo-American literary modernism. Pound regularly found patrons and publication outlets for other writers, and, as Lawrence Rainey notes, became "the cultural impresario and entrepreneur who ... occupied a critical position at the heart of modernism." (4) Pound's engagement with Japan's modern artists and writers becomes an extension of the networking he conducted in America and Western Europe. Furthermore, drawing on alternate literary and cultural traditions was central to Pound's modernist project. This study argues, however, that Pound did not simply draw on alternate literary and cultural traditions as resources for Western literature. In the case of Japan, he actively created his own version of the tradition that he then relied on as a resource, an approach to Japanese culture that stems from Fenollosa's works.


Ernest Fenollosa hailed from the wealthy shipping port of Salem, Massachusetts, a city that built its fortunes through trade in the Far and Middle East. His father, Manuel, was a musician who emigrated from Spain, and his mother, Mary Silsbee, brought social status to the family as the daughter of a prestigious shipping family. When Fenollosa graduated from Harvard first in his class in 1874, he opted to stay on at Harvard for two years of graduate work in philosophy. He also entered the Unitarian Divinity School for a few months but left in 1877 to work at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and to study painting with Emil Otto Grundmann at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. (5)

In the winter of 1877-1878, Fenollosa's Salem neighbor and friend, Edward S. Morse, recommended him for the position of first chair in philosophy at Tokyo University, the institution designed by the Japanese government to modernize Japanese knowledge. (6) Morse's own enthusiasm for Japan came at a time when much of America was also developing an interest in things Japanese. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, America's interest in Japan increased in both the popular and academic spheres. It impacted everything from the arts to the ways in which women decorated their homes. William Hosley examines Victorian America's relationship with Japan and the manifestation of that relationship in material culture, noting that it "crested during the 1880s when American industry, art, and popular culture lined up behind a movement the Victorians dubbed 'the Japan craze. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.