Pound’s China as a Transnationalist Chronotope

European Modernism has been understood from the beginning as a broadly transnational event: writers, artists, composers, and choreographers gathered together in such capitals as London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and New York, collaborating and dissenting across national, linguistic and artistic lines to produce a truly transcontinental movement (especially when considering American and Argentinian writers in Paris, for example). When understood from this conventional viewpoint, one of the more exotic threads of Modernist transnational poetics is found in Ezra Pound’s use of Chinese art, literature, and written language. His fascination with Chinese writing received significant scholarly attention from the mid-twentieth century, some of which was produced by Chinese native speakers and scholars trained in sinolinguistics. Pound’s early enthusiasms concerning Chinese were considered to be well-intentioned but naïve: he often worked from materials translated via Japanese into French or English, such as Ernest Fenollosa’s notebooks which formed the basis for Pound’s famous 1915 volume of ‘Chinese’ poems, Cathay, and the collaborative essay, ‘The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry’ of 1919. Following the Second World War, Pound made a serious attempt to learn spoken Mandarin and to understand the composition of written Chinese, which is partially reflected in later instalments of his epic poem The Cantos. More recent scholarship has sought to disentangle Pound’s obvious sinolinguistic shortcomings from the ways in which he installs a translated Chinese aesthetic into his poetic practice: in other words, to see how a certain model of ‘China’ might be seen as a Modernist invention, but one which makes available the double (or triple) vision of translation for critical examination. In this sense, then, Pound’s Chinese word-signs might offer new ways of thinking about East-West transnationalism beyond the European Modernist zone of cultural production, especially with regard to Pound’s surprisingly positive reception amongst contemporary avant-garde poets in China.

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About msbyron27

Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British and American Literature, Department of English, University of Sydney
This entry was posted in Abstracts – Presentations (2014). Bookmark the permalink.

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