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The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  113 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
This much-disputed essay edited by Ezra Pound from the manuscript of Ernest Fenollosa (& published in Instigations, London, 1920) has since gone thru several editions, despite the ridicule of such sinologists as Prof. George Kennedy of Yale, who called it “a small mass of confusion".
The old theory as to the nature of the Chinese written character (which Pound & Fe
Paperback, 64 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by City Lights Books (San Francisco) (first published 1919)
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Aug 18, 2008 Gabriel rated it really liked it
I believe that we can all agree that Fenollosa's argument has less to do with Chinese etymology and much more to do with a theory of poetry. And that theory, though illustrated rather poorly in this case, is a brilliant one.

If one accepts that language is built out of metaphor, and that our present use of language represents centuries of metaphorical use and construction, Fenollosa's leap of faith-- that the Chinese character represents a sort of instant etymological study-- is rather easy to ex
Aug 14, 2012 Petergiaquinta rated it liked it
I suddenly remembered this little treatise on Chinese ideograms and imagist poetry tonight as I was reading a passage from The Savage Detectives where Joaquin Vazquez Amaral recalls discussing Ezra Pound with Belano and Lima: "What did we talk about? About the maestro, of course, and his time at Saint Elizabeth's, about that strange man Fenollosa, about the poetry of the Han dynasty [and on and on with the Chinese names and dynasties] other words, about Pound things that none of us knew any ...more
Mar 30, 2009 Barry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If this essay was Pound's second-most-important editing job after The Waste Land, then this edition should be nearly as important as the Valerie Eliot edition of the original version of the latter with Pound's notations was in the '70s. In any case, Haun Saussy's intro is very helpful, and one gets a much broader picture of Fenellosa.
Jul 27, 2007 Mitch rated it it was amazing
Great book. Turns out later that scholars disagree with Fenollosa, but hey, fuck'em. Great imagining of language.
review of
Ernest Fenollosa's The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry
as edited by Ezra Pound
- by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 3, 2016

I have an ongoing fascination w/ language in multitudinous forms. I've made a braille piece (1980), 2 in American Sign Language (1986) ( ), etc.. The current manifestation of this interest is my 'opera': "Endangered Languages, Endangered Culture, Endangered Ideas". This led to my reading The Chinese Written Character a
Oct 31, 2016 Theresia rated it it was ok
Shelves: criticism
Garbage when it comes to Chinese (and every linguist I know will tear their hair out of frustration, because for fuck's sake, writing system =/= language.); a great service when it comes to the revitalization of English (which in itself says a lot about it's decaying aesthetic back in Fenollosa's era).
Travis Mueller
Sep 16, 2016 Travis Mueller rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The blurb on the back of this book gives a critique of it as "a small mass of confusion" and I think that sums it up pretty well. Fenollosa obviously had little knowledge of Chinese, and Pound had even less so, and from my understanding of his work, would not have been shy of editing the work to fit his own ideas. I read this book because in college I took a class on "modern" (early 20th century) poetry, and so when I saw this come through as a hold, I remembered encountering it in that course ...more
Sep 16, 2015 Dan rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-theory
This book argues that poets might exploit the analogies between the Chinese language, which is ideogrammatic, and poetry, which employs images. While this is a useful notion for poets in whose work images are dominant, in fact poetry is about music and wordplay as well. Thus, while the book’s argument resonates with the work of poets like Ezra Pound or H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), it is more limited with respect to the work of poets like Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Christian Bok or Henry Rollins.

Nov 17, 2010 H added it
Shelves: theory-criticism
brilliant. foundational text for all modern poetry. elucidates so much of pound, williams, and their successors. and in all of 36 pages!

key points:
- nouns are the most dead approximations, abstracted from the thingness of a thing, which is defined by what it does
- harmony of pairings, not to create a third object but to suggest fundamental relationships
- visual characters are etymologies preserved
- avoid "is" as much as possible; this made Shakespeare great
- greatest poetry of all languages came
Aug 28, 2008 Stark rated it really liked it
Woa, this shit rocked my face off. I have my misgivings about how accurate the "translations" of Chinese ideograms are, but the real point here is connecting something which we consider to be so abstract and highfalutin and human, i.e. "language," back to its roots in observable nature. Dude breaks down sentences like they were ruled by physics instead of grammar. He takes you to the moment of cavemen creating language, and paints it as a process of imaginative metaphor in which electric, ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 25, 2015 Erik Graff rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Puund fans
Recommended to Erik by: Robert Gehorsam
Shelves: literature
This essay was passed around like a dirty book amongst a few of us at Grinnell College, like something the grownups didn't want us to know but we were determined to understand. In the world of literary criticism and interpretation it was regarded in much the same way as Robert Graves' The White Goddess.

I read it on the recommendation of Robert Gehorsam, an aesthete for whom I had some considerable respect. He also recommended Graves' book, but Pound was much, much shorter. I understand now that
Aug 29, 2014 Kelly rated it it was amazing
We used this for the first time to teach UCOR 101. As an experiment, I think the text does lend itself to the topic of writing and critical thinking about reading and writing. However, I would put in much more critical thinking of my own before using this text for freshman, as it is heavily theoretical. My co-teacher did an excellent job with the discussion of semiotics and the concrete use of language emphasized in this book. Overall, I really liked reading it, but personally found it hard to ...more
Dave Maddock
Jan 15, 2013 Dave Maddock rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, language
I suspect Fenollosa's argument breaks down if one looks too closely at his chosen examples (in Chinese), but the heart of this brilliant essay is what he has to say about poetic diction and metaphor as the foundation of language.

I find it interesting that seemingly unrelated things I've read have made similar points--for example, much of what the Inklings (Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield) or Esperanto writers (eg. Piron's essay Esperanto from the Viewpoint of a Writer) have to say on poetics.
Mar 09, 2008 Colleen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Ezra Pound's edited version helps focus on the experience of poetry and the act of writing - from a different perspective as the relationship with thought and language is different with ideograms vs English and related languages. A rainbow of "metaphoric overtones" is explained . . . and other connections can be found. (Pounds periodic editor comments that flog our western egoism are fun too - and probably well deserved.)
Jessica Funes
In this essay by Fenollosa you can find a brief explanation about the main characteristics of the chinese character, and chinese poetry and how this function as an image-word, that shows multiplicity of meanings, and avoid the vicious of the latin languages that have complicated the languages with connectors, tenses, and more extra words that we use to comunicate properly. Very useful for my thesis.
Dec 23, 2014 Eric rated it it was amazing
E.P.: "The state of Chinese studies in the Occident is revoltingly squalid, and one has to read Frobenius in his own lamguage? Because English and American professors are moles."
Sep 30, 2011 Don rated it it was amazing
I read this on Ezra Pound's recommendation, and I'm glad I did. The arguments re: verbs and logic were amazing.
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Jan 26, 2008
Tom Healy
Tom Healy rated it it was amazing
Aug 07, 2014
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Mar 24, 2009
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Feb 12, 2013
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May 13, 2008
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Nov 09, 2015
Gabe rated it it was ok
Aug 30, 2010
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  • The Selected Poems
  • The Art of the Novel
  • Notes on Thought and Vision
  • Axel's Castle: A Study of the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930
  • The Poetics of Prose
  • The Art of Poetry
  • Collected Poems of George Oppen

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