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The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition
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The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  101 ratings  ·  16 reviews
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 t ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 1st 2010 by Fordham University Press (first published 1919)
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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
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
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.
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 t ...more
Great book. Turns out later that scholars disagree with Fenollosa, but hey, fuck'em. Great imagining of language.
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.

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
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, pulsin ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 25, 2015 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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."
James Daher
Great except that it's not that true.
Dave Maddock
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.
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.)
I read this on Ezra Pound's recommendation, and I'm glad I did. The arguments re: verbs and logic were amazing.
Wes Zickau
"A late stage of decay is arrested and embalmed in the dictionary."
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