Orientalism and Modernism

The Legacy of China in Pound and Williams

Orientalism and Modernism

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: September 1995

Author: Zhaoming Qian

Subjects
Asian Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Chinese culture held a well-known fascination for modernist poets like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. What is less known but is made fully clear by Zhaoming Qian is the degree to which oriental culture made these poets the modernists they became. This ambitious and illuminating study shows that Orientalism, no less than French symbolism and Italian culture, is a constitutive element of Modernism.
Consulting rare and unpublished materials, Qian traces Pound’s and Williams’s remarkable dialogues with the great Chinese poets—Qu Yuan, Li Bo, Wang Wei, and Bo Juyi—between 1913 and 1923. His investigation reveals that these exchanges contributed more than topical and thematic ideas to the Americans’ work and suggests that their progressively modernist style is directly linked to a steadily growing contact and affinity for similar Chinese styles. He demonstrates, for example, how such influences as the ethics of pictorial representation, the style of ellipsis, allusion, and juxtaposition, and the Taoist/Zen–Buddhist notion of nonbeing/being made their way into Pound’s pre-Fenollosan Chinese adaptations, Cathay, Lustra, and the Early Cantos, as well as Williams’s Sour Grapes and Spring and All. Developing a new interpretation of important work by Pound and Williams, Orientalism and Modernism fills a significant gap in accounts of American Modernism, which can be seen here for the first time in its truly multicultural character.

Praise

“[W]ritten with sober elegance, . . . clarity, concision, [and] precision.” — Massimo Bacigalupo, Modern Language Review

"Orientalism and Modernism clearly sets the record straight by addressing the issue of how Chinese poetry and culture helped precipitate the transition of Pound and Williams toward high modernism. It is a historically focused, meticulously researched, and passionately argued book." — Zhang Longxi, University of California, Riverside

"Newcomers won’t find a more readable introduction, and old hands will find much they’d not heard of before. Both Pound and Williams, circa 1920, were immersed in Chinese modes of thought more deeply than anyone has hitherto suspected. An indispensable book." — Hugh Kenner, University of Georgia

"Zhaoming Qian offers a strong analysis of the influence of Chinese culture on the early work of Pound and Williams. I particularly admire the ability of the author to integrate discussions of art as well as literature. It is clear that the aesthetic of China which appealed to the Modernists was visual as much as verbal, and this dual emphasis is well-captured." — Reed Way Dasenbrock, New Mexico State University

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