In 1919 Ezra Pound edited and published Ernest Fenollosa's essay "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry", which he called "a study of the fundamentals of all aesthetics". In this text, Fenollosa maintains that Chinese poems consist primarily of images that take on associative meanings attached to the ideogram's pictorial qualities. Yet, linguists and sinologists have conceived of the text as "a mass of confusion" based on a total misunderstanding of the Chinese language. Both Fenollosa's supposition and Pound's comprehension of it rest on the erroneous understanding that Chinese characters are mainly pictograms and ideograms, which actually is true only for a very small percentage of Chinese characters, since most of them are phono-semantic compounds. However, this paper does not want to discuss to what extent Pound's conception of Chinese written language was wrong or founded upon a "European hallucination" of Chinese characters. Instead it wants to explore the aesthetic potential of Pound's "ideogrammic method" according to which poetry manages to present abstract content through the superimposition of concrete images. In a detailed examination of Cantos 74, 77, and 79 I will argue that Pounds Pisan Cantos can be read as "ideogrammic riddles".
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Language and Linguistics
- Linguistics and Language
- Literature and Literary Theory