Orientalism And Modernism - The Tale Of The Tribe

When I lived in New Orleans 2003-04 I was browsing a bookshop and stumbled upon the book "Orientalism and modernism" by Zhaoming Qian. The book travelled with me to New York, Chicago and back to the Bay Area and onto the UK, finally sitting on my shelf today, in Amsterdam. Everytime I go back to it I'm rewarded with enriched mental images. 

For any studying the tale of the tribe as outlined by Robert Anton Wilson, "Orientalism and Modernism" is my recommended introduction, getting at central themes such as being/non-being and contextualizing them in multicultural discourse orbiting poetry, the language of the tribe. 

This book, for me, reflects some of the reasons why Wilson included the relatively obscure scholar of far-eastern art and poetry: Ernest Fenollosa, in his dozen or so...historical modernist influencers (Bruno, Vico, Nietzsche, Yeats, Joyce, Pound, Korzybski, Fuller, Shannon, McLuhan, Welles)

I'd argue that some techniques employed by early Chinese poets predate the modernist tendencies and explorations of beingness, demonstrable/evidenced in the analysis of ellipsis, juxtaposition...plus symmetry with natural forms. Beautiful stuff. Toward a language of Daoism and quantum mechanics?       

 Good day.

--Steve Fly    


Author: Zhaoming Qian 


Asian StudiesLiterature 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Consulting rare and unpublished materials, Qian traces Pound’s and Williams’s remarkable dialogues with the great Chinese poets—Qu Yuan, Li Bo, Wang Wei, and Bo Juyi—between 1913 and 1923.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, CathayLustra, 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.

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