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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Jeff Twitchell-Waas <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 17 Jul 1998 08:03:32 +0800
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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
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I'll take a stab at Safdie's query since I too feel talking about EP's
"Taoism" is somewhat problematic (also a partial response to Robert Kibler
who back-channeled me and who I suspect knows a whole lot more than I do
about all this).
As I understand it, EP's dismissal of Taoists, with Buddhist thrown in as
well, from the Chinese Cantos on needs to be seen within the political
paradigm he's trying to construct in his broad reading of Chinese history,
overtly leaning on Confucian sources. In this pardigm the Confucians
represent this-worldly, rational, pragmatic governance, while the Taoist as
the antithetical political party or faction represent self-serving intrigue
disguising itself as other-worldly do-nothingness (things always stay the
same). The latter is the institutional aspect of Taoism which is heavily
involved in scorcery, magic, pursuit of the elixer of immortality, etc. (
till alive in present day Chinese cultures). This is distinct from the
philosophical-asethetic traditions of Taoism so present in classical
Chinese poetry and painting that I think most Westerners assume goes under
the designation "Taoism."
Given the strongly syncratic tendency of Chinese cultural traditions,
whether intellectual or popular, EP hardly needed to have contact with
properly Taoist sources to pick up on some of its basic elements.
Confucians used the same character/term "dao" in their writings as well.
Many of those passages in the later Cantos about being part of the process,
etc. that have been taken to suggest Taoism, have identifiably Confucian
Zhaoming Qian's recent study limits itself the the pre-Cantos Pound. His
argument for EP's Taoism involves pointing out his early interest in a few
remarks by Zhuangzi (esp. the famous butterfly dream bit), the predominance
of Li Po who was a Taoist in Cathay, and also that immediately after Cathay
EP became seriously interested in the famous Taoist poet and painter Wang
Wei--although most of his translation work with Wang Wei remained in drafts
and so his presence remained muted. Qian argues that EP had an uncanny
ability to recognize a spiritual depth in the Chinese poems he worked on
from the Fenollosa notebooks, and given the poets he was mainly working
with Qian wants to call this "Taoism." However, Qian admits that this
spiritual element is just as likely coming from DeGourmont and French
symbolism/aestheticism--and any vetern EP reader could add a good many
other sources that could be generally designated his
spiritual/religious/mythopoetic matrix. To be just, I think Qian is only
arguing that Taoism is one of the significant elements in this big mix. But
it does raise the question of what is specifically Taoist about this in EP.
What, for that matter, do most generally intellectual Westerners think they
are talking about when they discuss "Taoism"? Despite the title of Qian's
study, Orientalism and Modernism, he is uninterested in Orientalism as a
Western discourse about China or an idea of China, and consequently elides
the question of whether the designation "Taoism" ends up being much more
than that desired added touch of mysteriousness, exoticism and supposed
philosophical profoundity. I don't mean this dismissively but as a
question. What is gained by insisting on this Taoist strand in EP as
opposed to other Western sources/tradtions?
And let me hasten to add, that the above remarks should not detract from
the very solid and valuable scholarship that Qian's study represents.
Why is it that EP never seems to have had any interest in Du Fu, Li Po
great Confucian counterpart, who in China has traditionally been considered
the even greater poet (I'd presume this critical tradition to be
predominately Confucian)? Du Fu represents the ideal synthesis of virtuoso
technical mastery with a powerful sense of social responsibility, and many
of his most famous poems sympathetically depict that sufferings of the
common folk as a result of incompetent government. But then, despite
numerous attempts, Du Fu has been considered semi-impossible to effectively
Jeff Twitchell-Waas
> From: Safdie Joseph <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: Wai-Lim Yip
> Date: Thursday, July 16, 1998 4:18 AM
> May a non-(Pound)-scholar ask an innocent question? I'm slightly amazed
> that any attention has been given to the question of Pound's Taoism,
> when he so clearly, in the late Cantos especially, denigrates Lao Tzu at
> every opportunity in favor of the great Kung -- I mean, it's ATTRACTIVE
> that folks have found a Taoist element (and, of course, there IS Canto
> 120) -- but seen over the course of his whole career, I think this must
> be fairly insignificant, no?
> Joe Safdie
>         ----------
>         From:  kibler, robert [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
>         Sent:  Wednesday, July 15, 1998 12:46 PM
>         To:  [log in to unmask]
>         Subject:  Re: Wai-Lim Yip
>         Responding to the message of         Tue, 14 Jul 1998 10:17:55
> +0800
>         from Jeff Twitchell-Waas <[log in to unmask]>:
>         >
>         Cheadle's book is solid scholarship, and surely needs to be on a
> Pound and
>         Oriental booklist (I will be finishing a review of Cheadle for
> Paideuma in
>         the nexct few weeks). Zhaoming Qian's work is also important,
> and though he
>         sees the same Taoism at work in Pound that earlier scholars had
> already
>         perceived, he is the first one to see it developing early in
> Pound's work,
>         and in a way other than as simply a nature motif.  Qian's
> presents this
>         Taoist impulse as he finds it in some of Pound's shorter poems,
> such as
>         Meditatio (I just cannot remember any of the others right now),
> which do
>         not so much deliver a Taoist sensibility as they do a sort of
> naieve
>         Western attempt to be 'deep' in an Asian way, ie, comparing the
> curious
>         habits of men and dogs.  This really hurts his argument, however
> right he
>         is, and however much of an advance his understanding of Pound's
> Taoism is
>         over those who had seen it before him.
>         > It's been quite a few years since I read Yip on Cathay, but
> certainly it
>         > is
>         > not dismissive of Pound's translations. Yip was somewhat
> handicapped by
>         > not
>         > having access to the Fenollosa notebooks which evidently were
> tied up in
>         > legal wrangling for decades. Zhaoming Qian's fairly recent
> Orientalism
>         > and
>         > Modernism vigorously defends the quality and uncanny accuracy
> of Pound's
>         > translations as translations (not merely "versions"), arguing
> that Pound
>         > was able to intuit a deeper level of the poems missed by many
> scholars
>         > and
>         > more authoritative translators (e.g. Waley). For Qian this
> deeper level
>         > essentially means the underlying Taoism of the poems.
>         >
>         > Although my impression too is that most older Chinese scholars
> have
>         > tended
>         > to take a somewhat condescending view of Pound's translations,
> I believe
>         > this has altered considerably in recent years. When I was in
> mainland
>         > China
>         > there was tremendous interest and enthusiasm for Pound among
> both
>         > scholars
>         > and poets. Inevitably, this is no doubt also bound up with the
> radical
>         > social/cultural changes that have been taking place there over
> the past
>         > two
>         > decades. Those of us able to attend the Pound conference in
> Beijing next
>         > summer ought to be able to get a better idea about all this.
>         >
>         > The first complete translation into Chinese of the Pisan
> Cantos was just
>         > published earlier this year, edited by my good friend and
> former
>         > colleague
>         > at Nanjing Univeristy Zhang Ziqing and translated by Huang
> Yuete now
>         > studying at Buffalo. The original plan was to bring out a
> complete
>         > translation, but I'm not clear whether that's still on track.
> When this
>         > project was initially proposed, I didn't have the impression
> the
>         > publisher
>         > fuller realized the size of what they wanted to take on.
>         >
>         > To Alexander Schmitz's list ought to added at least two other
> recent
>         > books.
>         > Mary Paterson Cheadle's Ezra Pound's Confucian Translations
> (1997) which
>         > I
>         > haven't read yet. And highly recommended, Robert Kern's
> Orientalism,
>         > Modernism and the American Poem (1996) which takes a larger
> view of teh
>         > discourse of Orientalism in relation to American poetry, but
> Fenollosa
>         > and
>         > Pound are at the center of his study. Although Kern, unlike
> Qian, is very
>         > much interested in pursuing Said's critique of Orientalism as
> a Western
>         > discourse, he too finds it difficult to seriously fault
> Pound's
>         > translations.
>         >
>         > Jeff Twitchell-Waas
>         >
>         >
>         >
>         > ----------
>         > From: Lucas Klein <[log in to unmask]>
>         > To: [log in to unmask]
>         > Subject: Wai-Lim Yip
>         > Date: Monday, July 13, 1998 6:38 AM
>         >
>         > Pounders:
>         >
>         >
>         > Has anyone read Wai-lim Yip's book <italic>Ezra Pound's
> Cathay</italic>?
>         > Most Chinese scholars I'm aware of seem pretty dismissive of
> Pound as a
>         > translator from Chinese, calling him an inventor of Chinese
> poetry in
>         > English--I think maybe Eliot said this and Kenner picked up on
> it--and
>         > not an effective translator, but I can't imagine Yip writing
> an entire
>         > book aimed at dismissing the subject.  And in other writings
> I've read
>         > Yip has at least been very aware of the poetic advances in
> English
>         > attributable to Pound, and I wonder if <italic>Ezra Pound's
>         > Cathay</italic> is something known, respected, recommended,
> etc.
>         >
>         >
>         > Thank you.
>         >
>         >
>         > Lucas
>         >
>         >
>         >
>         > <underline>.
> .
>         >
>         > </underline>Lucas Klein
>         >
>         > [log in to unmask]
>         >
>         >
>         > <color><param>8080,8080,0000</param>A young Muse with young
> loves
>         > clustered about her
>         >
>         >                 ascends with me into the Jther, . . .
>         >
>         > And there is no high-road to the Muses.
>         >
>         > </color>
>         >
>         >                 <color><param>0000,8080,0000</param>    Ezra
> Pound,
>         > <italic>Homage to
>         > Sextus Propertius</italic></color>
>         > ----------
>         >