Liu Xie’s Wenxin diaolong, Ernest Fenollosa’s The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry and 20th Century Avant-garde
Ezra Pound’s edition of Ernest Fenollosa’s manuscripts for The Chinese Written Characters as a Medium for Poetry was a landmark in modernist European poetry and the imagist movement at the beginning of the 20th century. Pound’s work has stood for Fenollosa’s vision since then and has been the subject of controversy among Sinologists for its emphasis on the graphic elements of Chinese written characters. A recent edition of the complete Fenollosa manuscripts by Haun Saussy, Jonathan Stalling and Lucas Klein has made it possible to see the differences between Fenollosa’s interests and Pound’s interpretations and to restore Fenollosa’s original intentions. Even though Sinologists have questioned the Fenollosa-Pound emphasis on the graphic elements of the Chinese writing as a component part of Chinese poetry, Ch. 39 of the classical Chinese text Wenxin diaolong by Liu Xie (ca. 466-520) refers specifically to this phenomenon as a mode in the composition of Chinese poetry. Case studies of work by John Cage and Jackson Mac Low show that Fenollosa’s impact on 20th century avant garde literature went far beyond the works of Ezra Pound.