“Ezra Pound was no starnger to Oriental art when he met Mary McNeil Fenollosa, the widow of the American Orientalist Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), in London in late September 1913.”–Zhaoming Qian, Orientalism and Modernism (1994) pg. 9.
Fenollosa 2014 and TTOTT
by Steve Fly
“Fenollosa [1853-1908], wrote an essay on
“The Chinese WrittenCharacter as a Medium for Poetry” which vastly influenced
Ezra Pound and, through Pound, modern poetry generally;
said essay also anticipates some formulations of General Semantics
and NeuroLinguistic Programming [NLP], and foreshadows
modern critiques of “linear” and “alphabetical” thinking. –Robert Anton Wilson, Recorsi 2005.
Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) found a place in the chain of human innovation, and the lineage of modernism as defined by Dr Robert Anton Wilson in his unfinished project called ‘the tale of the tribe’. Please read some of my others posts trying to get at TTOTT and what it all means to me.
When compared with other characters from TTOTT Ernest Fenollosa seems a rather strange addition at first glance, hardly any of the Wilson readers i know hold Fenollosa to be as influential in defining TTOTT as say, Pound, Joyce or McLuhan. At the same time Fenollosa is rarely noted as an influence on RAW, in any writings i have found, which says something about the focus on RAWs subject matter, opposed to his hologramic prose style, or his specially hand-crafted Robert Anton Wilson language that weaves together signs, symbols, equations and primary experiences into the magical texts he left behind for us to meditate upon.
RAWs lifelong reading and re-reading the works of Ezra Pound seem to me to be where he might have first come across Fenollosa, and probably through his work: The Chinese Written Character As A Medium for Poetry, which has a famous introduction by Ez. I would like to note here that RAW once led an online class (2004) at the virtual Maybe Logic Academy, called The Ideogrammic Method and set the above text by Fenollosa as course work, together with sections from Pound’s ABC of Reading.
Here we are in 2014, how and why on earth would some obscure American scholar of Japanese Art and Poetry who has been dead 105 years be important to any of us today? To attempt a quick answer to that question would be foolish, and as only fools rush in I’ll get my feet wet and suppose that Fenollosa is important because he was instrumental in the development of modernism, more precisely his works got to Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats and by osmosis the whole world or global village, introducing for the first time around 1913/14 highly developed poetry, history and culture from the Orient, in particular Japan and China.
This first contact with the best parts of Oriental poetry, plays, and paintings fused a new level of coherence within the small group of western poets gathered in London. A new aesthetic emerged, and can be traced through poetry, sculpture, painting, clothing design, throughout the 20’s, into the 30’s and then splintered and somewhat shit upon during WWII.
After these great global horrors, fewer people in the west wished to pay much fair and unbiased attention to some ancient Japanese poets and Chinese Buddhist philosophers. However the tale goes on, and of course we emerge out of the arts world and the literary impact of the oriental traditions to the economic and political-military-industrial impact on the global stage.
“It eplores the influences such as ethics of pictorial representation, the syle of ellipses, allusion, and juxtaposition, and the Taoist/Chan-Buddhist (Zen-Buddhist) notion of nonbeing/being (formlessness/form) in Pound’s pre-Fenollosan Chinese adaptions (1914), Cathay (1915), Lustra (1916), and Early Cantos (1915-19), and in Williams’ Sour Grapes (1921) and Spring and All (1923).–Zhaoming Qian, Orientalism and Modernism (1994) pg. 9.
China, in 2014, still remains occluded to most westerners. I mean to say, we, or most people i know and communicate with are as like the public of 1909, without any inkling as to what the Chinese language and culture is about. Myself included. Yet, what fascinates me about Ernest Fenollosa, Ezra Pound and Robert Anton Wilson is the synchrony in the general message “Taoist/Chan-Buddhist (Zen-Buddhist) notion of nonbeing/being (formlessness/form)”
In 1913 we have a special intersection point, from the point of view of the development of peaceful communication between peoples and cultures (The Orient and the Western lands), in the passing over of Fenollosa’s manuscript to Ezra Pound, who then published it and promoted it to the hilt. Perhaps this point in history exactly 100 years ago should be celebrated and so investigated due to the gravity of the situation from the perspective of modern poetry and its proponents and their impact and precursive-innovations on such fields as Neuro Linguistic Programming, computer programming, pluralistic non-linear conceptual, and, non-conceptual models of history.
There seems to me traces of Buddhist/Taoist wisdom contained within the Chinese characters themselves, on some level, when you think of caligraphy and the ancient ceremonial approaches to writing and painting. To generally empty the mind of clutter and get with the flow, and go.
Here, i think that RAW may have been hinting at another way forward, or around the problems presented by alphabet cultures, and the general subject-predicate orientation that often skews the sensation of being/nonbeing, or tuning in/tuning out which has much more in common with ancient Chinese (Chan-Buddhist) wisdom, than our western Aristotelian history of alphabet.
Internet and HTML present an interesting case where alpha/numeric characters can be combined and reused to create fantastic parallel processing powers. Yet, most human western brains are still wired with an Aristotelian system, hundreds of years old, totally at odds with the nature of the things we pertain to know, speak of, write about etc.
Together with the principles of lets say, Count Alfred Korzybski, a total revolution in the human mind is possible, and therefore a total assault on the culture. A transformation in the perception of language, can transform the entire cosmos, to paraphrase B.J Whorf. Consider the Hubble telescope, for example, and how it has changed our perceptions of the cosmos, but with images of a higher resolution.
The Fenollosa/Korzybski version of the Hubble telescope would be turned in on the viewer, looking deep into inner space–your mind–where the formation of language clusters and tiny universes dance and morph and often burst out into communications. These outbursts are limited by whatever singular forms are invoked from the vast limitless region of mind, by the word-things that are what we all know and what we love, the familiar day to day language of waking life that we share.
Yet too often, outbursts without doubt or the suspension of judgement, eruptions full of the continuous lyric of ‘I’, or of ‘being’. The ego-beak or bigger rhino tusk, trampling through the human universe, blinkered to the infinite flux of being all around in 360 degrees, here, in the decentralized universe promoted by Girodano Bruno in 1584 where you sit.
Somewhere in the Korzybski matrix of general semantics can be found A WAY to better sanity. The way to better sanity involves attention to language, you are what you think. And by extension, in a McLuhaneque way, you are what you watch, what you listen to, what you type. In a hyper-connected world you are what you tune into, like the old Zen-Buddhist poets thought on occasion. Attention to mind, body, speech, or the cleansing of the doors of perception. Like RAW often hinted at: “repeat often, if you want to be a writer, do it every day, if you want to become miserable watch the news everyday, if you want to become a concert pianist, do it every day.”
The global Internet opens the doors for the good and the bad to enter you and become one with you, like some kind of intergalactic body-snatcher. Therefore, to go back and trace the history of those wise people in the west who warned us, but and also provided useful tools, methods, principles, tricks, hacks, helpful feedback on the issues at hand, solutions, or general paths to where some solutions may lie, is an important journey in 2014, i think.
Buckminster Fuller also promoted the modification of the language used to describe new and future technology, based on the fact that any and all innovation starts in the human mind: the matrix of Korzybski, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Girodano Bruno, Claude Shannon, Bucky, and RAW…all characters in the tale of the tribe. All these characters from TTOTT can show us the way towards changing our own minds and transforming the world around us, as we work to practically transform that perceived world to the benefit of others.
Here lie dormant tools for the mind to navigate around many challenges faced by humanity in 2014, use them. Ernest Fenollosa helps to define the kind of Orientalism wisdom RAW (who had a pen name Mark Chan) liked to promote and found most interesting to his on going study of language, etymology, and how to get beyond language.
This synergy between Fenollosa and RAW also helps to pin point the area of most interest to RAW concerning Ezra Pound, which can be best be encapsulated by the Ideogrammic Method. At this point i might mention that another innovation, with a modernist heritage, and that seems in resonance with the Taoist/Buddhist concept of being/nonbeing can be found in Joyce’s masterwork Finnegans Wake, which stretches and contorts alphabetical languages to near breaking point, forcing the familiar signs and symbols to behave upon a completely different axis of meaning, turned upside down and inside out ‘all laotsey taotsey’ as Joyce might say.
FW includes a rather large portion of foreign languages including Chinese, Japanese and Gaelic/Irish, translated and reconnected through his super condensed hologrammic prose. Much like ideogrammic method of Pound, the hologrammic prose of Joyce condenses meaning and fires off branches of context in all directions through spacetime. A relativistic prose. A kind of design science innovation, a new poetic shorthand, a blast of synaesthesia. A stylized alphabetical sculpture, at least, to stand proud next to a picture, a painting, a photograph, a movie projection, overshadowing the world of written words?
How can the word, as we now know it–stand up–to the new media of a visually dominated world? Well, Joyce had his own weird ways, possibly having something to do with his interest in synchronicity and transference of the sensation of epiphany, more on that another time. I think that living your life with integrity and honesty, and living in resonance, sympathetically with the symbol systems and languages around you can help a lot. You can also simply feel yourself as the center of all things, the master who makes the grass green, and if you like ask yourself what role these TTOTT characters have had in the rapid trajectory of culture we all now find ourselves inter-twinned with through our digital being/nonbeing
My ETTT post linking to an essay on Ernest Fenollosa that includes many TTOTT luminaries. A must read for a deep academic tour of WHY Fenollosa matters in 2014.
“The pictographic and ideographic nature of Chinese characters conduces to thinking in images, which, in turn, renders Chinese thinking, among other things: 1. analogical 2. nonlinear 3. concrete 4. holistic 5. intuitive 6. in harmony with nature.–http://projects.chass.utoronto.ca/mcluhan-studies/v1_iss3/1_3art7.htm