Genius, Appropriation and Transnational Collaboration in Ezra Pound’s Cathay
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When we discuss the cross-cultural relationships of Euro-American modernists we often fall between the poles of either celebrating the ‘coming together of traditions’ or suspiciously decrying the power play involved. A case in point is the divergent critical understanding most often posited of Ezra Pound’s relationship to the materials he produced from Ernest Fenollosa’s notes – notably Classical Chinese poetry in the form of Cathay (1915). The first position is Hugh Kenner’s who holds that its meaning, its primary function, was as an anti-WWI volume, rather than as any representation of Chinese poetry or an extension of Imagism (1971, 202–204). In seeming opposition to this vision of an ideal aesthetic come at by the application of genius, we have those who highlight the source material of Fenollosa’s notes to discuss various modes of Pound as translator. Interestingly, these critics, who resist the Kennerian celebration of Poundian genius and insist that Pound is engaged here in an act of translation, “essentially [...] appropriative” (Xie 232), or otherwise, also reinforce a reading whereby “the precise nature of the translator’s authorship remains unformulated, and so the notion of authorial originality continues” (Venuti 6). This is the issue I wish to address when we study the disparities between Fenollosa’s notes and the Cathay poems, i.e. Pound’s own choices with regard to those poems’ content, as a key chapter in the study of transnational collaboration.