East Meets West in 20th and 21st Century Literature

In 1914, the meeting point of Eastern and Western literature looked like this:



Ezra Pound’s Dirge to the end of Culture in the early months of World War I

Last night, it looked like this:







Chinese Halloween Decoration Attracting Children for Candy

Is this meeting of worlds in your book?

4 thoughts on “East Meets West in 20th and 21st Century Literature

  1. No idea honestly. I thought : what a stupid poem. What does the author want to tell us? This might be some kind of test? Ezra Pound is “einer der herausragenden Vertreter der literarischen Moderne.” That means I must be a tasteless idiot if I don’t like the poem. Okay. I’m not much into Christian saints or Samhain and no matter which Halloween decoration it would speak to me just as much as the poem. I didn’t pass the test. Whatever..

    • It is a remarkably dated poem, with an intriguing context. Pound wrote it, as one of his few post pre-Raphaelite pieces and one of the icons of English language modernism (at that point, not yet a very robust undertaking). It was read as a kind of drawing room beauty, which Pound had actually set publicly out to deny, and was written while he was courting Dorothy Shakespear, who was a far classier catch than he deserved. It was this drawing room fin-de-siecle beauty that drew them together, and its destruction in the rising war that drove them apart, but not before they had married (a year after this poem was written) and had a child. Thing is, it’s an anti-war poem, written as an aesthetic object. Rilke would have understood the gesture, as he walked that line a lot, too. But the real intrigue here is that Pound so hated this material for its preciousness that he spent the rest of his career inventing other approaches to translating Chinese, none of which were accepted by anyone. It’s like poor Bertolt Brecht, writing his moritt as communist agitation, and serving, instead, huge crowds of Nazi brownshirts instead. The later attempts are far more interesting, and come from a Pound who had integrated himself into post-war European intellectual culture in Paris, but not entirely, because he slipped backwards into the expat community in Rapallo and adoration of Mussolini. All that eventually landed him in a US Army solitary confinement cell in Pisa after Italy abandoned the German cause. When he was arrested, by Italian communist partisans, he rose from his writing desk and slipped a copy of Confucius into his pocket. He was still trying to redo that damned translation, as he did until the end of his life, but it’s the prettified one of a young dandy in a pair of medieval pantaloons cut from a green velvet theatre curtain, trying to get into a beautiful aristocrat’s bed that people wanted. As for Samhain and Christian Saints, I was suggesting that Chinese imagery in this context is very peculiar, as was Pound’s in its day.

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