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The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry Paperback – January 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers; Reprint edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872860140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872860148
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,186,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Crazy Fox on November 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
What a strange little essay in book form! Strange in many ways. First of all, it was odd to come across a book with such manifest animosity against scholars. Fenollosa has nothing but scorn for logicians and grammarians--people who actually study language instead of spinning armchair theories about it. This scorn is more than shared by Ezra Pound, who some years after the author's death edited this essay--apparently in a rather faithful and careful manner, I'll give him that. Something of this scornful attitude carries over onto the publisher, too, who feels content to publish this thing without any introduction--no background information and context on Fenollosa, Pound, their relationship, the history of this little text and its influence. What little you get takes the form of the anonymous little spiel on the back cover of the book (reproduced on this Amazon page as the Book Description), with its blithe disregard for the raving of the "pedants"--i.e. people who actually study and use the Chinese (and Japanese) written languages.

Well, to be pedantic, Fenollosa was just plain wrong, as anyone really conversant with the writing system can attest. It is telling that all of his examples limit themselves to the most basic and rudimentary of characters and simple sentences, which gives his discussion a thin gossamer veil of plausibility--anything more complex than "man sees horse" though and his theory starts to fall apart. And so, yes, Ezra Pound proceeded on false premises. And it's not just that this was an old theory valid in 1908 or 1918; it was pretty much a discredited one even by the early twentieth century, making the whole presentation here rather quixotic, to say the least.

For all that, the essay has definite historical value.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Molnar Giorgio on March 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Fenollosa's Book: "The Chinese written character as a medium for poetry" is a marvelous one. However its title is deceiving. It suggests that its subject were limited to the written form of some kind of oriental poetry. On the contrary, I never learned so much general concepts from a single book as from this tiny one about so distant arguments such as language as a mean of communication, ethimology, the importance of dynamics in speech, the relationship between science and language and of art in general. And all in 45 small formatted pages. And if you read it again, instead of being bored, discover a lot of new ideas escaped the attention because of the richness so prodigiously offered to the reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Coverdale on June 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ernest Fenollosa stands as one of history's greatest defenders and inspirers of the arts. His work to restore the study of Japanese traditional arts while at Tokyo Imperial University makes one of the greatest stories in all of art history. His "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry" not only provides thought-provoking material, it gives us the opportunity to sense the character of this impassioned man.

The book goes far beyond its initial focus on Chinese written language, addressing the question of fundamental differences among languages. While the author rather harshly dismisses Western linguistic theory of his day regarding Chinese languages, the book is really not about linguistics, but rather about the historicity of Chinese. Fenollosa clearly represents more the comparative approach of, say, von Humboldt, than the syntactical theories that arose after his lifetime. (I find it interesting, however, that Fenollosa anticipates much of the basis of linguistic innatism.)

Yet Fenollosa is no follower of von Humboldt. His pursuit of the theory that Chinese written language does not show a strong phoneme-grapheme bond (because, he argues, its graphemes are taken from visual observation) is fun to read. His attack on linguists of his time, accusing them of missing the whole point of Chinese written language as a repository of its history, has relevance. He sees their error coming out of their dismissal of the worth of Asian cultures, but also because their base language was in most cases English, a highly syntactical language with little historicity and highly fractured morpheme relationships (a criticism that has, curiously, been aimed much more recently at Chomsky).
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