Fantasies of Chinese

Western Fantasies of Chinese: Webb, Fenollosa, Pound

Pieter Bruegel "The Tower of Babel"In the West there has been much speculation about the characteristics of an ideal language, both in the Greek tradition (Plato’s Cratylus) and the Judeo-Christian (Genesis). As knowledge of China came to the West’s attention, fantasies of an ideal language started to become focused on Chinese, which seemed to have powers exceeding those of Western languages. I will look at two writers who suffered strongly from Chinese-envy, John Webb (who wrote, in 1669, the first book on Chinese published in the West) and Ezra Pound, whose ideas about and translations from Chinese have had incalculable influence on English letters.

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