Fenollosa, Ernest 1853-1908
(Full name Ernest Francisco Fenollosa) American translator, art historian, educator, poet, and philosopher.
Fenollosa is considered to be one of the first Western experts in East Asian art and literature, and he is given much credit for providing the impetus for Imagist poetry through his extensive research and cataloging of Japanese and Chinese painting and ideograms. After his death in 1908, Fenollosa's widow, the novelist Mary Fenollosa, completed his two-volume manuscript Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: An Outline History of East Asiatic Design. Mary Fenollosa named American poet and critic Ezra Pound her husband's literary executor, and Pound's subsequent poetry collection of Japanese translations, Cathay, gives credit to Fenollosa. Pound also completed Fenollosa's Certain Noble Plays of Japan, Noh, or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan, and The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry from Fenollosa's notes and unpublished writings. From his work with Fenollosa's notes and research materials, Pound learned concepts about Chinese and Japanese writing that he would use to formulate the tenets of Imagism and Vorticism. Pound also borrowed many of Fenollosa's ideas concerning Buddhism, to which Fenollosa had converted, and Confucianism for many of his Cantos. Fenollosa also was the subject of Van Wyck Brooks's 1962 Fenollosa and His Circle.
Fenollosa was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to an immigrant Spanish musician and the daughter of an East Indian ship owner. He attended Harvard University, graduating in 1874, and spent the next four years continuing his studies at Harvard and at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He accepted a position as a professor of political economy and philosophy at the Imperial University in Tokyo in 1878, where he taught until 1888. From 1889 to 1890 Fenollosa was the concurrent manager of the Academy of Fine Arts in Tokyo and the Imperial Museum. During his stay in Tokyo, Fenollosa increased his knowledge of Japanese culture and art and converted to Buddhism. The escalating Westernization of Japan in the latter nineteenth century threatened to destroy much of traditional Japanese culture and art, and Fenollosa fought this trend by convincing the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to preserve much Japanese art that might have been destroyed otherwise. During this period he also helped to found the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music and traveled as a emissary of the Japanese Ministry of Education and the imperial household to study American and European methods of museum curatorship. He was accompanied to the United States by his former student, Okakura Kakuzo, who was also instrumental in introducing East Asian art to the West. Fenollosa returned to the United States in 1890, and became Curator of Oriental Art at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. In 1897, he returned to Japan to teach English at the Imperial Normal School. Fenollosa accepted a teaching post in 1890 at Columbia University, and spent his remaining years teaching and lecturing on Oriental art, philosophy, and literature. He died in London in 1908.
Fenollosa published only two major works in his life-time: East and West, a collection of poetry, and The Masters of Ukioye, a study on Japanese painting and catalog for a New York exhibition. Fenollosa's The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, edited and rewritten by Ezra Pound, has evoked both critical praise and dispute. While such critics as Christine Brooke-Rose are intrigued by Fenollosa's understanding of Chinese characters as a basis for a poetic aesthetic, other critics believe his theories are based upon false etymological assumptions. Fenollosa wrote that Chinese characters present a clear mental picture rather than simply a phonetic symbol for the objects they signify. He argued that creating such a mental image is the true function of poetry and the origin of all written language. Fenollosa described metaphor as "the use of material images to suggest immaterial relations," and suggested that that mental process was the basis for all understanding of the written word. Once the symbols became immediately recognizable, their original symbolic function became forgotten. Fenollosa's best-known writings are his literal translations of Chinese and Japanese poems, which Pound used as the basis for the translations appearing in his Cathay. Among the poems Pound revised from Fenollosa's notes are "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" and "The River Song," both poems originally written by the poet Rihaku.
East and West: The Discovery of America, and Other Poems (poetry) 1893
Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: An Outline History of East Asiatic Design (criticism) 1911
Cathay (translations) 1915
"Noh, " or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan (criticism) 1916
Certain Noble Plays of Japan (criticism) 1916
The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (criticism) 1919
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SOURCE: A review of "East and West: The Discovery of America and Other Poems", by Ernest Fenollosa, in The Dial, Vol. XVI, No. 189, May 1, 1894, pp. 272-75.
[In the following essay, Payne determines that the poet characterizes the West as masculine and the East as feminine.]
Mr. Fenollosa's [East and West: The Discovery of America, and Other Poems.] consists of two long and very ambitious poems, and a number of minor pieces. The titular poem is a sort of versified Culturgeschiehte, philosophical and mystical, in spirit not unlike Mr. Block's "El Nuevo Mundo," which we reviewed a year or so ago. In this poem, says the author, "I have endeavored to condense my experiences of two hemispheres, and my study of their history." The poem is in five parts. The first considers the early meeting of East and West, brought about by the conquests of Alexander. Then follow "The Separated East" and "The Separated West," themes of which the author has conceived in the following terms: "Eastern culture, slowly elaborated, has held to ideals whose refinement seems markedly feminine. For it social institutions are the positive harmonies of a life of brotherhood. Western culture, on the contrary, has held to ideals whose strength seems markedly masculine. For it law is the compromise of Liberty with her own excesses, while conquest, science, and industry are but parallel channels for the overflow of hungry...
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SOURCE: A review of "Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: An Outline History of East Asiatic Designs", by Ernest Fenollosa, in Yale Review, Vol. III, No. 1, October, 1913, pp. 197-201.
[In the following essay, Williams praises the author's scholarship, and agrees with his hypothesis that all art derived from two principle locations in the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific]
Twenty years ago the author of these sumptuous volumes, [Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: An Outline History of East Asiatic Design.], in a lecture before the Yale Art School, threw upon the screen a photograph of Kano Utanosuke's "Eagle on a Pine Branch." "There," he declared, "is one of the greatest paintings by an Asiatic artist. Why do I say only this? It is the greatest painting ever produced by any artist at all!" Fenollosa's voice, while he lived, was that of one crying in the wilderness of Western complacency. As with prophets in all ages, his revelations were set down as the thick-coming fancies of a visionary. He had found a new realm of artistic representation, with ideals and canons of its own, the language of which conveyed almost no meaning to the minds of his countrymen. Some exaggeration was inevitable in the new-born enthusiasm of a man of his temperament; yet if he spoke too strongly he never spoke absurdly. He was admirably fitted by training as well as by temperament for his work as herald and historian...
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SOURCE: A review of "'Noh,' or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan", by Ernest Fenollosa, in The Dial Vol. 63, September 13, 1917, pp. 209-10.
[In the following essay, Fuller gives a brief overview of the origins, intentions, and structure of Noh drama]
To-day's reciprocal obligations in regard to culture continue to multiply. This is one of the pleasure-pains of cosmopolitanism. Mr. Fenollosa's records of his conversations with the reviver of the classical drama of Japan ["Noh." or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan.] tell how he gave the ancient man a brief account of the classic drama of Greece: "he already knew," adds this Occidental adventurer into the lore of the East, "something about opera." Now, if the Oriental shows a disposition to familiarize himself with Euripides and Puccini—to say nothing of Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, and Oscar Wilde—shall we not exert ourselves in turn, and show a willingness to go beyond Hokusai and Hiroshige?
The "Noh" drama, as shaped in the fifteenth century and saved through Japan's transition to the new day, is the complete negation of all literalism and of the merely mimetic. It scorns both. It relates to the well-known school of the Danjuros about as the classical school of Chinese painting relates to the color-prints of Ukiyoye. It is noble, not plebeian; spiritistic, not realistic: it...
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SOURCE: "Misreading the Ideogram: From Fenollosa to Derrida and McLuhan," in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall, 1984, pp. 211-27.
[In the following essay, Jung examines the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Fenollosa's aesthetics, and how Jacques Derrida and Marshall McLuhan arrived at the same conclusions as Fenollosa and Ezra Pound.]
The main title of this article was originally "Inventing Grammatology." Mr. Burton Hatlen, however, suggested another title: "Misreading the Ideogram." I decided to accept his suggestion partly because I remember the title of Harold Bloom's book A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975). There are at least two reasons for associating my article with the deep structures of his book: first, his theory of poetry is Vichian and Emersonian, and second, his "primal scene of instruction" differs markedly from Derrida's "scene of writing," that is, it contains a significant dose of deconstructive Pharmakon for Derrida's grammatology.
Ex litterarum studiis immortalitatem acquiri.
. . . a linguist deaf to the poetic function of language and a literary scholar indifferent to linguistic problems and unconversant with linguistic methods are equally flagrant anachronisms....
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SOURCE: "Discourse on Ideogrammic Method: Epistemology and Pound's 'Poetics'," in American Literature, Vol. 59, No. 2, May, 1987, pp. 242-56.
[In the following essay,. Yee explores the differences between Fenollosa's and Pound's approach to the Chinese ideogrammic method of poetics.]
Why is it that none of you study the Odes? For the Odes will help you to incite people's emotions, to observe their feelings, to keep company, to express your grievances. . . . Moreover, they will widen your acquaintance with the names of birds, beasts, plants and trees.—Confucius
For help in understanding Ezra Pound's "ideogrammic method" one almost inevitably turns to Ernest Fenollosa's essay, "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry." After all, Fenollosa's essay provides Pound with this illustration of the method in ABC of Reading (1934):
[A Chinese person] is to define red. How can he do it in a picture that isn't painted in red paint?
He puts (or his ancestor put) together the abbreviated pictures of
IRON RUST FLAMINGO . . .
The Chinese "word" or ideogram for red is based on something everyone KNOWS.1
According to Pound, a language written in...
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SOURCE: "Ezra Pound's 'Cathay': Compilation from the Fenollosa Notebooks," in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Vol. 17, Nos. 2 & 3, Fall & Winter, 1988, pp. 9-46.
[In the following essay, Chappie relies on one of Ezra Pound's lesser-known essays on Chinese poetics to illuminate Pound's reliance on Fenollosa's notes to produce the poems published in Cathay.]
In 1918, three years after Cathay appeared, Pound published a little known, two-part essay on Chinese poetry, in which he observed:
In China a "compiler" is a very different person from a commentator. A compiler does not merely gather together, his chief honour consists in weeding out, and even in revising.1
His definition refers to the Chinese poet Rihaku, head of the court office of poetry, but it might just as easily apply to Pound himself as inheritor of the Fenollosa notebooks on Chinese poetry. Like Rihaku, Pound was primarily engaged in "weeding out" many of the poems which had been gathered for him, and then in "revising" those he chose for his collection. Cathay was the flower which blossomed out of his efforts. Pound's revisionary endeavors have been the object of concentrated critical attention, but the "weeding" which took place beforehand—that is, the selection process which produced the final volume of poems—has...
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Brooks, Van Wyck. Fenollosa and His Circle, with Other Essays in Biography. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1962, 321 p.
Details Fenollosa's life and passion for Oriental art and literature, and presents essays on Fenollosa's contemporaries Fanny Wright, John Lloyd Stephens, George Catlin, Charles Wilkes, Charles Godfrey Leland, Maurice Prendergast, and Randolph Bourne.
Brooker, Peter. "The Lesson of Ezra Pound: An Essay in Poetry, Literary Ideology and Politics." In Ezra Pound: Tactics for Reading, edited by Ian F. A. Bell, pp. 221-44. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982.
Traces the influences on Pound's poetics, finding that Fenollosa is but one and that Guido Cavalcanti and Allen Upward are two more.
Chisholm, Lawrence W. "A Review of Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: an Outline History of East Asiatic Design, by Ernest Fenollosa." Journal of Asian Studies 24, No. 3 (May 1965): 504-05.
Acknowledges the importance of Fenollosa's work, while finding it flawed by the author's lack of training in archaeology and history.
Fang, Achilles. "Fenollosa and Pound." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 20, Nos. 1 and 2 (June 1957): 213-38.
Discusses the three Fenollosa works edited posthumously by Ezra Pound, and asserts...
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