Vorticist Confucianism: Ezra Pound’s translation practice in Confucius as modernist self-fashioning
(2022) Asia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies, 9 (2), pp. 134-150.
This article argues that Ezra Pound’s Confucius, which brings together his translations of three classics of Confucian philosophy (The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, and the Analects), can be read as a form of modernist self–fashioning. The work enacts many of Pound’s early Vorticist aesthetic principles, but does so in a way that makes the translator an obtrusive character who talks back to and appropriates these ancient texts as vehicles for his aesthetic ideology. This ironic, meta–historical practice of translation can, I contend, be understood as a kind of Foucauldian “technology of the self”–i.e., a technique of self–understanding that alters and gives new meaning to life and character. Speaking through the texts he embodies Confucianism but also subsumes them to the vortex of meanings we associate with the writer Ezra Pound. Moreover, in crafting himself as an American Confucian steeped in transcultural imaginings (American, European, and Chinese), Pound’s translation practice in Confucius develops around a set of concerns that are still relevant to the contemporary world—i.e., the rise of the global subject, the return of authoritarianism and decline of American liberal democracy, and the problematic role of tradition(s) in forging a new, global aesthetic vision.
Confucianism; Ezra pound; Foucault; technologies of the self; Vorticism