Usurious Translation: From Chinese Character to Western Ideology in Pound’s Confucian “Terminology”

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Here I revisit the conventional argument that Ezra Pound unwittingly mistranslates Chinese characters extracted from Confucius’s The Analects and The Great Digest so as to make a specific modernist critique of banking as usury. I hope a second visit pays dividends, insofar as Pound’s mistranslations are themselves illustrative instances of a usurious translation practice. He rejects usury as an ideology, only to apply it aggressively as a semiotic practice. Remarkably, in his translations of Confucius Pound unwittingly borrows from among the six preferred modes of Chinese character construction, as promulgated by Xu Shen (許慎) and Dai Tong (戴侗), dating from ancient times. And, under the more recent influence of Fenollosa, Pound accordingly mistranslates Chinese characters by overweighting the textual construction of specific character elements he can only read iconically and by creating a basic syntax (or word order) out of their poetic rearrangement. Such a radical liberation of Chinese signs from their everyday phonetic context not only produces an inaccurate translation but also creates a literary text—a poem—that subordinates properties of the Chinese language to the ideological properties Pound would make transitive.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmerican Modernist Poetry and the Chinese Encounter
EditorsYuejun Zhang, Stuart Christie
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780230391727
ISBN (Print)9780230391710, 9781349351725
Publication statusPublished - 2012

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese Character
  • Character Construction
  • Chinese Poetry
  • Ideological Property
  • Western Ideology


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