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The Transcultural Roots of Modernism: Imagist Poetry, Japanese Visual Culture, and the Western Museum System

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 18, Number 1, January 2011
pp. 27-42 | 10.1353/mod.2011.0010

Abstract

Abstract:

If the direct and massive influence of Asia on Western literature of the last century were adequately acknowledged and researched, it would be possible to see Anglo-American Modernist poetry as part of a global, rather than a merely provincial, cultural development. This article demonstrates that imagist poetry, traditionally regarded as the first authentically Modernist literary initiative to appear in English, was in fact a response to a dramatic resurgence in pan-Asian cultural awareness that had begun in Tokyo during the closing years of the nineteenth century, and which spread across Eastern Asia and the Indian Subcontinent to reach Europe a few years before the onset of the First World War. A large quantity of previously unpublished documentary evidence is presented to show that the imagist experiments of Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, Amy Lowell, and John Gould Fletcher were indebted to an engagement with Japanese visual culture that was far deeper than has ever previously been suggested. The venues for these seminal meetings between East and West were the museums of Britain and the United States.