Making It Old, Making It New, Making It Chinese : Transcultural Imitation and the Palimpsest of Translation in Pound’s Cathay

Lynn Qingyang LIN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

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In the vibrant field of research generated by Ezra Pound’s Cathay (1915), an anthology of indirect retranslations of classical Chinese poetry reworked from the notebooks of Ernest Fenollosa, the publication of Timothy Billings’ masterly critical edition of Cathay in 2019 is a landmark event. Drawing on the abundant archival materials and insights afforded by this critical edition, this article triangulates the discussion by examining Pound’s methods of reworking the Fenollosa intermediary and reconstructs the multiple processes of mediation in the making of Cathay. It proposes a more capacious and versatile framework for exploring the complexities of transcultural rewriting, and advances a more nuanced treatment of commonly employed categories in translation studies like ‘domesticating’, ‘foreignizing’, and ‘foreignness’. In particular, I develop two analytical concepts to examine Cathay: firstly, transcultural imitation, which describes the sources and techniques with which Pound signals a certain form of ‘Chineseness’ and mediates the experience of the foreign; and secondly, the palimpsest of translation, which delineates the multilayered richness and prismatic pluralities of Cathay by unpacking the diverse sets of intertexts out of which it is woven. Through the methods of transcultural imitation and the combination and interplay of these intertexts in the Cathay palimpsest, Pound reconstitutes ideas of the foreign about China, creating a translucent foreignness and endowing Chinese poetry with new transcultural significance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-328
JournalTranslation and Literature
Issue number3
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Nov 2023


  • literary translation
  • indirect translation
  • translation anthology
  • Classical Chinese poetry
  • Cathay
  • Ezra Pound


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