Olga Lomová - September 21, 2020

European Dream about Chinese Poetry in Sinological Research: The Cases of Vasiliv Alekseyev (1881–1951) and Jaroslav Průšek (1906–1980)

It is a well-known fact that since the late nineteenth century many Western modernists were fascinated by ancient Chinese poetry believed to be congenial to their new aesthetics. While Ezra Pound is a notorious example in the English-speaking world, Pauline Yu and others have also demonstrated the crucial role of a much lesser known French poet and translator Judith Gautier (1845-1917) in promoting her version of Chinese poetry around Europe. Early translations of Chinese poetry by Western poets were shaped rather by their own taste for literary experiment than by serious inquiry into the complexity of Chinese poetic art, and they are justly not included in the history of western sinology. However, there were also sinologists who did substantial pioneering research into the history of Chinese literature and whose interest in the subject was nevertheless driven by similar modernist sensibility. I will present two European scholars who were among the first to write about Chinese poetry in European scholarship, and discuss how the modernist aesthetics shaped their research. Using the cases of a Russian scholar V. Alexeyev, and a Czech Jaroslav Průšek, I will ask a question: how much preconceived notions about Chinese poetry inspired by earlier translations conditioned their understanding of Chinese literature, and to what extent they helped them arrive at a breakthrough in Chinese literature studies.

Olga Lomová is professor of Chinese literature at Charles University in Prague. Her research and teaching comprise Chinese poetry, literary aesthetics, and translation. She frames her research in questions of intellectual transformation in 20th century China, interplay of ideology and culture in the PRC, and history of sinological research in Europe with special focus on the Prague School. Currently she heads a research group on intercultural communication between East and West within a large transdisciplinary project KREAS at the Charles University Faculty of Arts.

She is director of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation International Sinological Center at the Charles University.