The New Criterion has published William Logan’s long review of the new Cathay: A Critical Edition, edited by Timothy Billings (Fordham, 2019).
Logan likes the book. He summarizes:
As Mori’s English was poor, and Fenollosa’s Japanese probably not advanced, an expert in both, the professor of international law Ariga Nagao, was employed as a translator. Also fluent in classical Chinese, he prepared the crib for one of the most important poems in the book, “Song of the Bowmen of Shu.” Mori and Ariga used what is called the kundoku method of reading and translating. This is Timothy Billings’s quite remarkable discovery in this extraordinary edition of Cathay. Kundoku allowed scholars who couldn’t speak Chinese, who could pronounce the characters only in the Japanese fashion, to read the texts closely. This is reminiscent of the study of Latin in the West, where for centuries the texts were pored over by students and scholars who sometimes could not speak the language and whose pronunciation would undoubtedly have driven ancient Romans mad—though ancient Romans in their polyglot city were used to foreigners mangling their tongue and delighted in making nasty remarks about it.
The full book is very worth reading for anyone interested in Ezra Pound’s Cathay and/or in Chinese poetry in English translation (and its history). But Logan’s review is also an excellent summary of what is most important and urgent in Billings’s edition.
Click here for the full review.