Ideograms in China.; Translated from the French by Gustaf Sobin.
New York: New Directions [printed by The Grendfell Press], 1984. Octavo. Bound in original cream cloth covered boards, with printed blue label to the spine and upper cover, and housed in publisher’s matching slipcase. Unpaginated [48pp.]. A Fine copy. Printed in blue and black on Rives watermarked paper. One of 150 copies, of which this is number 46. Signed by the translator and Michaux on the colophon page. Item #79
Idéogrammes en Chine was first published in 1975, by Fata Morgana in Monpelier. The text first appeared in English translation as a stand alone work in the present edition, and was anthologized in New Directions in Prose & Poetry 48 (fall, 1984).
An English translation of Ideogrammes was first proposed by Ezra Pound, who had encountered the text in its first iteration as an introduction to Leon Chang’s La Calligraphie Chinoise (1971). Though Pound eventually abandoned the project, his enthusiasm for Ideogrammes reveals the close affinities between his and Michaux’s conceptions of the image and the role of sign in poetry. Pound’s “ideogrammic method”, which he drew on in his early Imagist works, involved juxtaposing seemingly disparate terms to establish a relation between them, thus creating an image poised between both, but reducible to neither. Though Pound later rejected the Imagist project in favour of a more dynamic poetics, he remained committed to the power of pictorial signs. Michaux, who had been experimenting with the “inner ferment” of ideograms since 1925, takes Pound’s method further. For Michaux, ideogrammic composition was a sort of automatic writing which not only mirrors, but creatively participates in the flux of life: “Markings launched into the air, fluttering as if caught by the motion of a sudden inspiration, and not prosaically, laboriously, exhaustively traced…”. For Pound in his Imagist phase, the ideogram functioned as the mode of realizing the stillness of a hovering image. For Michaux, it realizes and creates “A continuum. A murmur without end, like life itself…”. The sign, for Michaux, with the ideogram as its acme, indicates and gestures towards this dynamic.