Chinese Dreams: Pound, Brecht, Tel quel (2004)

The American poet Ezra Pound, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, and the writers associated with the Parisian avant-garde literary journal Tel Quel, in particular, developed passions for China. Hayot examines these writers’ infatuation with China, demonstrating that Pound, Brecht, and the writers of Tel Quel looked east and found a new vision for both themselves and the West. While Chinese Dreams focuses on specific writers’ relationships with China, it also calls into question the means of representing otherness. Chinese Dreams asks if it might be possible to attend to the political meaning of imagining the other, while still enjoying the pleasures and possibilities of such dreaming.

Link to publisher / Purchase at Amazon

Eric Hayot
University of Michigan Press (2004; paperback 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0472113408

Praise for Chinese Dreams:

“By addressing not just ethical but aesthetical issues in Western dreams about different people’s Chinas, Chinese Dreams calls into question the problematics of “which China?” as a category of critical inquiry. While attending to historical specificities of each text, Hayot resists being bogged down by the texts’ own histories in order to avoid saturating the stereotypes with specificity. His shrewd analysis of the pleasure of dreaming is framed by larger questions about the origin of such obsession and desire. Throughout the book Hayot seeks answers to the question “Why China?” which is a key to re-interpret Western avant-garde writers’ aesthetics and to a broader analysis of Asian cultures’ fashioning of Western cultures’ images of itself and its others. As such, Chinese Dreams is a book on the history of “China” rather than a book on the history of China.”

— Alexander Huang, George Washington U (Comparative Literature Studies, 2006)

“Eric Hayot traces filaments of a particular strand in twentieth-century cultural history in three generous, intelligent installments. As this strand weaves itself together out of the intertwining of several Western responses to the idea of China and major political movements and crises, Hayot simultaneously comments on three literary constellations and on the main debates about them. … This ambitious book is really about the polycentric culture of the “West” as mirrored in its constructions of China and a Far East.”

— Gerald Gillespie, Stanford University (CLEAR, 2006)

So when the chance came, he went to China—not as a true believer like his friends, perhaps, but certainly as a fellow traveler, in the strictest sense. And when the group came back, it took a while for the effects fully to register. The revolutionary engagement would give way in time, replaced by explorations of the sacred, the feminine, and the unconscious. (Not that these had ever been wholly absent: As Eric Hayot’s fine study Chinese Dreams: Pound, Brecht, Tel Quel (University of Michigan Press, 2004) reconstructs, a whole series of aesthetic and libidinal fascinations were at play in avant-garde versions of chinoiserie.)

— Scott McLemee, in a review of Barthes’ The Neutral (Bookforum, Dec. 2005)


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