BF. William Empson

29. Haffenden, John. Introduction to The Royal Beasts and Other Works (21), 1986.

A wide-ranging critical introduction, largely based on unpublished letters and manuscripts, many of which are of importance to this study (see 21b). Notes that during Empson’s years in Japan he ‘sought out Buddhist icons with an erudite-amateur interest amounting to a passion’, and documents several trips, including one to Nara and Kyoto, that Empson undertook ‘with the specific aim of pursuing Buddhist images’. Haffenden believes that ‘the ethics of Buddhism struck Empson as altogether more humane than those of Christianity’, and that his love of Buddhist iconography may be connected to argumentation in his seminal early work, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). Empson ‘had early schooled himself in the ambiguities of literary expression’, and subsequently, in the 1930s in Japan, ‘discerned that the secret of the Buddha’s given expression likewise embodied a fundamental ambiguity’ (see 21b3). Included is an account of Empson’s manuscript about this, Asymmetry in Buddha Faces, which he had worked on for more than a decade and finished in London at the end of the war, ‘decked out’ with photographs ‘gathered on his travels’, but that ‘unhappily, through no fault of his own and to his lasting disappointment’, was lost in London after he returned to China in 1946. In addition to correspondence with George Sansom (see D22), Arthur Waley (D26), and T. S. Eliot, Haffenden refers as well to unpublished materials that demonstrate that Empson spoke or corresponded with many others about his theory, including, in 1939, Langdon Warner, who had been Assistant Curator of Oriental Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 1906 to 1913, and, in 1940 or 1941, Rabindranath Tagore. For a slightly different account of circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the manuscript, see 26a.





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