[KS] Percival Lowell

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Tue May 19 05:35:32 EDT 2015

Werner Sasse wrote:
> China, the ideal society in contrast to the chaotic changes within 
> Europe....

Yes and no. Let's put CHINA aside for now. But JAPAN and KOREA were 
considered *barbaric* territories (Japan until some time in the 1880s, 
Korea until 1905, when Japan marched in as a proxy of the West to bring 
"civilization"). There was nothing "ideal" about these countries, not 
for people like Percival Lowell in any case. "Oriental" by no means 
equivalent to ideal, and the "exotic" was not per se a positive term. 
Oriental, so, everything EAST -- from the Middle East to the Far East, 
was rather associated to terms like "backward," "laziness," 
"inefficient," and "cruel." If and when we think of what e.g. Japanese 
prints did to Impressionist and later Expressionist artists in Europe 
and the U.S., then we should keep in mind two things: (a) until the 
1910s -- AND for the large majority of the people (and especially in 
the U.S.) it is until the 1920s -- those Western "modern" artists were 
either not known or were despised as crazy outcasts, and (b) there 
were, of course, parallel and competing notions of barbaric and 
romantic idealized images (whereby the 'barbaric' ones were actually 
the ones the artists were interested in, in the formal aspects). 

People like Percival Lowell, as T.J. Jackson Lears argued in his 1981 
book, were confronted with both these images -- that of the idealized 
East (e.g. in terms of religion) and that of the barbaric, backward, 
inefficient, unorganized culture. His point is (and it is more complex 
than I can summarize here!) that the retreat to the Arts and Crafts 
movement (that was later inherited by the Japanese -- who then pushed 
Taiwan and Korea into the role that Japan had played for Americans and 
Europeans!) ... that this retreat was a very basic stepping stone in 
direction to American conservatism in later periods. THAT situation is 
quite different to Europe, where that movement later, once the Utopian 
period was over, split its followers into all sort of political groups! 
So, here I would have doubts that it is all the same when we study "the 
Other." That is quite different because "base culture" is quite 

In Europe, and especially in Germany, the "Oriental Studies" 
departments at the universities were big, very big and important, more 
than a century before anyone in the U.S. ever looked East (except for 
the Chinoiserie trading). Douglas T. McGetchin, in his dissertation, 
with the wonderful title _The Sanskrit Reich_, writes in the intro:
  "By the end of the nineteenth century, Germany had more university 
professors studying Sanskrit than all other European countries 
combined. In 1903 in Germany there were forty-seven professors, 
including twenty-six full professors, of 'Aryan' studies, a category 
that included, as its major component, Indology (the study of ancient 
East Indian texts, literature, and culture). This numerous group of 
specialists 'surpassed all the rest of Europe and America combined.'"
   "The Sanskrit Reich: Translating Ancient India for Modern Germans, 
   (unpubl. PhD thesis, U of California at San Diego, 2002)
For central Europeans, the "East" was nothing new and not a "retreat" 
as for Americans towards the end of the 19th century. The "East," of 
course, was the Orient, with no distinction *yet* between Middle East 
and Far East -- that more or less only developed in the 1890s, and 
Sinology (and East Asian studies) as a distinctive field only developed 
from the 1890s. 

At least in German speaking Europe, we had two Orients -- one was the 
idealized, ancient, textual, mythic, "Aryan" one -- where by the late 
19th century a direct racial and cultural link had been created (which 
was then also being adapted by writers like Herrmann Hesse and many 
others in the early 20the century), the other, co-existing one, was the 
utmost barbaric, lazy, unorganized, cruel, opium-ridden Orient. Before 
anyone thinks these were geographically separate places -- no, they 
were not. The separation came in trough the time line only, or at least 
mostly, and those images really changed rapidly -- mostly in direct 
relation to "being colonized" vs. "not-yet-colonized" -- that was at 
least the case for all of SOUTH and SOUTH EAST Asia (it gets more 
complicated with East Asia, and Japan is the big exception in any case, 
as it escaped colonization by early modernization and becoming a 
colonizer itself). 

Both, the perception of the "Orient" and the role that the Arts and 
Crafts movements played in late 19th century in Europe were essentially 
different from that in the United States. In Europe the crafts movement 
quite quickly let to industrial design schools, or more precisely, to 
the merger of fine arts, crafts, and industrial production. We see 
idealism and romanticism on the one hand (all those back-to-nature, 
vegan, show-me-your-titts-I-show-you-my... groupings related to the key 
'Lebensreform' movements), and on the other hand we see the (over time 
stronger) movement that is more concerned with the union of crafts & 
industrial production & design. To make that very sort: ASIA (and other 
far-away parts of the world) served as a source for new formal ideas, 
and to some degree indeed as a "retreat." That retreat though, within 
the Lebensreform (Life Reform) and Arts and Crafts movement, would 
almost immediately be converted into active Utopian ideas which -- 
although these constructs included in the beginning strong 
anti-modernist, anti-rational, anti-analytic elements -- would let to 
highly pragmatic schools, art styles, mass movements, and modern social 
organizations. Not so in the United States.

Walk into the large American Painting section at the de Young Museum in 
San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and you'll walk right out again -- I 
guarantee. It's a huge selection of 19th century American landscapes 
that all look like British seascapes (just grass instead of water, and 
cowboys and farmers instead of smoking battle ships). As a 
non-colonial, continental European that much of boredom and nationalism 
united in one place comes as a culture shock. You won't find any 
show-me-your-titts-I-show-you-my... images there -- no voluptuous, 
Catholic Baroque and Rococo ladies. It is the Puritan and 
fundamentalist version of Protestantism that sets on biblical 
simplicity, without the mightily powerful Lutheran fart! In the U.S. 
the Arts and Crafts movement, I think, came from there and at the same 
time returned there, as a reaction to industrialization. THAT part -- 
the reaction to industrialization and the Enlightenment and the 
sciences -- is the same. But then, what happened within that movement 
is ESSENTIALLY and QUALITATIVELY different, I would argue (if we would 
compare the movements in continental Europe and the U.S. -- which you 
kind of provoked with your note). In the U.S. it essentially became a 
very fundamentalist and conservative movement (until it was taken on 
again in the 1960s), while in continental Europe it pretty quickly 
began a love affair with modernism and industrialization -- and as 
often in all too close relations, it evolved into a love–hate 
relationship, nothing all too harmonious. That movement itself, the 
culture of that movement, was of an essentially different character in 
the United States and continental Europe. The crafts movement as a 
"retreat" that T.J. Jackson Lears points to -- that is the same 
*antimodernist* "retreat" that East Asian travelers (and all related 
culture, such as travelogues) signify for American culture around 1900 
as such. But then, if you walk into a museum in say Vienna, and look at 
the cultural production from that late 19th century Arts and Crafts 
movement there, AND also what exactly East Asian art imports and 
influences resulted in, then that is again essentially different from 
the United States. That is on the one hand modern and revolutionary in 
all formal aspects (and the arts are about form, after all), but then 
also modern in its political Utopianism. While there were indeed 
overlappings in the Utopian ideas in the EARLY period of the 
movement(s), in Europe these ideas quickly developed into something 
rather modern and politically progressive. At that point the cat is 
trying to swallow its own tail, as we would now have to talk about 
various terms such as "anarchism." Yet, part of the problem discussing 
the issue is that some of those terms are defined depending on cultural 


Frank Hoffmann

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