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The Nomadic Journey of Harold Acton: From Marginalization in Bloomsbury to Embracing Chinese Civilization

  British sinologist, historian, and writer Harold Acton (Harold Acton, 1904-1994) took it as his mission to translate and introduce the beautiful and excellent traditional Chinese culture to the world, and made important contributions to the mutual learning between Chinese and Western cultures. His intersection with the Bloomsbury cultural circle had an important impact on the formation and development of his aestheticism. In the Bloomsbury cultural circle, Acton has always been in the position of “other”. Excluded from the mainstream cultural circle of Bloomsbury. Because Acton had intersected with many members of the Bloomsbury cultural circle, he was able to examine the characters and dynamics of the cultural circle as an “other”, and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the group and its members.
  Acton examines the relationship between Bloomsbury and Bloomsbury from the perspective of a historian, and projects his value judgment on the status quo and development of the mainstream European cultural circle. Based on Acton’s evaluation, the cultural orientation of Bloomsbury’s mainstream cultural circle is that the cultural orientation of Bloomsbury’s mainstream cultural circle is that it emphasizes evaluation over originality, emphasizes theory over history, emphasizes “bloodlines” over integration, and emphasizes stickiness over outsiders. The wider cultural world, thereby preventing it from absorbing rich opportunities for growth.
Tracing to the source: Aesthete’s thinking breeds taste

  ”Cambridge, like the ‘London Society’ class that Leslie Stephen once attached to, puts intelligence above everything else”, “They have cultivated the most spiritual and intelligent brains for art, especially literature and art”. However, even though the influence of the Bloomsbury School on public taste is considerable, Acton, who is not used to production theory, really can’t understand the theory and vocabulary “production” method of the Bloomsbury cultural circle. It is “production” rather than excessive “borrowing”. “A pattern created by a bohemian in calm intuition is refurbished in the Bloomsbury circle by a frightening mass of noble discourse, so as to become its own origin.” Industrial Society Bloomsbury’s machine thinking is what Bloomsbury is trying to overcome. They strive to separate art from the influence of industrial society, but the result is that they cannot achieve “originality”, but can only achieve excessive “inheritance”, and they must enjoy the “art” Creator” title.
  Acton was right about Bloomsbury, in fact, that the group is unique precisely in its dialectical nature, which, in addition to intellectual discourse and rational exchange, also recognizes and promotes the irrational Charm. In its heyday, Bloomsbury no longer just stopped at the topic and eloquence of the gathering, but produced a deeper, subtle, and hidden light, which is the fiery yellow flame of rational communication.
  Acton grew up in the picturesque Florence since he was a child, and he saw beautiful scenery everywhere. During the years of wandering in foreign lands in Europe, the beauty of his hometown like Cézanne’s paintings always appeared in his mind. Italy condenses all Poetry and beauty. “The warm sunshine shines on the Mount of Olives, and the mountains of Tuscany are peacefully bathed in pure and bright light. The music in the house blends with the scenery outside the window, which is natural.” Whether it is Cézanne’s paintings or the hometown scenery According to Acton, “under such standards, much modern art is vulgar, and even the paintings of the Royal Academy are mostly as rough as linoleum, and the famous Bloomsbury School, only Tend to imitate Cézanne blindly, without getting his essence”.
  At the age of 11, Acton entered Eton College, quickly emerged and became a man of the hour, entering the inner circle of Eton. Under the guidance of Eton School painting master Evans, Acton and a group of the most outstanding boys became the main characters of the Eton College Cultural Center, these boys include Brian Howard, Robert Byron, Oliver May Sell, Alan Clutton-Brock, and the slightly conservative Anthony Powell and Henry York.
  Evans’ exhibition opens the Gunther Memorial Prize, contenders gather, Eton students proud of the finalists, Acton meets Roger Fry (art historian, esthetician) of the Bloomsbury Cultural Circle for the first time , during this period. The young Acton couldn’t hide the complacency of entering the inner circle, and even when he recalled this time many years later, his brushstrokes still overflowed with innocent arrogance. The first meeting with Roger Fry left a deep impression on Acton. Fry’s charisma and superb talent are indeed impressive, “This man in a formal dress, holding a long explaining stick, standing The gentleman in front of a white curtain”, “slow, gentle, witty, humorous”, and like a “fasting monk” with a straw rope around his waist, “is leading them to understand a new religion “. Fry’s assessment of painting’s technique and ability, its sensitivity and decorativeness, and its assertion of its ability to anchor a painting’s purpose almost squarely fit Acton’s “talent theory.” Acton’s impression of Frye had an important influence on his creative thinking of combining painting and literature, and the “music-like effect” achieved by Frye’s paintings made his artistic attainment present a multi-dimensional aesthetic spirit. The system of interpretation also lays the groundwork for the relationship between Acton and the Bloomsbury cultural circle, and also provides a model for Acton to lead his personal research field with aestheticism throughout his life.
  ”I’m still not sure whether I will dedicate myself to painting or writing, but there is always a connection between art and culture. During the years dominated by writing, painting taught me how to observe objects”, “But we paint and write poetry. My courage is getting bigger and bigger, and I even feel that I have a certain mission.” Based on Acton’s extensive involvement in art and his perspective of evaluating literature in the way of painting, coupled with the fact that the matrix of his cultural structure—Italian matrix is ​​too gorgeous, Acton has always maintained a deep respect for the Bloomsbury cultural circle. A sobriety derived from deconstruction; and the aggressiveness of a newborn calf and the vigor of a rookie in the literary world made him quickly rank among the upper echelons of the simultaneously expanding Etonian cultural circle.
Margin: The “Other” lost in wandering

  When asked whether he belonged to the Eton or Bloomsbury circles, Acton said “close” should be used to describe his relationship with both. Acton had a close relationship with some writers in the two cultural circles, and sometimes attended the activities of each circle. Rather than saying that Acton was a member of them, he was more like an observer in the circles. From Acton’s perspective, we can see a fresh Bloomsbury ecology: open to the outside world but sticking to the borders, talented but hypocritical, and there are many conflicts and gossip between sects.
  The Bloomsbury Cultural Circle first started in Cambridge in the early 20th century and was established at Trinity College in 1899. It is mostly composed of Cambridge students and members of student groups such as the “Apostle Club” and “Midnight Club”. Bloomsbury gathered a group of elites from the British cultural, artistic, political and economic circles, forming a loose but distinctive cultural circle, which lasted for more than half a century. left a lasting impact. Bloomsbury members like to use words or drawings to outline their own images, and there is a tradition of recording history with biography, and they like to talk about each other and exchange views in letters, diaries and essays that they exchange.

  The Bloomsbury cultural circle in the 1920s was still a pyramid in the European cultural circle, but Acton did not consider himself a loyal disciple of the circle. Being marginalized by the group, he calmly examined this seemingly unattainable ivory tower, and deconstruct it in a historical and empirical way. In terms of family background, Acton is a British hereditary aristocrat and the son of a wealthy family. He has a prominent family background, enjoys a good family education and top European connections; in terms of background, he studied from Eton College to Oxford, and finally took four degrees. Graduated from Oxford; in terms of talent, he was classmates with Byron, Evelyn Waugh, Howard, Powell, Quinnell and other talents of the era. The man of the hour in Oxford, the uncrowned king. When Acton was young, he naively thought that after leaving his hometown, he would face a new world of fairness. Achievements in painting, music, poetry, and theory will surely continue the miracle of the times and rank among heroes in the Oxford University talent circle. Unexpectedly, although he meets the entry standard of the “intellectual aristocrat” that Bloomsbury members call themselves, he is like a foreign prince who has learned all the etiquette of poetry and books. With extraordinary philosophical wisdom, but ultimately unable to enter the “core” cultural blood of Bloomsbury that “pays attention to provenance”.
  Although Acton is not interested in blood-first and step-by-step politics, Bloomsbury pays attention to birth and blood, as does Oxford, where he lives, and he neglects to grasp the academic trend of the campus. This is why Acton has always felt a sense of wandering during his study and work in Europe, “My roots are in Italy, and I am an amateur with no background in England”, “I am different from my father and feel that I am more temperamental Close to the British, but I have spent half of my life abroad, and I don’t feel at home in the UK.” Acton once mistook himself for living in a cosmopolitan environment when the factions went their separate ways and took sides: “It’s a small place, but it’s very cosmopolitan, with artists and scholars from all nationalities gathering here… … At the time, the central figure in the art world was Bernard Berenson, who was both a great friend of my father and a mentor in my life. People came from all over the world to Berenson’s villa to hear the master speak about his work and learning experience.”
  Willie Maugham, who has a close relationship with Acton, although the “box office” and manuscript remuneration are rising steadily-a short story is much higher than the manuscript fee of a full-length novel, but he still very much hopes to get the Bloomsbury cultural circle. recognition. This ascetic who “had spent all his life concealing his sensitive nerves” was “naturally kind and sentimental, but determined not to reveal the truth to the outside world”, “which twisted his face into a bitter mask, and his lips always turned down. with “. Like his personality, Maugham’s writing style has also been treated as a restrained type of “easy to read but difficult to write”, “the beauty of the article is not eye-catching”, but it implies his life quest and silent cry. But the “reward” for Maugham’s efforts was that Bloomsbury, who emphasized the origin and technology, denounced him as “too simple in style” and “glib”, and did not give him the due due to his “box office”. “Seating”. Maugham finally turned from love to hatred and became angry. He was extremely dissatisfied and even saddened by the idols in the Bloomsbury cultural circle. Acton, who was born in the core academic circle of Oxford, also yearned for Bloomsbury, who was pro-Cambridge, but he had to say that he made a big mistake on the issue of belonging and standing. Acton, who pays attention to the inheritance of historiography, admires Bloomsbury, which is rich in cultural history and aesthetic significance, but in his opinion, the atmosphere of Oxford at that time was in need of rectification and was lacklustre. Although Acton is not lacking in criticism of the Bloomsbury cultural circle, when he proves himself a literary “faction”, he can’t help but rejoice in being listed as a member of the group.
  Different from Maugham’s loss and Acton’s yearning, Oxford scholars Evelyn Waugh and Byron are very disdainful of Bloomsbury. Acton, on the other hand, was thrown out of the core circle of Oxford academics because he was careless in figuring out the atmosphere, managing mainstream results, and seizing the best opportunities. As a result, Acton fell out of favor with the core circle of Oxford academics and wandered outside the mainstream circle of Bloomsbury. His academic attempts have made it impossible for his own academic views to be deeply riveted with any circle. In short, in the British high culture circle, Acton, who was born in Oxford, was more influenced by Bloomsbury, and Bloomsbury was mainly from Cambridge and had a heavy background, so the two places He always seems to be at a loss when he is wandering around. Time waits for no one, and Acton finally turned himself into a marginal person in the academic core circle through unconscious attempts and wanderings.
  And Virginia Woolf’s aestheticism and feminism are restored more vividly in Acton’s brushstrokes. In the cultural circles of London during the Acton period, very few people could fall into the eyes of Woolf, the core figure of the Bloomsbury cultural circle. As for the celebrities who held cultural salons in London by virtue of their influence rather than schools, such as the Duchess of Cunard, although Acton thought she was kind, Woolf did not comment on such women with status but no knowledge. Unrelenting, she fondly teases Mrs. Cunard as “a funny little parrot-faced woman, but not ridiculous enough”, “a bunch of old hops”. However, Woolf’s harsh evaluation of writers and the public was ultimately defeated by the “high hat” that Mrs. Canard and others easily threw at people. “She (Mrs. Canard) made people think that they were also among famous writers. A member of … those who ridicule her ignorance are also eager to be invited by her”.
Choice: Nomadic poetry in China

  At Eton, when the aesthetic wish first set out, Acton thought he was a follower of aestheticism. When he came to Oxford, the huge contrast of reality made him call out the mission statement of the aestheticists: “We should fight with the ugly. We should create clarity where there is confusion, we should overcome popular indifference, we should destroy false prophets.” In the end,
  Acton chose the latter in painting and poetry, though he understood that “no matter how much it may seem Comfortable, the life of a poet is cruel, and the torture that follows is inevitable and predestined.” But for the Oxford poems of the 1920s, Acton’s impression was rigid and lacking in vitality. Compared with the metaphysical poems of Donne and others in the 17th century, they were insipid, and they were obviously going downhill. Therefore, he was determined to revive Oxford poetry, and actively participated in the Oxford poetry reform group, and edited publications such as “Oxford Outlook” and “New Oxford”. Led by British New Left writers Bateson and Blackwell, Acton became the “midwife” who revolutionized Oxford poetry in the 1920s. In 1924, Acton got the opportunity to edit the Oxford Poetry Magazine and invited Peter Quinell to edit it together. With his selection strength, he achieved a remarkable record and made this collection of poems with aestheticism as the editing strategy win a bright moment. During this period, the poet Acton admired was TS Eliot, who believed that his poems were “just like the Gospel”, and the Sitwell family and Yeats were also on his list of poets.
  In addition to poetry, Acton also paid attention to the novels of Woolf and Forster in the Bloomsbury cultural circle. Although he also published poems and novels during this period, the aesthetic tendency he pursued was at odds with the increasingly vulgar atmosphere in the poetry world. The denial of his words made his dream of ascending to the altar of literature suddenly shattered by reality.

  In stark contrast to the conceit and arrogance of the Bloomsbury circle, Acton is not only more tolerant in terms of cultural mentality, but also consciously turns his attention to distant China. “I have an innate empathy for the Chinese, and I am eager to understand them better. In addition, I always feel that I have a mission to spread civilization, and at the same time I have a lot of knowledge to learn in China.” Acton concluded I came to China at an age suitable for exerting myself, and lived there for 8 years, and found my soul home in China. The Oxford alumni who have made some academic achievements all solemnly advised him to hold on to the green hills and not let go, and he has not been able to firmly hold on to his achievements. If he goes to China, he will be marginalized by the mainstream of European academics. In fact, before making this decision, Acton had experienced the embarrassment of being marginalized by the mainstream academic circle in Oxford and the cultural circle in Bloomsbury. “Most of my friends don’t understand that since I belong to Europe, why should I go to the distant Beijing to settle and develop? To them, going to Beijing is a premature retreat, a surrender to the mainstream without a fight. They think I want to bury myself alive in a dead ancient capital.” “When I was suggested that ‘absence’ is a mistake, I retorted: ‘Yes, I really intend to go on like this.’ Even though Osberg De Sitterville’s aestheticism and his enthusiasm cannot keep me in Europe.” But this time Acton’s decision not only catered to his own heart, but also attracted many curious European friends to visit, such as Desmond Parsons, Byron, Anne Rose, and Brian Guinness all came to his side, and some even stayed in Acton’s Jingjian Hutong apartment in Beijing for a long time. Julian Bell, a core member of the Bloomsbury cultural circle, also came to Beijing and was warmly received and accompanied by Acton.
  In 1932, Peter Quinnel, an Oxford alumnus who had not yet come to China, wrote to Acton, saying that “Europe at this time is like a rotten orange”, and agreed with Acton’s desire to go to China to explore the path of academic development. planning. But Acton was not voluntarily “marginalized” at the beginning. Just as the Bloomsbury cultural circle did not reserve his expected seat for him as he wished, he has realized that he has a dual cultural background of English and Italy. He was labeled as a “foreign culture” and received unfriendly treatment, but he just happened to consider China as a spiritual refuge at this time, and he resolutely went there after weighing the balance. And Beijing immediately fell him. This city “combines the strengths of the kind old man and the bewildered youth. It may be getting older or younger, but it will never be sluggish. On the contrary, it is in its unique The combination of buildings and green spaces is constantly expanding and expanding.” “Parks, temples, lakes, pavilions, etc., have poetic names everywhere, like bright lights, exuding eternal fragrance in the imprint of words. “. During the years in Beijing, Acton turned from blindly expecting to be recognized by the outside world to internal management and cultivation. The world turns to the heart, everything is made by the heart, and the process of internal observation and externalization are combined into one, smooth and natural.” During his stay in Beijing, Acton almost reached a state of Zen. He completely abandoned the European cultural circle that frustrated him: “Goodbye! My ironic past! Beijing has brought me to perfection.”
  Ake Dun put down the Oxford academic circle and Bloomsbury, as well as his hometown of Florence, and began to establish himself as a cross-cultural scholar who introduced Chinese classics to the West. On another dimension, it tries to join the mainstream of Sinology and forge a primary aesthetic Sinology system that originated from Chinese history and glorious civilization. Although Acton failed to spend his life in China as he wished, after returning to Europe, he not only continued to engage in Sinology research, but also immersed himself in the study of Italian history. In the baptism of practice, he became open-minded. He intervenes in historical research from the perspectives of poetry, aesthetics, and humanity. With his delicate, rigorous, wise, and gorgeous writing style, he has fixed the academic peak of an era.
  Acton’s identity as a cultural “other” makes him have an “other” perspective to objectively examine academic phenomena while dissociated from academic schools. He not only integrates into the genre as a participant, but also constantly breaks through the barriers of various cultural circles as a mutual learner, connects heterogeneous cultures with aestheticism, and finally realizes his dream in Chinese civilization and realizes the positioning of an ideal civilization. Ranked among the fringes of Bloomsbury, Acton does not claim to be a member of a specific group. His conductor consciousness promotes cultural mutual learning on an individual basis. Even though Acton cannot fully belong to a specific organization or genre, the core of his aestheticism has achieved his cultural nomad perspective with aestheticism as the main line. Wherever he goes, there is fertile ground, and the hearts of those who are beautiful will always belong to China. He spent ninety years of his life, and half his life was accompanied by the study of Sinology. The outstanding achievements in Chinese cultural studies have brought a successful conclusion to Acton’s identity as a marginalized person.

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