Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ezra Pound

I am going restart my blog with a few reflections on Ezra Pound.

For many years, as my weary friends would attest, I was obsessed with Ezra Pound. I read everything that Pound had written and most of what had been written about him. Especially I read and re-read the Cantos. I mined Pound for secrets of technique and
structure. I saw him as a veritable bible for modern poetry. I ignored other people's reservations that he was too inaccessible, elitist and deliberately obscure. I also ignored other more serious concerns that Pound was a Fascist and a racist.

I remember in a graduate class on Ezra Pound a woman who dropped the class after a couple of weeks because she was so repelled by his antisemitism. I thought she was being over sensitive, but now, after many years, I have greater sympathy for her
position. I tended to dismiss the racism and fascism as aberrations in an otherwise good man, as historical accidents that could be mostly ignored. But now I find them more troubling and less easily forgiven.

Of the two issues, I find Fascism the less troubling. It is a part of the historical context. After the the optimism and confidence of the 19th century was shattered by world war one, after the excesses of the 1920's followed by the world wide depression of the 1930s, there was an almost desperate desire in many for order. Fascism offered this order, even if at a cost. Also, anyone who has read Pound's "Jefferson and/or Mussolini" knows he seriously misunderstood Fascism.

The racism is harder to swallow. One could argue that it too was of the time. In his last years he reportedly apologized to Alan Ginsberg for having fallen prey to "that stupid suburban prejudice, antisemitism." But I am not so sure this is sufficient.
Pound always claimed to be apart from and above the times. And, his racism was not just passive. In the Cantos he writes "the Goyim are cattle" and his radio broadcasts from Italy during the war are vile with racist epithets and stereotypes. If attacked he could always use the age old diversion, "see I have a Jewish friend, Louis Zukofsky." But it was poetry that made them friends.

One of enduring complaints about Pound is that he and his poetry are too intellectual. I think this arises from his use of multiple languages and obscure historical texts throughout the Cantos. But I think Pound was, if anything, not intellectual enough. He was not a scholar; he was an enthusiast. He found things that struck him and pasted them whole cloth into the Cantos. He didn't do the depth research to understand the contexts and sources better. He didn't analyse relationships; he felt them. This may be one reason that the Cantos never quite "cohere." The poem is obsessed by structure and contains threads of many possible structures, but never actually settles into any one of them, or any coherent combination of them. Pound never had the discipline to be called an intellectual, but I suspect if he had the Cantos would never have existed.

Nowhere is Pound's lack of intellectual prowess more evident than in his economics. His ideas are crackpot in the best American tradition. When he is talking economics he reminds me of some of great uncles who were convinced there were simple answers to
everything and that the only reason they weren't being implemented was because of a vast conspiracy of industry and government to hide them from the people. I believe this is essentially American. It represents American optimism and pragmatism, the belief that every problem can be solved and that the solution is, in some way, essentially simple if you are smart enough to see it. The problem is this belief is everywhere frustrated by reality. But, rather then surrender the belief, they prefer to see outside agencies, particularly the government and big business as forming vast conspiracies to hide the simple solutions from the people in order to protect their power and profits.

Exra Pound was remarkably un-self reflective. Some biographers have suggested he was a shy person who compensated by focusing everything outward. He sustained his energy by finding enemies to rail against, and causes to support. But I have the impression
that he very seldom paused to reflect on what he was doing in any serious way. There two times in his life when he was forced to turn inward. In the prison cells of Piza, and in dispair of his old age. I don't think it is an accident that those are the most moving and popular parts of the Cantos.

So, where am I now with Ezra Pound? The umbridled enthusiasm is gone. There are parts of the poetry and parts of the man that repell me. On the other hand, there are poems and parts of poems that I still find as moving as anything in 20th century Literature--Canto 100, for instance, and the drafts and fragments. One could do worse than to remember the last words of the Cantos: "To be men not destroyers." If only Pound had adhered to that more in his life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I hope to have the new site up and at least partially functional by next weekend. It has been taking much longer to do than I thought it would. Partially this is because I am overly ambitious, and partially because I have so many other responsibilities and claims on my time.

However, I intend to post it soon, even if there are parts that will still say "under construction."

I don't really think anyone is reading this blog, but if you are stay tuned. Once the web site is up, I will start putting real posts here, posts on literature and philosphy and poetry.