Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Opinions of Ezra

I did a blog google on Ezra Pound a while ago to see what people were saying about him and the results were interesting. It seems no longer to be questioned by the majority of people that Pound was a Fascist--one blogger says, "He must have been to be tried by the US as a traitor" (or some such). Also that he was an anti-Semite and a lunatic. Some, while holding these views quite rigidly do acknowledge that he was a fabulous poet, but in general these presumptions seem to have cast him out of the Am Lit fold completely. I've also noted one or two people linking the presumption of his lunacy to the immense difficulty of some of his poems and feeling, consequently, that the poems do not have to be tackled by anyone with a serious interest in Modernist poetry (and developments beyond it).
Hmm. I am studying Pound's works closely and I am not convinced that he was either a Fascist OR a lunatic. He certainly had Fascist sympathies because they seemed to accommodate opinions he had already held about international finance, the organisation of labour and the importance of high culture--though he was probably embarrassingly naive about all these things for a man of such obvious intelligence: Pound considered himself to be a patriotic American individual, as far as I have been able to establish, and believed the people in the White House were running down his country--an opinion he had in common, at the outset of WWII, with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, by the way, both of whom are celebrated nowadays as quintessential Americans.
The lunacy accusation has never been proven, to my satisfaction, and not only have I studied the records of Pound's trial, I've also worked with the mentally ill for more than a decade. Does anybody reading this have any conclusive proof of the contrary? I'd be interested to read it if they have.
As for the anti-Semitism--many of Pound's statements in this regard are crude in the extreme and reveal a definite habit of racially stereotyping Jews. Pound knew that, when, later on in life, he withdrew into silence and recanted on many of the opinions he'd expressed in his own writings. The one possible defence with particular regard to anti-Semitism is that Pound hated everyone. Which he did--though the flesh of six million Britons or Americans didn't burn in the ovens of Nazi concentration camps in WWII.
I'm not trying to excuse Pound for any of his transgressions. He was a genius but he was also an idiot: the twentieth century turned most of its great artists and poets into fools, and among them he was the Chief Fool--to some extent because he dared the most, but also because of his surprising capacity for bottomless intellectual vulgarity. But as Basil Bunting said, he is "the Alps of poetry"--that is, he can be climbed (by the brave) and circumnavigated by the cautious, but he cannot be ignored. If you try you're going to miss out on a whole chunk of your poetical education, and your reading and your understanding will be significantly the poorer for it. It's time we looked at old Ezra properly and stopped trying to write him out of literary history on the basis of misinformed gossip.

1 comment:

eshuneutics said...

Well, it is a brave person who defends Pound. Actually, I came across your post having just been infuriated by another one that called Pound the poet who "instituted a paranoid approach to reading". It summed up the whole problem with Pound without realising it did so: people impose their own fragmented knowledge on The Cantos and then delight in the fragmentation they discover. Pound's politics were dubious, also his economics, also his racial views, but The Cantos are not a work of madness. Really, Pound studies has been polarised for decades between the "elite" who know a lot about Pound, but don't read The Cantos as poetry, and the "prejudiced" who read The Cantos for its message, but don't even see that they consist of poetry. There are few who actually sense the pulse of The Cantos...what Pound termed AMOR-ROMA...a neat palindromic ideogram...the restoration of civilisation through the sight given by divine love (from Eleusis). The greatest reader of Pound is Professor AD Moody. Pound the critic was a subjective Egotist but The Cantos are actually about the loss of self through objectivism...his whole concern with the Image and Vortex...never wavered...even in The Pisan Cantos when madness might have shown. In fact, there you get the opposite: an amazing presence of mind. You raise all the right questions.