POUND

The biography of Ezra Pound becomes almost too depressing to read when we reach WWII--Pound's broadcasts from Rome, and his subsequent arrest and trial on charges of treason. It's tragic that such brilliance, such 'furious motion' (to steal Dylan Thomas' phrase), should degrade into the appalling crudity of Pound's attacks on the Jews, and his ravings on the role of international finance in the War ( despite their rabid, hectoring tone, his comments on finance might have some truth if you excise the anti-Semitic element from them and analyse the ideas themselves.)

Was this insanity? Of course not. Pound was never crazy. He was insanely arrogant, though, and probably a misanthrope--but if hating humanity is a sign of mental illness half the population are mad. At the time of the War and the Rome broadcasts I think he was suffering from the very modern ailment of stress, and mental exhaustion; he'd been running too fast for too long and now he was in the middle of a maelstrom, and too caught up in the pace of things to realise that he wasn't handling the pressure. And Pound was a man of books. He'd built his universe from the writing that inspired him. Even his invective--though, as I've indicated, colossaly crude--had precedents in Dante. It's just that Dante spilled out his venom more poetically.

The trial that resulted in Pound's twelve-year incarceration at St. Elizabeth's was a classic piece of State revenge against somebody who had dared (albeit in a frequently disgusting way) to challenge it during a time of War. They would have killed him if he'd been an ordinary man, but because he was an internationally celebrated literary figure, with Hemingway and Robert Frost pleading on his behalf, they fitted him up for Crazy. But was he crazy to believe the War was being run for the benefit of international financiers? Primacy of cart and horse are difficult to determine in these cases, but look at Iraq and tell me nobody made money out of it. And was Pound crazy to believe that Mussolini and the Fascists would construct a more civilised society that Roosevelt and Churchill? Naive, perhaps, but crazy? What kind of shape is British society in today, after sixty more years of our sainted democracy?

(Relax, boys and girls, I ain't advocating Fascism. I don't believe in political solutions at all anymore, though I still lean instinctively towards the Left when it comes to social organisation. But democracy as a system is hardly beyond criticism. Perhaps if we actually had real democracy it would be?)

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