PORTRAIT OF A SCHOLAR - EVA HESSE
AN OLD FRIEND
by Mary de Rachewiltz
(Brunnenburg, April 30, 2014)
Eva Hesse is Kulchur,
her background is History.
She is a great Lady.
What more can be said?
She was kind to the prisoner, sent him chocolates and marzipan and a shawl to cover his shoulders - he wore it like Saladin, the scarf in his cimier. And she sent him a picture of her beautiful self in a bikini. Pound knew her forthwith and told me to invite her to Brunnenburg, as ever concerned about my (lack of) education. She and her husband, Mike O'Donnell, entered their name in our guest book on September 9, 1956, specifying: “of the tribe of Ez”.
Following the family profession, Eva speaks in tongues - Vom Zungenreden in der Lyrik : “Grossvater war ein Dragoman” - a born translator. Pound speaks of “Sophoclean Light,” Eva speaks of the “physischen Frisson” of poetry. In his youth Pound read Heine and Walter von der Vogelweide.
As for history: “Eva's pa heard that on the telephone” and wrote Das Spiel um Deutschland. Before WWII Pound read Frobenius, my first assignment had been “Das Bauerntum in Africa,” a chapter in Erlebte Erdteile. In captivity, Pound studied Law Codes and History. He read and carefully annotated the 3 volumes of Bernhard von Bülow, Denkwürdigkeiten and must have enjoyed the facsimiles: ”Quis erudiet without documents?” And von Papen's Memoirs. And, yes, for my education, he sent me his annotated Shadows Lengthen by Clara Longworth de Chambrun, as well as Wong Su-Ling, Daughter of Confucius.
Eva is generous, she cultivates friendship, sharing her knowledge, her enthusiasms, sometimes even royalties. I owe her E. E. Cummings, Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore and many a silk blouse. She took me to Berlin for the performance of her translation of Sophocles-Pound, Women of Trachis. It was my first flight.
She also held my hand, swimming under water in Mliet. I saw new colors in the domain of fishes.
Also thanks to Eva, the Poet had his moment of glory on the stage. The Mayor of Darmstadt invited him as guest of honor to the premiere of Die Frauen von Trachis. He joined the actors at the end and received a standing ovation: what SPLENDOR.
What counts is the statement in Canto LXXIV:
that free speech without free radio speech is as zero
in Eva's version dass Redefreiheit ohne Radiofreiheit gleich null ist
and in Canto CII: Eva has improved that line about Freiheit.
It coheres all right.
A BELATED VISIT
by Roxana Preda
Eva is a survivor. All the old guard is gone: Kenner and Terrell, the two great friends and doyens of Ezra Pound studies passed away in 2003. Burt Hatlen followed them in 2008, Wilhelm in 2012, Stock just November 2013.
There is just Eva – born in 1925, she is still with us. I found it was high time I went to see her, so on a fine sunny weekend in October 2013, I did. Professor Richard Taylor, living in Bayreuth, not far from Munich, was a friendly mediator. At the time, I knew nothing of Eva’s circumstances: Rick broke it to me gently. Eva had suffered a stroke. I froze: was she paralyzed? Well, she was in a wheelchair, but otherwise well, some days better than others, as normal at her age. Her mind was still working, which, given the situation, was nothing short of a miracle.
She lives in a neat room on the first floor of a retirement home in Schwabing, the Munich district where she has spent all her adult life. The two big windows opening unto a park let in a lot of light, which was troublesome to her: she wore dark glasses and often turned her wheelchair away from the window. The sunny October day was a boon to us but difficult for her. She invited us to Kaffee und Kuchen downstairs – we could sit in the shade and talk of old times. I had prepared my questions about things I wanted to know, especially about her participation in the founding of Paideuma at the beginning of the 1970s – however, the conversation turned around other memories, which were obviously dearer to her. Her letters to Pound during the 1950s and her personal acquaintance with him, for instance, or the trials and tribulations of her lifelong effort to translate The Cantos into German, a work that had been finished that year with a beautiful bilingual volume that I had brought for her to autograph. Our whole conversation was in English; she had no difficulties or hesitations using it. She asked me if I could read German – when I answered in the affirmative, she gave me her latest monograph – a handsome volume about Pound and love published in 2008, which I promised to review.
The conversations with Eva that we had on that weekend made it even clearer than before that she did not consider herself a Pound scholar exclusively. Her list of publications showed her to be a student of modernism in the broadest sense: she wrote books about modernist poets, translated their work into German and corresponded with them too.
I suggested that these letter exchanges, especially those with Pound and Eliot will surely be interesting for scholars to study and that they should be published. She took a drag out of her slim cigarillo and said nothing.
Did I see the shadow of a smile?
Eva Hesse's publication list can be consulted on her own website at http://www.bernhard-frank.de/evahesse/veroeffentlichungen.htm
WHY CAN’T YOU BREAK AWAY FROM POUND?
Interview with Eva Hesse
Hannes Hintermeier for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 06/08/2012
tr. by Roxana Preda
Scene – Munich retirement home.
HH - When did you first engage with the poet Ezra Pound?
EH - The first time was in 1958 when I wrote a text called “Ezra Pound – against the currents of time” for Gerhard Szczesny’s “Night studio” on the Bavarian radio. It was about his position against the Americans joining the war – and about his role as helper of younger writers. E. E. Cummings, whom I was translating at the time, read the manuscript. He recommended I send it to Pound himself. It found Pound in a great depression and so I began a longer correspondence with him, which over the years grew to two hundred letters.
HH - At that time Pound had just been discharged from the St. Elizabeths hospital in Washington twelve years and a half after he had been accused of treason and declared insane.
EH - It was called “Institute for the Criminally Insane”. The situation there was awful. Though suffering from claustrophobia, he was put in a common room with all other mentally ill persons. The light was on day and night. T.S. Eliot protested against it, but it didn’t help. In the course of our correspondence I asked Pound what he meant by a certain passage. He replied he meant this, that and the other thing. I replied to him insolently, as I was then, that if that was what he meant, then certainly he did not write it. The answer, in big letters, promptly came back: “Damn it – don’t translate what I wrote, translate what I meant to write”. That impressed me and I have always kept it in mind in my later work.
HH - Which must have been difficult in his case, since he found quotations from many fields of knowledge and included even ideograms in his poems.
EH - Pound differentiates among three elements of poetry, which translate to different degrees. Melopoeia, whereby the poem sound creates significance beyond the words’ meaning: that is often untranslatable, can be successful only through sheer luck. Phanopoeia, the power of language to create images – that, in Pound’s opinion can never go wrong, you only have to hold onto the precise picture. The third element is logopoeia “the dance of intellect among words” – language games which you can recreate. These were the three elements, which I was aiming at. That is not the same thing as translating prose, but people often don’t understand this dimension of language.
HH - The most famous part of the poem, The Pisan Cantos are proof of how closely life and work were knit together in Pound’s case.
EH - It is remarkable that he could work in such circumstances. He was locked in a cage illuminated by floodlights day and night. He was not permitted to speak to anyone. He was then over sixty. When he broke down, he was moved to a medical tent, he could go out at night into the medical compound, there he began to write again. From that point on, his soul was damaged.
HH - Where does your love for Anglo-American poetry come from?
EH - Besides Cummings I have translated T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Archibald MacLeish, Langston Hughes and a lot of other poets. It began when as a seven year old I went to England with my father who worked at the German Embassy in London . I grew up bilingual, though I was condemned to a year of complete silence – until I learned English. After a year it was better, I even won prizes for essay composition. But it was a difficult time for me because at school I always had to explain what Mr Hitler meant when he claimed colonies in Africa. But at this time I discovered English poetry. Lawrence Olivier read Shakespeare at the Old Vic and I caught fire. At school we also read Shakespeare with a dictionary for old words. But that he could become so alive – that was an important experience for me.
HH - Did you live in Germany throughout the war?
EH - When the war broke out, I came back – and had to realize that I really liked the English criticism of Hitler. I hated the Nazi tone. And then went to school very irregularly. But that is too personal.
HH - Well then, let us talk about Ezra Pound some more.
EH - I realized very late that all his life Pound had suffered from his own trauma as I had suffered from mine, and that there was no link between the two. His trauma was the First World War in which a total breakdown of culture happened and where a lot of his young friends, whom he had himself discovered, died in the trenches. My own showed itself only after the Second World War when I realized how many people the Nazis had murdered. I could never overcome that. But my trauma is barely mentioned in Pound’s poetry.
HH - This is why he is so notorious – for his support for Mussolini whose side he took in his radio speeches.
EH - He had primarily the First World War in mind; this is why he wanted to prevent America’s participation in the second. He made efforts to talk to Roosevelt but the president naturally refused to see him. But it is of course true: he never dissociated himself from fascism. The sole meeting with Mussolini he has kept in a Canto – when the Duce tapped an edition of Pound’s poetry with his finger saying “Questo e divertente” – this here is amusing. [Canto XLI]
HH - So where does this fascination with the man and his work come from?
EH - He won me over by not treating me in an authoritarian way – like everybody else did, beginning with my father. One could really criticise him with no fear. And besides, he was an exceptional poet. In the beginning I stood up for him without knowing his case really well. Then I came to know him personally in Brunnenburg, by Merano after his discharge – he ran after us as my husband Mike and I were hauling our heavy luggage down to the valley. He gave me a crumpled piece of paper. As I opened it on the train it read: “Don’t argue”. I expect he meant that I should not stand up for him in public – so as not to discredit myself for his sake. Touching and enigmatic.
HH - Luckily it was not the only meeting. He visited you in Munich more often.
EH - He was not interested in the city. But he wanted to meet my parents because he had read my father’s Fritz Hesse’s book “Das Spiel um Deutschland” [The Game over Germany]. It is about the pre-war period from the point of view of the German embassy. The Duke of Windsor plays an important role there. Historians have rejected the book because my father who was born and grew up in Baghdad was actually a storyteller who told his stories imaginatively.1 My father took Pound for crazy and I corrected him: Papa, if people will talk about you they will do so because he mentioned you. In Canto 86 he wrote “Eva’s pa heard it on the telephone” – he means the news of the Duke of Windsor’s abdication.
HH - You stood on the left side of the political spectrum and translated a man who until today has had the fascist label stuck on him.
EH - I have never identified with Pound but have always examined him critically. Besides, I have not always translated. In 1974 I published my book “Die Wurzeln der Revolution” [The Roots of Revolution] where I analyse theories of money and state. Ezra Pound is not even once mentioned there. The years after 1968 fired my imagination; I made a mistake, however. I was wrong in my evaluation of Mao.
HH - In the last years of his life, Pound had all but stopped talking.
EH - He was very deeply buried in his silence. Also with his partner Olga he talked only the bare essentials. My last meeting with him was shortly before his death in Venice. In the restaurant, Olga ordered the food. When it was brought to the table he asked “What is this? Did you order this for me?” She hissed: “Yes Ezra, eat it!” When I was about to leave, Olga ordered a gondola to take me to the station. Pound came with me and in spite of his advanced years wanted to carry my heavy suitcase. He almost got into a fight with a porter at the station over this. But he did not say a word.
HH - You can hardly decipher anything and you need someone to read aloud to you – is this the highest penalty for an intellectual?
EH - I am nevertheless very choosy, don’t like novels, for that I’m too old. Recently I have listened to the whole Proust. Well, you may not lie down while listening otherwise you fall instantly asleep. He is not at all modern - if I had read him at the beginning of my career, I would have given up literature. I love philosophical texts and have unfortunately missed many authors. I am interested in the medieval mystics, church history. As Ernst Bloch once remarked, the church nevertheless has the merit of creating heretics.
1. Fritz Hesse. Das Spiel um Deutschland. München: Paul List Verlag, 1953, translated as Hitler and the English by F. A. Voigt and published by Allan Wingate in 1954. The book was very negatively reviewed in Die Zeit (December 1953) and received a charitable notice in Der Spiegel (October 1954). A more extensive commentary focusing on Hesse’s errors of memory and imaginative embellishments about the Ribbentrop plan can be found in Klaus P. Fisher, Hitler and America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, 259-261. Hesse was quoted by Observer (6 September 2009) in connection with Hitler’s plans of invading Britain.
EVA HESSE. “ICH LIEBE, ALSO BIN ICH”:
DER UNBEKANTE EZRA POUND.
MIT CANTO XXXVI UND CAVALCANTIS CANZONE D’AMORE.
Berlin: Osburg Verlag, 2008.
review by Roxana Preda
For the naïve reader who approaches Eva Hesse’s book of 2008 “Ich liebe, also bin ich” Der unbekante Ezra Pound [I love, therefore I am. The unknown Ezra Pound] with some expectation of finding biographical revelations about Pound’s illicit love affairs, or else a mapping of the interplay between these and his personal family life will be largely disappointed.
S/he might also be confused by chapters that are exclusively philosophical and don’t seem to be strictly related to love. Starting from the premise that Pound is portrayed in the media as someone overwhelmed by hate, an unredeemable Fascist deep in anti-Semitic prejudice, Hesse maps that other side of a poet who at Pisa realized and affirmed that he is alive to the extent he is capable of affection. Her subtitle “The unknown Ezra Pound” therefore points to the affirmative side of Pound’s personality and intellectual pursuits. “Love” is generically understood as that side of the mind (the Freudian Eros), which affirms and supports our wish and strength to live. Sexual love, certainly, but also human relationships and intellectual curiosity, as well as religious and mystical impulses, the veneration of beauty and the desire for happiness. Hesse’s premise is that love, as a way of getting out of egoism and exploring the world in inextinguishable curiosity for the Other, was the mainspring of Pound’s readiness for constant renewal and experimentation in The Cantos. It is Eros, which stands behind his creative impulse and his desire and ability to include the most disparate zones of interest in stable and personal poetic syntheses. Hesse follows a few of these: her book is framed by historical considerations on the concept of the amour courtois with which she starts her investigation, and the extensive commentary on Cavalcanti’s Donna mi prega as it appears in Canto XXXVI, which ends it. In between, we find the hard nucleus of her philosophical investigations: a consideration of Neoplatonism and its ramifications in Pound’s absorbing interest in the philosophy of light as an expression of transcendent beatitude; an examination of the dialectics between Confucianism and Taoism in the Cantos, and a reflection on the role of language and metaphysics in Pound’s view of the self in its relation to the world.
All through the book she stays true to the principle of the critical confrontation (“kritische Auseinandersetzung”): she follows the instigations of Pound’s poetry which lead her to the study of his sources; she will then present a mapping of this study and a judgement of Pound’s work from this new vantage point. What seems to absorb her most is the delineation of those points where Pound appears to have misunderstood the source or where the personal angle he took on it failed to translate into a viable recipe for life.
She starts her analysis by devoting the first section of her book to the ‘invention of love’ in the Middle Ages. She does this from a feminist point of view – her perspective is refreshing, funny, and interesting. Even if courtly love was a game among men, it had been invented at the court of Eleanor d’Aquitaine and testified of female power such as it could be conceived at the time. Here she examines the crucial difference between the French understanding and the Italian one, as it appears in the dolce stil nuovo. Whereas troubadours assumed they were vassals to the lady and deferred to her as uncontested expert in love matters, Cavalcanti, Dante and their circle made disquisitions about love a male intellectual game and a means of communicating among themselves. Even if Cavalcanti’s canzone d’amore is formally the answer to a lady’s question, it is in fact a point-by point response to a poem by Guido Orlandi. His philosophical disquisitions, drawing on Aristotle and Albertus Magnus could not be addressed to a lady, but to another man who would have been able to understand them.
Hesse goes into the details of historical and philosophical background gauging Pound’s particular perspective on it. Courtly love and its reverberations in Pound’s understanding of the relationship between love and marriage; the role of sex as sacrament in the Eleusinian rites; Gourmont’s theory of sex; Confucius’s view of the role of family. Hesse points out the discrepancy between Pound’s sacramental view of sex and the troubadour’s fin amor and again between these two and the value that Confucius places on the family.
The second section of her book is devoted to Pound’s philosophical interests in Neoplatonism and an elucidation of the various authors he was indebted to: Plotinus, Erigena, Grosseteste and Bruno, showing how this lifelong interest flowed into the adaptation of Brancusi’s art into a personal world of paradise on earth.
In her third chapter, Hesse provides a biography of Confucius and a contextualisation of his position in relationship to Taoism. In her précis of Confucius’s biography it is uncanny to discover analogies to Pound’s own life. Both Confucius and Pound set to a life of wandering, trying and failing to advise princes of a revolutionary ideology. Both established universities of one with a circle of informal students. Even the curricula were similar: history, poetry, philosophy, and politics. Here too Hesse finds that Pound had not gone far enough in his Confucian studies: he had failed to see the difference between the original revolutionary social theory and its later elaboration and application in the running of the Chinese empire.
In her last philosophical chapter, devoted to knowledge and identity, Hesse revisits Pound’s approach to poetic language as opposed to Aristotle’s logic of non-contradiction. She emphasizes that Pound’s language expresses the acquisition of knowledge, accommodating growth, contradiction and discovery. She compares it to the Chinese view, which similarly accepts the simultaneity of contradictory concepts.
Particularly enlightening is her last chapter devoted to a discussion of Cavalcanti’s Donna mi prega, with a very useful detailed commentary. Her conclusion is that even if Pound had loved this poem well enough to devote a great deal of intellectual energy to it, the difference between the fin amor and woman as the object of immediate consumption is denied by Pound’s lifelong belief in the holiness of sex, derived from the Eleusian rites and de Gourmont.
Hesse’s book implicitly invites the reader to be aware of the co-existence of Pound’s contradictory cherished opinions and to be a judge in how these flowed into his poetry and personal life.