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 The slowness, that is, the laziness of “intellectual habits” can be explained, perhaps, in this way. The “private world” of the cerebral person is stronger or more elaborate or interesting than that of the average person, or at least it is more worrying. Therefore, he is less conscious of the exterior world. Hence the monographs titled “genius and madness.”

The madman does not see the exterior world any more. The (so-called) philosopher of a certain kind is “immersed in his thoughts.”

The foundation of my pragmatic idealism is this: when the idea is realized, it enters into action. The imperfect (immature) idea remains in the shell of the “private world.” The great genius does not create an “artificial paradise,” but a world that will come, will exteriorize itself more or less swiftly. The intellectual part of the public (the so-called intellighentia [sic.], as it was called in Russia) was the slowest in recognizing the New Era (E.F.) and in spite of the new cultural agreements, it is still late in recognizing the causes of its own delay. The strength or concentration of the intellectual life does not remain in a given compartment of life, nor in a single geographical center.

The confusion of the literary world of the last twenty years derives from the disintegration of Paris, and the shift of the so-called literary circle’s center of activity. From 1830 to 1917 the literary world looked to Paris. We could say that from 1700, the intellectual world had looked to Paris as its lighthouse and center.

Not for nothing D’Annunzio tried to write in French. I myself tried to write poems in French, having despaired of getting verses of a fresh style (for 1910) published in the United States or in England. Turgenev lived in Paris. Henry James “loved France, as he never loved a woman.”

Today, no more. These attitudes are no longer comprehensible. After the death of Remy de Gourmont I could not find in Paris a writer to whom I could entrust a monthly review of French literature for the Little Review. The Sorbonne decays.

And even now the literary world does not know where to seek out the dawn.

This “going astray” derives in itself from a fixed habit.1 The prestige of Flaubert and co. was and still is so strong that career writers do not understand that the center no longer lies in the novel. With Flaubert and Goncourt the (realist) novel was so much deeper and more serious that historiographic writings, so much more truthful than the kind of superficial history that was then fashionable, that the novel was tagged “histoire morale contemporaine” and became “literature” ensconced in the penumbra of belles lettres. But this is, in reality, only a part of literature. It was the diagnosis. The totality of literature oscillates in a great curve between diagnosis and remedial literature.

This phenomenon is not yet understood or digested. The mercantilist plague gnawed at the world. The great doctors did not know what to do other than observe it, diagnose it. Hippocrates, impotent to cure, watched a phase of civilization die.

Marxist literature attained its apogee in the last page of Madame Bovary… “et l’envoie, pour gagner sa vie, dans un filature de coton.

Speaking of Mme. Bovary’s daughter ….

Having exposed the nature of the social sickness in this literary form, the serious intellect turned to remedy this sickness. And genius (constituted by individuals) concerned itself with another species of verbal expression. The cultivators of light forms understood that the Laws of Constantine are literature. Stendhal himself, indeed, studied the Napoleonic Code to equip his style.


End of Chapter. Second Chapter, in other words, another component of this ideogram.


Homer differs from Virgil, being concerned about the means for life: how Odysseus can eat on his raft, how his pigs survived.


Dante and Shakespeare are concerned, really very concerned with ethics and economic justice. The purely sensual and amateur writers are not worried about these at all.

All this concern about morality gives a certain dimension to the work of the former. A dimension that distinguishes great literature, deep literature, from the mediocre one.


Third little chapter.

The great springs of millenary civilization are two: Rome and the Chinese empire. Between these poles there has been a disordered zone, a Tartar and barbaric zone; a zone in certain mercantilist eras that, according to certain profound historians, tried to impede the exchange and to block communications between the great civilizing centres of Asia and Europe.


Fourth proposal.

Every time that a durable dynasty was established in China, a dynasty that maintained itself for three of four centuries, it was always founded on certain sanities, on certain honesties, codified and meditated by Confucius, who professed he was doing nothing new. These principles have served the successors. At the centre of each new dynasty one could find a nucleus of Confucians. Japan now enters in an already known cycle, and we have to hope for the re-birth of co-ordination between Tokyo and Pekin.


They scold that I “jump around,” that I don’t indicate the progression from one point to another in my argument. I never felt the right to create useless typographical costs for my editors. Once a reader understands that I don’t want to chew his food, he will take greater pleasure in thinking for himself, meditating for himself the facts and data I present. I do not want to dominate his dissent. I have faith. The reader, once he begins to meditate from the facts or the data shown to him, can easily capture the essential part of my message. In this short article I affirm two simple things. The vortex of thought is no longer concentrated in France. Worried and made lazy by old habits, men of letters continue to seek out the vortex in certain literary forms that were the principal and vital forms eighty years ago, that is in novels, instead of seeking them out in laws, in the lively paragraphs of speeches, or maybe here and there in books that treat economic-historical matters. We have to admit that a history book, even if of second-rank, is worth more than a third-rank novel. An illuminated sentence such as “discipline the economic forces and equate them to the needs of the nation,” is worth more than a flaccid novel, imitating an exotic model or weakly following an imitation of Flaubert, unfortunately already admitted to the catalogue of “indigenous classics.”

Under any verbal form, lively thinking is worth infinitely more than dead or embalmed thought. This is a legal decree of aesthetics. 

 *Copyright © 1938 by Ezra Pound. Translated by permission.



 1. I translate “smarrimento” as “having gone astray” because of a problematic Dantean implication, the import of which should be taken into account given that Pound was interested in translations of Dante in this period. In the opening lines of the Commedia, the Pilgrim is “smarrito,” that is, lost but with the hope of recovering the lost way. However, given this Dantean context, it would be an egregious poetic misdemeanor to translate “smarrimento” as “having been lost,” because in Dante to be lost means to be “perduto” (another word for lost, that is more final). In extremis to be “lost” in the sense of “perduto” would mean to be lost irreparably, having lost the love of God.