Print

 

FACT CHECK / DETOX     
_______________

A. David Moody

 

 book sculpture

 

A useful service in Make It New would be an occasional – i.e. when there is occasion for it – fact checking service. France’s Libération calls it “Detox.” It would be strictly for questions and answers concerning matters of fact – not a place for discussion or opinion. The idea is that it should be a collaboration between those seeking accurate information and those able to provide it. Its primary use would be the correction of error. I offer some examples to make a start, all, except the first two and the last three, from Ezra Pound in the Present. Essays on Pound’s Contemporaneity, edited by Paul Stasi and Josephine Park (New York & London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016). The collection was reviewed by Mark Byron in Make It New (III.4, April 2017: 49-59). Item 11 below, rather than establishing the facts of a particular case, is asking, "Is that a fact?" 

 

***

 

1. In my Ezra Pound: Poet. II: The Epic Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), the photo in illustration no. 11, “Ezra Pound on the rooftop of his apartment, Rapallo, 1930s,” is credited to Arnold Genthe. In fact, the photo, as is well known, was taken by James Jesus Angleton.

 

2. On p.90 of the same volume, in the discussion of canto XXX, I wrote:

“the wicked Lucrezia Borgia . . . was at least a force of nature in her time . . . . Defective as she was in intellectual and spiritual virtue, a real mafiosa, Lucrezia had at least the virtue of crude energy.”

That reflects the widespread sensational view of Lucrezia Borgia, for which there is no foundation in fact. Informed historians record that she was an efficient administrator, and, as Duchess of Ferrara, was admired as an intelligent and generous patron of artists and writers.

 

3. On p. 141 of Ezra Pound in the Present, Christine Froula wrote:

“Launched on the heavy seas of a Europe still reeling from the unprecedented industrial war whose causes the poet seeks, The Cantos grapples with the violence intrinsic to epic. In ‘The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,’ Simone Weil describes the Iliad as ‘the purest and loveliest’ mirror of the force that is, ‘today as yesterday, at the very center of human history.’ Writing in 1940, when Mussolini was still waging war in Ethiopia and Hitler had stormed Spain, Czechoslovakia, Poland and France and was bombarding England . . .”

Is that altogether true? Strictly speaking, though there was still some guerrilla resistance to his rule, Mussolini was not “waging war in Ethiopia” in 1940, having conquered it in 1935-36 – it was known at that time as Abyssinia – and claimed it as a part of his empire. Again, Hitler had not “stormed Spain” as he had Poland and France: Spain remained neutral throughout the 1939-45 war. Those errors don’t shake Froula’s argument, yet they are significant, given that the argument is all about “the vortex of twentieth century history.”

 

4. In his contribution to Ezra Pound in the Present, “Paleolithic Media: Deep Time and Ezra Pound’s Methods,” Aaron Jaffe wrote: 

“the absence of roman numerals in all but two of the first sixteen cantos (the Hell cantos are the exception) is a signal that Pound’s pivot toward Rome and fascism happened later. By the time A Draft of XXX Cantos was published in 1930, he had embraced the Benito Mussolini-led Risorgimento as well as Roman numerals” (p. 50 n.14).

Is that a fact? Jaffe is citing the absence of Roman numerals in A Draft of XVI Cantos (1924), and he resolutely refers to the cantos in that gathering as “the Twelfth Canto” etc. But the “Malatesta Cantos” in The Criterion in July 1923 were headed “Cantos IX to XII of a Long Poem.” And the earliest cantos, in Poetry and Lustra in 1917, and in Quia Pauper Amavi in 1919, had all carried Roman numerals. In fact, as one need only look into Gallup’s bibliography to find, Roman numerals are the rule in Pound’s poems, and also in his prose, since at least 1911. You just have to look into any edition of the collected shorter poems to see it – with Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919) and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) as prime pre-Fascist examples. It is true that the four cantos in Poems 1918-21 carry the titles “The Fourth Canto” etc., but it is also true that the “Three Portraits” in that volume, the PropertiusMauberley, and Langue d’Oc, all have Roman numerals. The fact is then, that Pound had always used Roman numerals, with the exception only of the cantos in Poems 1918-21, and of most but not all in A Draft of XVI Cantos. There is no sound basis for the assertion that his use of them throughout A Draft of XXX Cantos signaled a “pivot towards Rome and fascism.” Nor is there a basis in either Pound’s writings or his actions for the implication that he had “embraced” Mussolini’s Fascism by 1930. 

 

5. On p. 60 of his essay, Aaron Jaffe makes a point of some importance for his argument: 

“Whereas Eliot’s cave is a museum for the aesthetic preservationist, Pound takes a different approach. In Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir, for instance, he describes a more extroverted encounter: ‘the PALEOLITHIC VORTEX resulted in the decoration of the Dordogne caverns’ where the ‘driving power was life in the absolute’ and his energy brutal — ‘HIS OPULENT MATURITY WAS CONVEX,’ a connection sufficiently important to get repeated twenty-two years later in Guide to Kulchur (GB 20, 21; GK 63, 64).”

However, that “PALEOLITHIC VORTEX” represents neither Pound’s “approach” nor his “description”: it is of course from Gaudier-Brzeska’s “Vortex” in the first number of BLAST, as Pound explicitly states when reprinting it in both GB and GK.

 

6. I note by the way – a different order of fact – that Jaffe’s reference to something I wrote (see n. 16 on p. 51) gives a correct page number but the wrong book. The detail referred to will not be found on p. 83 of Ezra Pound: Poet: I, but on p. 83 of the collection of essays edited by Richard Taylor and Claus Melchior, Ezra Pound and Europe (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993). A further reference on p. 52, apparently to the same volume I, should specify volume II. 

 

7. In his contribution to Ezra Pound in the Present, Paul Stasi cites the lines from canto LII, “Begin where you are said Lord Palmerston / began draining swamps in Sligo,” and attaches this note: 

“Interestingly enough, there is no historical evidence that Lord Palmerston did any such thing. Mussolini did, however, a fact Pound loved to repeat. Palmerston is thus, in this moment, a cipher for Il Duce. I thank Jen Phillis for this observation.” (185 n. 21)

In fact there is good historical evidence that Palmerston did drain swamps, and dredge a harbour, in Sligo, and that Pound knew it. The evidence was presented by Leslie Hatcher and Hugh Witemeyer in their article, “Lord Palmerston as Factive Hero in The Cantos” (Paideuma 25.1 & 2 (1996): 225-33). In brief, the evidence is to be found in Herbert C. F. Bell’s Lord Palmerston (London: 1936), which Pound read and wrote about enthusiastically in 1936, and in Anthony Trollope’s Lord Palmerston (London: 1882) which Pound asked Henry Swabey to obtain for him in 1937. Lord Palmerston in canto LII is simply Lord Palmerston.

 

8. Stasi contends that in the China/Adams cantos Pound “seems to abandon poetic construction,” and he cites David Ten Eyck in support: 

“as David Ten Eyck argues in his exhaustive study of the Adams cantos, Pound’s ‘creative energy’ is here ‘channelled into the mediation of a pre-existing text for the contemporary reader, rather than into original composition’” (185). 

Those are indeed Ten Eyck’s words in Ezra Pound’s Adams Cantos (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012) p. 7; but the fact of the matter is that his argument, clearly stated in the preceding sentence, is that “it would be a mistake to think that this limits the poetic value of his writing.” That argument, aiming to demonstrate Pound’s engagement in poetic construction in the Adams Cantos, is sketched in the following pages of his introduction, and then developed in chapters one to three into what amounts to a comprehensive refutation of Stasi’s contention. 

 

9. In her essay in Ezra Pound in the Present, “Not-So-Distant Reading,” Josephine Park finds “a distaste for reading and close reading in the data-driven labours of Ezra Pound,” and writes, as if in confirmation of that, 

“In the Guide to Kulchur, Pound explains that his volumes of de Mailla’s Jesuit translation of Confucian historiography sat neglected on his shelf for fifteen years—to be taken up and consumed whole in the 1930s. Even as Pound was railing against stultifying reading, then, he found himself captivated by a set of dusty books . . .” (41)

There is no page reference to Guide to Kulchur, and indeed it would be a waste of time to seek Pound’s “explanation” there. The fact is, Pound acquired his copy of Histoire Génerale de la Chine from “‘the Libreria Antiquaria, Umberto Saba, of Trieste’ in November 1937” – that was some months after he had completed GK – and he “began work on the China Cantos LIII-LXI soon after” (John J. Nolde, Blossoms from the East: The China Cantos of Ezra Pound (Orono, Maine: The National Poetry Foundation, 1983. 27).

 

10. The argument of Josephine Park’s essay is that Pound misunderstood and did not follow Fenollosa’s principle of the ideogram, and that in consequence the China Cantos amount to no more than a transcription of data or “titbits.” At one point, she cites Christine Brooke-Rose in support of her argument: 

“but Pound, as Christine Brooke-Rose has pointed out, got ‘the cherry-rose-flamingo bit’ exactly wrong. What Pound presents as an illustration of the method is in fact a citation of Fenollosa’s prime counterexample, of the brick-like dullness of medieval thinking in the West. Pound’s key instance of the ideogram in action is thus a flagrant misreading of Fenollosa’s essay . . . Most significantly, however, these four reddish items definitively transform the components of the ideogram into a data set” (28-29).

Thus in the China Cantos, Park declares – without actually looking at any, it should be noted – China’s history becomes a mere “flow of data.” At bottom, her argument is the same as Paul Stasi’s, that Pound has abandoned poetic composition; and, as in Stasi’s case, it turns out that the critic invoked in support is actually engaged in a refutation of her position. Brooke-Rose in her discussion of Fenollosa and the ideogram and of what Pound made of Fenollosa – see her A ZBC of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1971, 102-118) – says nothing so simple as that Pound “got ‘the cherry-rose-flamingo bit’ exactly wrong.” She sees Pound as having “misunderstood” Fenollosa, but also that Fenollosa himself was not entirely clear on the matter at issue. After some pages attempting to clarify the issue, she writes,

“I have gone into all this in some detail because Pound’s misconception, as well as those of some of his critics, have created confusion. The idea that mere juxtaposition of facts (and of course actions) is what makes up The Cantos is very prevalent, and in a sense Pound has lent credence to it . . .” (112)

Brooke-Rose then sets out explicitly to refute that idea.

 

11. In the TLS of 2 February 2018, in the course of a review of a book about Céline, Frederic Raphael wrote:

“at the acme of the Holocaust, Pound – while a guest of Mussolini – wrote that Jewish profiteers were transporting Europe’s best men to their deaths in – yes, he actually specified – cattle trucks.”

Is it a fact that Pound wrote that, and when Raphael says he did? I would like to know exactly when and where. I ask because Raphael is unable to provide the proving reference, and because I have been unable to find anything in those precise terms in Pound’s radio talks, or in his published writings of 1941-45. Very nearly all of the latter, it should be noted, are in Italian. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that, given the predicament of Jews in Europe in those years, it is unlikely that he would have written in those terms at that time. What he was mainly doing was attacking the banking system of the United States and Great Britain, and the alleged influence of Jews in their administrations and on their policies. What Frederic Raphael reports is more the sort of thing being said in 1914-18, when British and French soldiers, Pound’s friends among them, were being transported to the front in cattle-trucks. But I have also looked into Pound’s writings during the 1914-18 war, and not found the objectionable statement there. Raphael writes with rhetorical force, but is what he writes correct?

 

12. In the TLS of 2 March 2018, Frederic Raphael wrote in a letter responding to a critic of his 2 February review,

“To claim that the award [of the Bollingen Prize to Pound’s The Pisan Cantos] did not serve as a public rehabilitation, if not whitewashing, of Pound (and of literary anti-Semitism) is perverse. Why else was Karl Shapiro outraged (and later ostracized)?”

There are three separate issues here: (1) did the award serve in the way Raphael claims? (2) was Shapiro’s outrage due to his thinking that it did serve in that way? (3) was he ostracized because of his disagreement with the award?

(1 & 2) The contemporary evidence is entirely against Raphael’s claim that the award served as “a public rehabilitation, if not whitewashing, of Pound (and of literary anti-Semitism).” A statement issued on behalf of the committee insisted that they had judged The Pisan Cantos exclusively on its literary merits and in spite of their strong personal objections to Pound’s attitudes and beliefs. Shapiro’s outrage was precisely at the rest of the committee’s decision to set aside those objections and to judge exclusively on literary merit. He maintained that it was wrong to separate the poetry from the man’s objectionable politics, a position that had much support in the ensuing controversy. But no-one involved in the controversy at the time was “whitewashing” Pound, let alone “literary anti-Semitism.” If anything, the award served as an occasion for a public repudiation of Pound’s anti-Semitism and “fascism.” (For details see A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet. III: The Tragic Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, 276-88, 580-82).

(3) Karl Shapiro (1913-2000) did publicly and strongly oppose the award in 1948, but was he “ostracized” on that account? He certainly believed that he was. Yet in view of the fact that he was far from alone in objecting to the award that would have been surprising. And considered objectively, his career does not suggest ostracism. The word signifies exclusion by general consent from a society or group. Shapiro was on the Bollingen committee because he had been Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (1946-47) of the Library of Congress, the awarding body. He was also an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins (1947-56). His career as a poet and teacher after the controversial award does not appear to have been blighted by any exclusion from those worlds. He became editor of Poetry magazine (1950-56); was invited to give the Montgomery Lectures in Contemporary Civilisation at the University of Nebraska (1953); lectured in India for the U.S. State Department (1955); held Visiting Professorships at the University of California (Berkeley and Davis), and at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, (1955-57); and was a Fellow of the Kenyon School of Letters – Summer (1956-57). 1956-66 he was Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, and editor of Prairie Schooner. In 1959 he was elected member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and gave the Elliston Lectures at the University of Cincinatti. 1966-68 he was Professor of English, University of Illinois, Chicago Circle; and from 1968 to 1985 he was Professor of English, University of California, Davis. In 1969 he was awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry. There was one notable exclusion, from Richard Ellmann’s New Oxford Book of American Verse (1976) – he had been included in F. O. Matthiessen’s OBAMV (1950). However, to judge by Ellmann’s negative remarks on Pound’s political views in his introduction, it is most unlikely that his exclusion of Shapiro would have been on account of Shapiro’s having opposed the award to Pound in 1948. 

 

13. Frederic Raphael also wrote in that letter in the TLS of 2 March 2018, that in the Cantos is to be found “the malevolent assertion that the Jews invented ‘usura.’” The fact is, no such assertion is to be found there. But there is, in LXXIV/429, 440, and LXXVI/454, a recognition of the Mosaic ban on usury between Jews.