Article Index

 

 II. The Epic Years 1921-1939.

 JOHN ALLASTER
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MCGILL UNIVERSITY

 

rsz moody

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the success of his 2007 effort Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and his Work. Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920, which Rebecca Beasley called "the most detailed portrayal of Pound's life to date" (2008), A. David Moody returns with his highly anticipated follow-up, covering Pound's time in Paris and Rapallo leading up to the outbreak of World War Two. Moody's first volume was met with significant praise;[1] however, as anyone vaguely familiar with Pound's wildly interesting and infamous biography will understand, the period in Pound's life that Moody considers in this volume is fraught with difficulty: the charges of anti-Semitism, fascism, and economic cantankerousness must be negotiated alongside his significant poetic and polemic output. Not only does Moody wrestle with these multivalent and politically charged issues, he does it well, as his two-pronged approach of exhaustive archival research and close reading of Pound's poetry combine to give a sense of Ezra Pound as a flawed yet sincerely caring individual.

The biography is broken into six parts covering Pound's three-year sojourn in Paris from 1921-24; his time in Rapallo from 1924-32; 1933, the year Pound met Mussolini for the first and only time; Pound's growing obsession with economics from 1933-37; the turning point in world politics from 1937-39; and Pound's brief return to America in 1939. These temporal limits serve to demarcate not just political realities; with the exception of the final section, they also delineate Pound's significant artistic projects in those periods. The term "artistic projects" might seem curious to those unfamiliar with Pound's varying output; however, alongside major poetic projects such as the various phases of the cantos including A Draft of XXX Cantos, Eleven New Cantos (Cantos XXXI-XLI), The Fifth Decad of Cantos (Cantos XLII-LI), and Cantos LII-LXXI, Pound also wrote two operas: La Testament de Villon and Cavalcanti, several musical pieces for violin, an original treatise on musical harmony, and [RP1] organized the revival of Vivaldi's music with his long time lover, violinist Olga Rudge (Vivaldi having been almost entirely lost to all but a few eclectic musicologists at this point). With the exception of a few of the violin pieces, which are situated in temporal context, Moody closely explores each of these projects in a sophisticated manner informed by Pound's ideologies. One criticism to raise here is that in the longer sections treating poetry such as the China Cantos (LII-LXI) or the John Adams Cantos (LXII-LXXI), Moody's readings understandably take in the works with a much wider lens, which leaves the reader wanting more, especially in the way his closer readings of some of the earlier individual Cantos did; however, his readings of these poems, inflected by Pound's personal and political ideologies, inform the biography superbly and act as a primer for individuals not interested in an extended treatment of poetry in the midst of biography.

An example of the relation between biography and poetry that is important to Moody's biography is the account of the Adams Cantos, which offer Moody an opportunity to discuss Pound's flawed "Fascist" ideology that has been so tendentious to date. A central paradox in Pound's attraction to Italian Fascism is the opposition between Pound's absolute desire for individual rights – especially artistic – and the totalizing nature of the fascist project, which subsumes the individual into the collective. More important for Pound, and a possible reason for his overlooking some of the more problematic aspects of Italian Fascism, was the complete failure of capitalism to provide for the basic needs of the citizenry as the world was plunged into the economic depression of the 1930's. How had capitalism so failed? Pound's answer was usury: the unethical practice of money lending. Pound believed that usury was a sin against nature because credit was a by-product of the abundance of nature and thus only the nation could establish credit for the benefit of the collective. Moody highlights how these arguments saturate Pound's selective approach to John Adams, whom he viewed as the true father of the American paideuma as expressed in revolution. This he considered betrayed by Hamilton who modelled the American banking system on the Bank of England, allowing private bankers to profit from the citizens. Moody uses this example in the poetry to highlight an under-argued aspect of Pound's appreciation of Italian Fascism: Pound did not advocate its adoption by the United States. Instead, he vehemently argued to his friends' dismay that the United States merely reclaim the original intent and spirit of the constitution from the grips of usurious bankers and finance capitalists whose interests were driving the world to the brink of war.

The subject of usury also brings to the fore Pound's notorious anti-Semitism, which is in itself another fraught topic — yet Moody is able to explicate the subtleties of the issue by tracing the almost schizophrenic nature of Pound's increasing obsession with Semitic usury over the course of several years. What is most interesting about Pound's anti-Semitism is how utilitarian it was, at least at first. In a subsection titled "The Form and Pressure of the Time," Moody tracks Pound's increasing dependence on the figure of the economic Jew as a rhetorical tool for advocating against economic usury, while simultaneously claiming that usurers have no race. An interesting example Moody raises is Pound's use of the figure of Shylock in a 1935 article where he claimd Shylock did his race a disservice when he hid behind it, claiming in his defense "I am a Jew" (III.i.49), thus making Jews in Pound's eyes culpable for the crimes of usury as a whole. Moody claims Pound used anti-Semitism to further his own economic ideals and to inspire Jews to take up the cause of his economic reforms, not to incite hatred or violence. In a period of intense racial violence, and while not entirely redeeming of his character, the distinction is important; however, this distinction is simultaneously little consolation for the fact that Pound's ideologies participated in a wider trend of anti-Semitism that reached a climax in Nazi Germany. Moody's nuanced treatment of Pound's more questionable ideologies thus stands as a welcome rebuttal to many of the openly hostile, facile, and disparaging treatments of Pound's character we have had to date.

Works Cited

Beasley, Rebecca. Rev. of Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and his Work. Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 by A. David Moody. The Review of English Studies 59 (240) June 2008: 480-1. Web. 1 Dec 2014

Bolin, Josh. Rev. of Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and his Work. Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 by A. David Moody. Notes and Queries 55.4 Dec 2008: 537-8. Web. 1 Dec 2014

Moody, A. David. A Portrait of the Man and his Work. Volume II: The Epic Years, 1921-1939. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

Nicholls, Peter. Rev. of Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and his Work. Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 by A. David Moody. Modernism/Modernity 15.3 Dec 2008: 571-3. Web. 1 Dec 2014

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 1111-1175. Print.

[1] See Beasley (2008), Bolin (2008), and Nicholls (2008), who all praise Moody's first instalment.