Catherine E. Paul. Fascist Directive: Ezra Pound and Fascist Cultural Nationalism. Clemson: Clemson UP; Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2016. 364p. ISBN 9781942954057.
review by Massimo Bacigalupo
Catherine Paul studies in what ways Ezra Pound was influenced by, and contributed to, Fascist Nationalism, that is, Fascist ideology during the period of Mussolini’s dictatorship (1922-1943). The opening chapter covers “Italian Cultural Nationalism,” that is, the typical Fascist celebration of all things Italian and of the Roman Empire (from which it took the symbolic fasces). In Chapter 2, she shows how Italian artists of the period turned to earlier times, mostly pre-Renaissance (or Pre-Raphaelite), for inspiration for their work, some of which was state-sponsored. Chapter 3 is about the extensive renovations and excavations undertaken by the regime, especially in Rome, while Chapter 4 points out that Pound believed that Fascism had been able to put to work some of the most able men in Italy (the “gerarchia”) to run the government and cultural affairs, and that Pound found support among Fascist officials. In this context, Paul discusses Pound’s self-published Italian edition of Cavalcanti, that is, as part of a Nationalist project. Chapter 5 is devoted to the Vivaldi revival and includes extensive research on Pound’s enthusiasm for Vivaldi, his transcriptions (photographs of which are included) and interpretations, which again Paul suggests can be read in the light of Fascist Nationalism. The celebratory exhibitions organized in Rome for Fascist anniversaries, like the 1932 “Decennial” (mentioned in Canto 46), are discussed in Chapter 5, where Paul finds that in Guide to Kulchur Pound adopted a wholly new “totalitarian” style of writing, entirely renouncing his early defense of art for art’s sake. (However, as early as 1913 he had spoken of art’s social function in “The Serious Artist.”) The final chapter takes up the old question whether a poet can be a traitor, as debated by H.D. in End to Torment. Paul concludes that “it has never been more important to read, study, and teach writers like Pound” (265), to come to terms with the contradictions (and disasters) of modern history and culture.
On the last page, Paul writes: “It is popular to suggest that at some point . . . Pound realized his wrongs, and came to believe that he deserved punishment” (268). I can think of no serious Pound scholar who would make this claim today, so why bother to contradict it? Paul also insists that Pound’s prose should be as central as his poetry to a consideration of his work. But most books on Pound have been attentive to his criticism and there have been two books on the subject, as well as books on his political writings. There are chapters on Pound’s prose and Fascism in Ira Nadel’s Cambridge Companion and Ezra Pound in Context. (Serenella Zanotti’s “Fascism” in the latter (376-90) contains hints that could have allowed Paul to finesse her argument.) Paul’s original contribution (besides her minute research) is her thesis that Pound worked within the Fascist Nationalist project. To this, one could object that his enthusiasm for Fascism was hardly reciprocated, Mussolini’s aides noting about Pound’s proposals to the Duce that this was a man completely out of touch with reality (comments reported decades ago in Zapponi’s essential L’Italia di Ezra Pound ). Pound’s eulogies of Fascism appeared only in local Italian papers, until in wartime he was deemed useful to the ramshackle propaganda apparatus of Rome Radio and the Meridiano di Roma. (He insisted that this happened only “after continued opposition” by officials (Selected Poems viii).) He never became an Italian Nationalist to the extent of showing the least interest in the major writers or artists at work in Italy in those years (Carrà, Sironi, Martini), who have since been internationally canonized, and were in fact producing extraordinary work (ignored by Pound). I also don’t see how his eccentric 1932 edition of Cavalcanti can be read as Nationalistic. Its subtitle, “rappezzata fra le rovine,” means “patched up among the ruins” (i.e., salvaged from the aborted British edition), not (as Paul suggests ) that it is presented as a revaluation of a forgotten national treasure. The same can be said of Pound’s passion for Vivaldi. He championed Vivaldi’s music in the Rapallo concerts, and spoke on one occasion of a “Bach-Vivaldi axis.” I don’t take this to mean a confirmation of the Mussolini-Hitler axis, it is just a catchphrase of the day. Obviously, when Pound borrowed the Rapallo City Hall he needed the support of the local Fascist officials, just as anyone organizing an event anywhere today in a public venue must seek public sponsorship. This hardly means that performances of Mozart, William Young, Janequin, and Bartòk were to be understood in a Fascist context. So Paul’s argument, though rich and well-documented, remains open to question. Strangely, she never points out that The Cantos follow Fascist politics by espousing the Battle for Grain and the campaign for an increased birth-rate in the Fertility Cantos, and, most offensively, the racial laws of 1938 in Canto 52. These are real links between Pound’s work and contemporary Italian “directives,” not his prose style (which developed over the years) or his passion for Guido and Vivaldi.
However, Paul’s theses have persuaded at least one Vivaldi enthusiast. Orlando Perera wrote a book about Vivaldi’s legacy, Vivaldi. La quinta stagione (2011). When he came to Rapallo, I lent him Paul’s Vivaldi essay in an earlier version. Perera’s chapter “Ezra Pound: ‘To dig out Vivaldi’” (161-74) follows Paul’s argument closely, even in the quotations deployed. The most curious development of this is the entertaining novel L’affare Vivaldi (2015) by the musicologist and conductor Federico Maria Sardelli. Sardelli takes over wholesale from Perera Paul’s discovery of the Fascist party line in Pound’s Vivaldi to provide a hilarious and highly biased portrait of Pound as the incompetent American who demands access to the Vivaldi papers in Turin and celebrates his own and Vivaldi’s role in the glorious Fascist Era. Sardelli, a humorist and satirist, is perfectly justified in creating his caricature of Pound in his informative novel about the squabbles over Vivaldi’s papers over the centuries. Paul as a scholar should perhaps have given more weight to possible objections to her portrayal of Pound the Fascist Nationalist. Surprisingly, she doesn’t cite Pound’s most dramatic (histrionic?) declaration of love for his adopted country, in a well-known Pisan draft: “Italy, my Italy, my God! my Italy / Ti abbraccio, o terra santa” (Posthumous Cantos 141). This, however, is not Nationalism. It is Poundism.
Nadel, Ira B., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.
—. ed. Ezra Pound in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
Perera, Orlando. Vivaldi. La quinta stagione. Turin: Daniela Piazza Editore, 2010.
Pound, Ezra. Posthumous Cantos. Ed. Massimo Bacigalupo. Manchester: Carcanet, 2015.
—. Selected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1957.
Zapponi, Niccolò. L’Italia di Ezra Pound. Rome: Bulzoni, 1976.