Paul Stasi & Josephine Park, eds. Ezra Pound in The Present: Essays on Pound’s Contemporaneity. Bloomsbury 2016. ISBN: 9781501307713, xv + 251pp., HB $121.50


review by Mark Byron





We are fortunate to be living through a vigorous period of growth in Pound Studies, with a number of important projects and publications in recent years. In addition to appraisals of Pound’s career as a poet, polemicist, impresario, and correspondent in publications such as The Cambridge Companion (Cambridge UP, 1999), Ezra Pound in Context (Cambridge UP, 2010), and David Moody’s three-volume biography, Ezra Pound: Poet (Oxford UP, 2007, 2014 and 2015), a growing number of recent monographs have evaluated specific aspects of Pound’s career and thought, revealing significant resources for the reading and understanding of Pound’s poetry and prose. The Ezra Pound Society and its online presence, Make It New, is coordinating The Cantos Project: a very ambitious update to the poem’s annotation which is already demonstrating its significance and timeliness. Other projects in progress seek to evaluate Pound’s economic thought, annotate his radio speeches, and survey his work in relation to the visual arts, and there will be still other projects appraising Pound’s work and influence from the vantage of the contemporary scene, with all the benefits that accrue from advances in methodology, the unearthing of archival documents, and the rising prominence of newer fields of knowledge.

This recent surge in scholarship is remarkable for a number of reasons. Renewed focus on Pound’s poetry and thought has generated new insights into such subjects as China studies, medieval studies, and media studies, to name a few prominent examples, each of which have experienced their own revolutions in methodology and analytic range in recent years. But perhaps surprisingly, a return to some of the more familiar tropes in Pound’s repertoire takes on new resonance in light of contemporary events and debates: from questions concerning the methods of poetic translation, the eclipse of comparative literary studies by global literature, and the deployment of archival materials in aesthetic works, to those aimed at crises of migration, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, banking, state corporatism, and the productive labour of work (including, of course, artistic work).

Ezra Pound in the Present situates itself within this newly productive phase in Pound Studies, taking measure of where the changing intellectual landscape intersects with current events, or the passing and emergence of world-historical epochs. As the editors, Paul Stasi and Josephine Park, write in their Introduction, the essays share a view that “Pound’s efforts to include history inevitably reveal the ways history included him, and that these historical engagements are of a piece with his aesthetic achievements” (ix). This mediation of history and its implications in the contemporary moment provides a compelling ethos that spans the individual essays gathered into three sections titled “Pound’s Methods,” “Pound’s Worlds,” and “Pound’s Values.”

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Charles Altieri’s opening essay, “Why Pound’s Imagist Poems Still Matter,” addresses the dominant mode of “epiphanic enlightenment” (3) in contemporary American poetry, particularly the confessional mode of writing pouring forth from the nation’s many creative writing MFA programs. Altieri sees the epiphany as a dominant instrument in Imagist poetry, but not in Pound’s Imagism. He frames his argument partly in refutation of Vincent Sherry’s thesis in Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence (Cambridge UP, 2014) that Pound and other Modernists inherited the values of the late-nineteenth century Decadent movement, particularly evident in their persistent mood of belatedness. Whilst Imagist poetry may conform to this model more or less directly, in Pound’s case, Altieri asserts, there are three significant divergences: his notion of phanopoeia is more complex than “the rendering of isolated phenomena” (8); Pound’s lyric, influenced by Dante, Cavalcanti and the troubadours, embodies a metrical eclecticism unmatched by his contemporaries; and the Decadent separation of private lyrics and public address is mitigated by Pound’s third term of the “constructivist work of art” (8). This final point extends well beyond the local argument, perhaps recalling familiar notions of Modernist poetic impersonality, but also engaging with arguments by several other contributors to the collection: Josephine Park on big data, Aaron Jaffe on deep time, and C. D. Blanton on finance capitalism, to name just these three. Altieri engages in a series of compelling close readings of Pound’s lyric poetry, and comparative evaluations of Amy Lowell and H.D., to show how this sensibility plays out. Further, Arnold Dolmetsch’s revival of “pattern music” offers Pound a way of combining phanopoeia and melopoeia in a concentrated moment of aesthetic work. Such a public expression of the “work of intelligence” (18) is an act of standing beside one’s word, artistically speaking: the “certitude” Pound read in the ideogram for “truth.” Here Pound still has plenty to offer the theory and practice of lyric poetry.

Enormous critical energies have been spent – and are, no doubt, currently being expended – tabulating and evaluating Pound’s use of his remarkably eclectic sources in The Cantos. The China Cantos and the Adams Cantos are often (understandably) regarded as the most obvious manifestation of what might be called Pound’s documentary pleonexia. John Nolde’s Blossoms from the East (National Poetry Foundation, 1983) and David Ten Eyck’s Ezra Pound’s Adams Cantos (Bloomsbury, 2012) in particular, illuminate the methods at work in the presentation of large textual hoards in these canto sequences, setting the ground for new approaches to these formidable resources. Josephine Park takes up this task by setting Franco Moretti’s practices of distant reading and literary analysis by way of big data against Pound’s “luminous detail” and advocacy for an education in the arts. Pound does refer to the arts as a reservoir for “our best data for determining what sort of creature man [sic] is” (LE 46) in his essay “The Serious Artist,” calcified across the decades into the polemic buttressed by its phalanx of particulars of the 1938 Guide to Kulchur. Park finds analogic affinities here with Moretti’s distant reading, the loose method of taking such data readings as longitudinal quantitative studies of genre. By tracing a course across the 1930s, Park identifies how Pound’s polemics on reading – How to Read (1929), ABC of Reading (1934) and ultimately to Guide to Kulchur – build up examples (or literary “data”) for the reader’s evaluation, including Pound’s own calculation as a young man in the British Library that its contents would require extremely judicious criteria of selection. His method turns to China: first, via a wobbly reading of Fenollosa, to its system of writing, and then to its history in the China Cantos, mediated by de Mailla’s thirteen-volume Histoire. China provides Pound with “big data” easily managed as a reified historiographical cache of elements, over and against the welter of Western history within which Pound was necessarily immersed.

Moretti too turns to China as a methodological anchor for the essays in his Distant Reading (Verso, 2013), particularly “The Novel: History and Theory.” The history and form of the European novel proves to be sufficiently complex, even in the face of Moretti’s quantitative methods, that he “takes a critical detour through China” (39), drawing on its literary corpus as a static reservoir conducive to “big data” analysis. This neo-Hegelian view of Chinese cultural history settles it – or more precisely settles its data points – within a networked view of state supervision of literary enterprise. Park ultimately sees Pound’s use of de Mailla in the China Cantos as the compilation of “a set of reader’s notes […] a transcription” (41), that transforms China’s history into data for the production of art, or “data as art,” providing Pound’s political program with a Confucian philosophical foundation, but one that turns away from ethics as its governing rationale. There remain questions of Pound’s tone and his strategic quotation from de Mailla in the China Cantos – not to mention his clear awareness that he was drawing on a Jesuit scholar’s record of Chinese history taken from a privileged location with access to the Imperial court. Are there still lessons to be drawn from this material, revealing a quotient of creativity beneath its quilted surface? This is perhaps one major opportunity yet to be fully explored in the study of Pound’s manuscripts and his transformation of textual sources into the fabric of his epic.

The scale of Pound’s textual production – manuscripts, typescripts, letters, notes, unpublished drafts – befits the range and depth of his intellectual engagements in The Cantos, both historical and in contemporary terms across its fifty years of composition and equally lengthy posthumous career. This sense of scale presents a range of challenges familiar to his readers, as well as cognate challenges to scholars intent on representing the various aspects of his working methods and his texts. Pound’s contemporaneity with what David Trotter calls the first media age of Modernism opens up ample opportunity to read Pound’s work in light of developments in media technology and practice, for example the rise of photography, radio, and microfilm, to name just three media technologies with which Pound experimented. Aaron Jaffe extends this productive relation into the sphere of media theory, reading Pound in light of Siegfried Zielinski’s provocative thesis of media deep time articulated most fully in his Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means (MIT Press, 2008). Jaffe sets up his analysis by reading Pound’s comparisons with art and literature, and culture more generally, with the hard sciences and natural phenomena, not as mere rhetorical strategies but as expressions of Pound’s epochal sense of modernity, carrying back into prehistory and even into the sedimentations of geology. This is a bold procedural move, to put it mildly, but in anchoring this framework in a reading of Canto XII, Jaffe presents a compelling case for rethinking Pound’s understanding of media, its history and prehistory, and how this shapes his aesthetic more generally.

Canto XII occupies a pivotal place in the early cantos between the Malatesta cantos and the Confucian Canto XIII, its humble population of Baldy Bacon and the Honest Sailor seemingly diminished between two prominently heroic figures of The Cantos. According to Jaffe, its mise-en-scène is a table at the Café Dante, [not] adjacent to the Via Dietro Anfiteatro in Verona, where Pound, Eliot, and, as Jaffe infers, the unnamed Bride Scratton converse in June 1922, the annus mirabilis of Modernism. The three conceptual foci of the canto – table, arena, and cave – serve to orient “Pound’s poetic project in terms of its research and development to scales of media theoretical deep time” (47), and act as interfaces at which human and inhuman agencies amalgamate. Jaffe argues that the canto’s epic conversation on the nature of modern aesthetics is one to which Pound refers in both Canto VIII and Canto LXXVII, and combined with Eliot’s own famous pronouncements on poetic practice, goes to the heart of how each poet sees literary production as part of the deep flow of time: as Pound writes in the previous canto, “I have sat here / For forty four thousand years” (XI / 50). Stepping into glacial time or into considerations of the Anthropocene geological epoch, the human and inhuman commingle in the canto to acute effect. The cave, scene of the Paleolithic art Eliot had seen three years prior to the scene in Verona, is the site at which the human and inhuman intersect, and as a geological archive of aesthetic activity, is also where the “osmosis of persons” (XXIX / 145) takes effect. Jaffe reads the economic relations expressed by the characters of Canto XII – Baldy Bacon’s scheme to corner the copper market in Cuba, Jose Maria Dos Santos salvaging a shipment of partially ruined grain, and the great Modernist benefactor John Quinn’s veiled presence as the teller of the story of the Honest Sailor just prior to his premature death – all as portraits of timely interventions in trade, and in Quinn’s case, in the patronage of art, despite his legacy having been dispersed soon after his passing. The dilations and compressions of epochal time, mediated through the grinding of human and inhuman strata, make for a disorienting view of Canto VIII, but one carried off in ways that suggest that media deep time can open up new ways of thinking about The Cantos, and Pound’s aesthetic, more generally.

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In “The Geopolitical Aesthetic of Pound’s Japan,” Christopher Bush presses beyond Pound’s sometimes wayward appropriation of Ernest Fenollosa’s scholarly work on China and Japan, to locate a deep synergy between Fenollosa’s understanding of Japan as an intellectual entryway into China and the affinity Pound locates in Japan’s geopolitical stance in the twentieth century. Fenollosa made early prognostications of the twentieth century as the “Asian century,” not least with the West having to come to terms with a resurgent China. We know that much of Fenollosa’s education in Chinese history and aesthetics was mediated by Japanese scholars, and the prevailing Japanese view that China was culturally stagnant from as early as the Song Dynasty. The counter-force of Japanese pan-Asianism extended to its role as mediator of China for the West, a role Pound was long thought to have swiftly discarded in favour of “the more “solid” stuff of China” (77) in his lifelong study of Chinese writing, poetic composition, and the language more generally. Bush presents the counter-argument that Japan in fact remained a central focus for Pound, and “came to represent one of the actual states, indeed empires, through which his own hopes for totalitarian Confucianism and “ideogrammic culture” might be realized” (78). Japan was “the living continuation of Chinese civilization,” mediating the latter politically and philologically. Bush traces Pound’s numerous engagements with contemporary Japanese writers and artists, such as Yone Noguchi, Torahiko Kōri, Tamijūrō Kume, and the better-known friendships with Michio Itō and Kitasono Katue. This engagement complemented his evolving knowledge of the Noh drama, which itself functioned as a model for his epic in its historical as well as formal attributes. The most important ground covered by Bush, and perhaps the most difficult, is that which explores the role of Japan in Pound’s fascist politics: the way pan-Asianism accords with Pound’s view of the corporatist state as a site for cosmopolitanism.

Pound’s Japanese contacts afforded him a view of the VOU movement, heavily influenced by European Dada and Surrealism, leading to the realization that in some cases “Pound seems to be learning about European modernism” (82) by way of Japan. He associates modern Japanese aesthetics with new technologies – “The Japanese eye is like those new camera shutters that catch the bullet leaving the gun” (quoted on 83) – but with a firm hold on traditional aesthetics embodied in Noh drama (David Ewick has deftly addressed the deep impression made upon Pound of viewing a filmed version of Aoi no ue in Washington, D. C. in 1939, and the subsequent influence of Noh on the later cantos). This insight offers new ways of thinking about Pound’s internationalist project in The Cantos and beyond, demonstrating an underappreciated accord with recent developments in Modernism Studies more generally, such as the transnational turn and the theory and practice of global literatures. Japan’s intercession of Chinese culture for Pound took on political resonances, explaining, for Bush, both its internationalist, cosmopolitan appeal, as well as its affinities with the Italian Renaissance (and its strongmen) in Pound’s work. This move renders the Chinese language as “a subgenre” of Japanese (101), appropriate to its stagnation, where Chinese “is here not a living language to be spoken, but a textual tradition to be glossed” (102). Bush makes the persuasive claim that Pound’s views of East Asia combine “knowledge and ignorance, benevolence and racism, subtle precision and gross generalization” (105), opening up his East Asian deployments in his own writing as complex modernizing strategies, and contributing to the intensive reappraisal of Chinese and Japanese Modernism: two entirely variant creatures still to be properly absorbed into the discourse of global modernisms.

In “Ezra Pound and the Globalization of Literature,” Jean-Michel Rabaté further presses the question of Pound’s status in the discourse of globalization in literary studies: he asks why Pound rarely appears in the major World Literature anthologies and guides, when his intellectual interests and poetic practice seem utterly central to any such venture. Sensitivity to Pound’s politics might well be one reason, likely even the over-riding reason, for such neglect, but what might this tell us of the discourse itself, including its own potential utility and shortcomings? For Rabaté, Pound’s encyclopaedic interests across history and geography, coupled with his notion of their “contemporaneity” (a reference that deftly addresses the collection’s primary theme), make him an excellent litmus test for the concepts and methods at issue in the field of global literature. Beginning with the Spirit of Romance in 1910, Pound asserts bold claims of “universal literature” and “globalized history,” not least in the way he centres Greek myth historically (a positive attribute of philology for Pound). The interplay of historical epochs, the transmission of knowledge and ideas across imperial and geographic boundaries as well as across the passage of time, are inflected by their material and even economic circumstances. Rabaté draws on the figure of Rabindranath Tagore as a potential East-West cultural bridge, a “new Goethe coming from the East” (118), although Pound’s early closeness to Tagore waned as the latter’s ethical view of literary production was at cross purposes with what he saw as the nihilistic tendencies in Pound, Eliot and other Modernists. Fenollosa again rises as the bridge to Japan and China: Pound’s amateur absorption of the notebook material meant that, despite his many blunders, he remained quarantined from the orientalising tendencies of the leading scholarship of the time. Derrida claims in Of Grammatology that Pound’s Orient remains partly imaginary, whereby the graphological interpretation of Chinese writing coupled with the Confucian “rectification of names” gives Pound a scaffolding on which to erect a transhistorical and transnational framework for his support of Mussolini. The dream shattered, The Pisan Cantos records the gradual idealization of speech, writing, and ideology. Pound’s untimeliness was aesthetic and ideological in different ways, but also extends to his radical proposals to overhaul the study of literature in American universities. For Rabaté, Pound still offers a tremendous resource for rethinking the values of global literature, as Pound himself became “our American Nietzsche” (133), seeking to reassert culture “upon a radical revaluation of all values.”

The problem of history and politics posed by The Cantos frames the question of Pound’s utility for comparative literature in Christine Froula’s essay, “Ezra Pound and the Comparative Literature of the Present, or, Triptych Rome / London / Pisa.” This quandary is most vividly captured in Pound’s elegy to Mussolini at the opening of The Pisan Cantos – a section composed almost at the very end of the writing process, as Ron Bush has carefully shown – set amongst its “diaristic, mnemonic, and contemplative strands of time” (136). As its title suggests, the essay extends Pound’s Diptych: Rome-London (the 1957 publication of Homage to Sextus Propertius with Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, Contacts and Life) to encompass the “Italian cantos” LXXII and LXXIII and The Pisan Cantos as a kind of Italian Fascist panel. This move brings new focus to Pound’s enduring preoccupations with imperial history and warfare, particularly the theme of its unjustness and perpetuation with the crony backing of states, financiers, and munitions manufacturers. The tonal shift from Propertius’s mockery of the Roman military to the sincerity of Pound’s pledge to Mussolini’s statist cultural project offers a troubling problem of the relation of history (and its valency within literature) with “the comparative literature of the present – one of modernism’s constitutive projects” (138). Froula reminds us that The Cantos was a project begun in the aftermath of an industrialized war whose causes Pound sought to understand: his choice of poetic genre allowed him to explore “the violence intrinsic to epic” (141) in his poem including history.

The Pisan panel of the triptych, composed during the final months of a second industrialized war across Europe, affords its author ample opportunity to reflect on political violence: Mussolini’s colonial conquest of Abyssinia in the 1930s, as well as the nuclear strike on Hiroshima. Froula reads Canto LXXIX as an exercise in sublimation, whereby Admiral Perry, Pearl Harbour, and Hiroshima are displaced by the hypostasized Noh play Hagoromo. This and other rationalizations of violence cannot help but echo the dark knowledge of the Iliad, “that there’s no refuge from fate, force turns heart to stone, the enemy’s death foretells our own” (144). The figure of the artist as the “lone ant on a broken ant-hill” (LXXVI / 478) mediates his role as the arbiter of collective speech and the conserver of texts and ideas throughout history. The pastoral locus of The Pisan Cantos – the “green world” – is read against a history of violence threading both world wars, and mediated by Pound’s imprisonment in the Pisan DTC. Matters of scale radiate from the poem to its reception in history: the activities of insects in the camp to the annihilating force of atomic weapons upon a civilian population. Froula also makes some timely comparisons with Virginia Woolf, not least her 1941 novel Between the Acts with its cross-temporalities and interchanges between civilian life and symbolic allusions to the darkness of war (153-4). The Pisan Cantos also alludes to the Katyn Massacre, the murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) in April and May of 1940, subsequently the subject of a propaganda war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The glancing allusion – “the mass graves at Katin” (LXXVII / 484) – gels with the progressively antiwar tone of The Pisan Cantos: “there / are / no / righteous / wars” (LXXVIII / 503). But what of the naked Fascist propaganda in the Italian Cantos LXXII and LXXIII? Pound’s limited knowledge of “facts on the ground” during wartime is reflected in the tone of these cantos, and how they “ventriloquize Fascist ‘news’ – and violence – through Italian voices” (167). Given the deeply troubling agitprop surrounding the Katyn Massacre and its aftermath, on all sides (Churchill and Roosevelt both deflected inquiries into the massacre and stymied postwar investigations), the failures in Pound’s poem become the shared moral failures of the world (161).

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The two essays comprising Part III of the book, “Pound’s Values,” offer fascinating theoretical and historical contexts for Pound’s economic views and how they guide his poetics (disclaimer: your reviewer claims no special expertise in matters of economic theory). Paul Stasi opens his essay “Ezra Pound and the Critique of Value” by rightly foregrounding the concept of value throughout Pound’s career and aesthetic development: from the early primers in literary value, “How to Read” and The ABC of Reading, to the late Preface to Guide to Kulchur written in 1970. This focus nicely pivots from Josephine Park’s essay dealing with the same sources, where they function as literary reservoirs for Pound’s pedagogical interests. Stasi is more concerned with how comparative value is established in these primers (linking his essay explicitly with Jean-Michel Rabaté and Christine Froula’s focus on comparative literature), and in an anti-philological flourish, how Pound saw literary value as an investment in social and cultural life, rather than “problems” of grammar to be sifted and resolved. Stasi turns to German Wertkritik Marxist scholarship – by Norbert Trenkle, Robert Kutz, and others – and the intersecting work of Moishe Postone, whose combined critique of traditional Marxist understanding of capitalist social relations raises basic questions of cultural value. The primary matter at hand is how this theoretical work illuminates Pound’s engagements of aesthetic value and economic forms, given that Pound’s critique of modernity is framed by his reading of the eighteenth-century (175). The essay engages a reading of the China and Adams Cantos as they undermine the “double discourse of value” in capitalist modernity, the discourse whereby utility is separated from both aesthetics and economics (176).

The utility of Postone’s thought, as I make it out, is its demonstration that capitalism’s narrow conception of value (hinging on the basic opposition between use value and exchange value) ignores “areas of social life that currently stand outside of capital’s purview” (182), including what Pound referred to as the cultural heritage. Pound’s critique of finance capital “rested on a kind of Jeffersonian or Physiocratic valorization of production” (183), and in its sustained attack on usury or “neschek,” famously developed into anti-Semitism. For Stasi, Pound saw China as an antidote to European economic and cultural decadence, installing a kind of anti-aesthetic in the China Cantos to counteract any sense of aesthetic use value – the China Cantos then opening the way to eighteenth-century America in the Adams Cantos. He then traces out how Pound’s turn to the eighteenth century “marks an attempt to return to a moment prior to both the separation of aesthetics from economics as well as the ideological occlusion of utility represented in these two discourses” (188), where Pound can valorize both circulation and production (189). The artist produces permanent (cultural) property whilst manual labour bears an intrinsic value outside of the cycle of Marxian economics – a position Stasi points out to be flawed, but perhaps to be admired as an aspirant vision for a postcapitalist society.

The world-historical content of the China and Adams Cantos – the first promoting a centralized model of governance, the second an internationalist one – work as a larger unity, where a “peaceful international order can only exist […] if individual states are well governed within themselves” (192). The claim that Pound adds no new value to the work he summarizes in these cantos is one to which counter-evidence might be brought, such as David Ten Eyck’s penetrating study Ezra Pound’s Adams Cantos (Bloomsbury, 2012): Ten Eyck shows how the modes of selection and quotation in the Adams Cantos bear out a coherent aesthetic program, and a similar contention might be made of the China Cantos. Stasi’s conclusion turns to Pound’s use of Cavalcanti in The Cantos, firstly in his translation of “Donna mi prega” in Canto XXXVI, and subsequent citation in the Adams Cantos and The Pisan Cantos – citations focussed on “the quality of the affection” and Cavalcanti’s poetic adaptation, via medieval Arabic philosophy, of the theory of conjunction (the meeting of the possible intellect with the agent intellect, igniting the form of amor stored in the memory). Pound retreats into personal memory, the “Paradise within” (198) in The Pisan Cantos, foregoing the transpersonal potential of Cavalcanti’s poem, but a retreat prefigured in the Italian Cantos LXXII and LXXIII by a return of the national, Fascist subject. Stasi’s notion that the China and Adams Cantos offer promise in formal and conceptual terms, in reconsiderations of the theory of value, is both intriguing and surely worthy of further consideration.

C. D. Blanton’s “Ezra Pound’s Effective Demand: Keynes, Causality, and The Cantos” concludes the volume with an acute analysis of how the Monte dei Paschi bank offers Pound a powerful trope by which to shape the historiographical themes of his epic poem. The bank grew out of the medieval monte di pietà, a fund maintained in Siena to “render landed value liquid” (202) and thus to harmonize the natural world with “the will of the people” as Pound has it in Canto XLIII. Not only a remedy against usury, the Monte dei Paschi also served for Pound as a counterpoint to the practices of the Bank of England – a private bank with control over public finance (204). The fundamental tension between these institutions’ governing principles informed Pound’s theories of money and credit, not least in the way each interacted with the major families and economic spheres of Europe: “Medicis, Hapsburgs, and Bonapartes rise and fall […] while revolutions and continental wars rage around them” (204). Blanton makes an intriguing comparison with the modern Monte dei Paschi, still Europe’s oldest functioning bank, but now barely functioning under the weight of over-capitalization and the consequences of the 2008 economic crisis; conversely, the Bank of England was nationalized in 1946 by the post-war Attlee Labour government. The fall of the Monte dei Paschi into ignominy reveals the contradictions of Pound’s “ramshackle utopia” (206). Firstly, the incommensurable tension between the volitional tone of the “idea statale” and the demand-side economics of Social Credit; and secondly, a deeper problem of immediacy and mediation, or of corporate agency and the conjuring trick of “credit-money” (208).

The Fifth Decad consolidates the documentary method initiated in the Malatesta Cantos and buttresses the China and Adams Cantos to follow: its source text is the nine-volume history by the Bank’s secretary Narciso Mengozzi, Il Monte dei Paschi di Siena e la Aziende in Esso Riunite (1891-1925). The tension between this reliance upon documents, and the mountain, land and husbandry upon which the Bank is based, sees the Mountain become a “series of necessary displacements” where sheep and pasture are replaced by political guarantee “in the shape of Cosimo’s security or Leopold’s reforms” (213). The sensuous and immediate is displaced into an architecture of abstractions – “credit, exchange, finance, value” (214) – yet the Bank’s long history of civic reinvestment, most notably its ancillary Fondazione, links it to the patronage of Malatesta and the public works of Mussolini. This grounding of value or social capital returns us to Paul Stasi’s problematic of value for Pound in the context of finance capitalism and its neo-Marxist critique. Blanton discerns a cognate obscurity in the poem, whereby the Mountain ideogram of Canto XLII (214) instead blurs the process of representation and forces open a second phase of The Cantos, in which obsessions of banking, credit and money will dominate. The Bank of England creates credit “ex nihil,” “to meet a need” (XLVI / 234), signalling an economic sphere in which “[e]ffects no longer answer to nature or derive from prior substance, but instead precede their causes […] for which a Poundian poetics has no sign” (219).

The crisis in economic theory (and practice!) evident in the Great Depression led to concerted efforts to rethink the role of fiscal and monetary theory. Blanton traces the influence of C. H. Douglas on the thinking of John Maynard Keynes, in Douglas’s testimony before the Macmillan Committee in 1930. Keynes gleaned an important inference in Douglas’s otherwise unorthodox views: that underconsumption might be an unwanted and overlooked effect of the gap between savings and investment (221). As Keynes charted a course counter to the orthodoxy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the “heresy” of Douglas’s theory of Social Credit plays a subtle but influential role on modern macroeconomic theory. Pound’s own economic theories diverge from Keynes in all sorts of obvious ways, as many scholars including Leon Surette, Tim Redman, Alec Marsh, Roxana Preda, and others have articulated in illuminating detail. Yet the persistence of this formative phase in modern economics, and social theory, embeds itself in The Cantos (not to mention Pound’s voluminous prose), down to reconfiguring the valency of the ideogrammic function in the poem. The division in Pound’s work between a functioning ideogrammic method and a curious (and ominous) withdrawal of historical agency and volition is evident when seen from the viewpoint of Pound’s grappling with economic theory and its relation to the history of cultural production. Figures such as Sigismundo Malatesta recede in their valency, and a modern economic system emerges that operates under its own volition, occluded from public scrutiny. Finance capital replaces the abundance of nature, and the connection between labour and money is displaced by unchecked systems of credit and the freeing of finance from state control. It is not difficult to draw a line down to the events of 2008 and beyond, giving Blanton’s analysis a tone of urgent contemporaneity. Personally, I would be very curious to know the merits (or otherwise) of this argument from scholars with greater economic literacy than my own.

Blanton’s argument is subtle and complex, opening out to some stimulating territory concerning the relation of value to economic and cultural systems. I have little doubt there is much more at work here than I am able to articulate. However it is worth pointing out how well Blanton’s essay articulates with Stasi’s analysis of value in Pound’s work, and how both essays take seriously the question of the value of taking Pound at his word and evaluating his claims, and his literary output, in relation to the history of capital and its contemporary, deeply troubling, iteration. Both essays locate a specific meditation on value in Pound’s translation of Cavalcanti’s “Donna mi prega” in Canto XXXVI, suggesting that this canto, and its embedded translation, deserves renewed analytic attention in the contemporary context of aesthetics, culture, and the contradictions of capital. These two essays are by some distance the most challenging in the volume, at least for this reader, quite likely due to their subject matter in economic theory and their methodological complexity. Yet they bring the various concerns of the preceding essays into sharp focus, not merely in the recurrence of specific texts and ideas from Pound’s oeuvre, but in their attempts to rethink difficult aspects of Pound’s thought in terms of the contemporary. The claims made in these essays will surely provoke readers to evaluate the symbolic and hermeneutic weight given to Pound in the context of Modernism, twentieth-century and contemporary literature, as well as his ability to provoke new thinking on a range of subjects, some, such as the role of finance capital in the global economy, and the role of humane education and aesthetic production in a Neoliberal cultural formation, subjects having taken on urgent significance in recent years.

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This (rather lengthy!) review has sought to identify the innovations emergent in each essay in this collection. The claim for Pound’s contemporaneity is fulfilled in various ways: whether by evaluating Pound’s work in light of new methodologies in literary studies or elsewhere; by deploying improvements in the understanding of Pound’s sources and contacts; or by considering his work in the light of contemporary issues in literary production and critique. Readers, including your dutiful reviewer, will no doubt gravitate to specific essays by virtue of their analytic methods and subject matter. Yet a primary point for the book as a whole is how it contributes to clarify Pound’s renewed relevance to literary studies in several ways only now coming into focus. Current research in Pound Studies includes other topics and methods not necessarily covered in the essays under review, offering timely, illuminating, and complementary potential for exploration. I will avoid concluding with a shopping list of such subjects and themes, instead flagging the new energy in Pound Studies to which the present book makes a valuable and imaginative contribution, and which future publications will surely take in new directions. Ezra Pound in the Present is a crucial and timely intervention in Pound Studies, assessing as well as galvanising a new phase of innovative work in the field.