Stefano Adami.

Ezra Pound a Siena tra Accademia Chigiana e Monte dei Paschi

Siena: Nuova Immagine, 2013. 

Review by Claudio Sansone



The outset is promising: the study appears explicitly interested in the manner in which socio-economic conditions make of Siena a unique cultural locus, and suggests it will examine how Pound both perceived and contributed to its millennial history of cultural production. From this implicitly Marxist standpoint, the book hopes to expand upon the dialectic that exists between music and banking. In stressing that the multicultural and multi-disciplinary are ubiquitous in Siena’s history, Adami underlines the urgency of an academic appreciation of the reasons for which Pound was attracted to the city. 

A preliminary approach is made by tracing a charged portrait of the aged poet through the lens of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s famous televised interview of 1967, and through Pasolini’s recital of the famous ‘What thou loves well remains’ sequence. It is through these lines that Adami formulates his question of Pound’s specific tie to Siena—though Siena is not discussed overtly by Pasolini, this segue is as brusque as it is poignant. 

The second chapter presents a general picture of Pound that is unlikely to be of interest to the specialist, but that is written engagingly (it demonstrates, without doubt, Adami’s ability to straddle an academic and general-interest audience). There are two key focalizations in this whistle-stop biography that help create a context for Pound’s interest in monetary theory, and they are skillfully redacted. First is Adami’s description of fin-de-siècle Hailey, Idaho—a speculative but functional description that underlines Pound’s appreciation of money and its social functions. Second is the particularly effective treatment of Pound’s thoughts on usury and money theory (explicated with ingenious—if surprising—use of quotations from Marx’s Das Kapital). This leads into an excellent introduction to Pound’s interest in the major economic theories of Hugh Clifford Douglas and Silvio Gesell. However, the biography breaks off in the early 1920s (with Pound meeting Olga Rudge), providing the reader only with a minute and incomplete list of ‘interests’, failing to represent the importance of music in Pound’s career in a detailed fashion, or in a new light. 

The third chapter details Pound’s early interactions with Mussolini and the fascist regime, and presents a compilation of quotations that form a neat (if sparse) story-line of the relationship Pound had with the movement and its leader. It is only at this point in the book (about half way in) that a discussion of Pound’s interactions with Siena begin. Adami presents superficially the research Pound was undertaking in 1927 when he (somewhat accidentally) came across the founding act of Monte dei Paschi (1624) and Narciso Mengozzi’s Il Monte dei Paschi di Siena e le Aziende in Esso Riunite (1892). Unfortunately, the discussion on the topic is entirely lacking in substance, and seems only to resolve itself in quotations from the Cantos that are given (without a discernible logic) in either English or Italian, sometimes both. Adami moves all-too-quickly to a discussion of Pound’s interactions with the Accademia Chigiana, yet does not present a thesis on the aesthetic relation of banking and music in Pound qua poet (as the introduction had lead the reader to expect). The chapter’s scattered discussion of Pound and Rudge’s involvement with the prestigious academy is partly redeemed by the inclusion of a previously unpublished letter (with facsimile) sent by Chigi Saracini to Pound, in which he invites him and Rudge to assist in the publication of the complete works of Vivaldi.

In the fourth chapter, the facsimiles from the academy archives continue to follow (six of Pound’s letters to Chigi Saracini are reproduced, written over the years 1942-44). Through these letters, we discover the manner in which banking, politics, and music were interwoven in Pound’s mind. Yet, the discussion of Vivaldi and Monte dei Paschi is obviated by a further catalog of quotations from the Pisan Cantos, and from other (previously published) correspondences, which are presented without much comment. Adami concentrates his scholarship on the six letters as a way of gauging Pound’s political ‘temperature’, and, outlining (without much analysis) Rudge’s involvement with the cataloguing of Vivaldi—admittedly, the presentation of this material certainly makes for a valuable set of pages. Finally, a very brief concluding chapter deals (purely anecdotally) with Pound’s arrest and incarceration.

Overall, Adami fails to engage with his titular topic more than superficially and, as a result, the text’s actual additions to scholarship—beyond, perhaps, the rehearsal of historical material for an Italian audience—are slight. That the book presents an interesting (though partial) overview of Pound’s career in Italy cannot be denied, yet the pages that deal with Siena are too few to be considered as constitutive of the beginning of an analysis—even if the use of copious quotation does help to collect many of Pound’s thoughts on the city. The reader is disappointed to find that a number of interesting points raised in the introduction(s) are only addressed implicitly, and that (with the exception of those pages dealing with unpublished correspondence noted above) the salient points of this study deal with material that has already been covered, in greater depth, by other critics such as Murray Schafer, Stephen Adams and Catherine Paul. The fact that Paul’s essay “Ezra Pound, Alfredo Casella, and the Fascist Cultural Nationalism of the Vivaldi Revival”(Ezra Pound, Language and Persona 2008) is absent from the bibliography is symptomatic of Adami’s superficial treatment of the subject of Pound and music, and I cannot refrain from noting that the most recent criticism on the topic dates back to 1977. In addition to the insubstantial bibliography, the lack of an index also lowers the scholarly tone of this study. 

Perhaps, the frustrating constraints of practical reality are revealing themselves in the fact that Adami’s premises are not brought to fruition, something that is rendered all the more disappointing by the fact that he situates himself at the intersection between English and Italian Pound Studies. As it stands, this book is more a decoration for the shelves of the Accademia’s friends than it is a scholarly pursuit.