Article Index



Odds & Ends of A Companion to

Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur

Anderson Araujo, University of British Columbia



Structurally modelled after Carroll Terrell’s indispensable Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound, my forthcoming Companion to Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur addresses the interpretive challenges that the poet’s most far-reaching prose tract presents to the average reader. Providing page-by-page glosses on key terms and passages in Guide, the Companion also situates Pound’s allusions and references in relation to other texts in his oeuvre, especially The Cantos. The Companion thus opens up new avenues for comparative criticism and interpretation. My talk will present a small sample of the findings showcased in the book, including a few passages excised by T. S. Eliot, who edited the book as Faber director. The unexpurgated Faber edition of 1938, selectively recovered in the Companion, allows us to experience Guide as Pound intended it—a no-holds-barred polemic. I will also briefly touch on the rationale behind the project’s transition from its original conception as an annotated edition to its present form as a standalone monograph. This talk would not be complete without looking at some salient issues, including the critically tricky task of selecting (and skipping) passages for commentary while avoiding overwhelming the reader with too much supplementary information. Finally, I will also draw attention to the potential benefits and implications of the Companion to the study and editing of Pound.

The paramount importance of Guide to Kulchur among Pound’s prose works is beyond doubt. Michael Coyle goes so far as to call it an “extension” of The Cantos (10), while William Chace sees as it a “prose complement” to the poem (74). The book mirrors The Cantos’ “encyclopedic range of allusion and reference” (Nadel 4). In its fifty-eight chapters and postscript, Guide encapsulates Pound’s chief concerns: his cultural, historiographic, philosophical, and epistemological theories; his aesthetics and poetics; and his economic and political thought. Guide constitutes an interdisciplinary and transhistorical cultural anthropology. Yet it displays some of the same intractable complexities that we find in Yeats’s A Vision, where Pound is said to have likened The Cantos to a Bach fugue: “No plot, no chronicle of events, no logic of discourse” (Yeats 4). As Catherine Paul aptly puts it, in Guide to Kulchur “Pound’s value judgments speak without archival evidence” (225-26).

The book was expressly written for those unable to afford a university education. As a leading text in Pound’s “Ezuversity” it was meant to be readily accessible, a portable alternative to the stodgy lecture halls of the academy. It ended up being anything but user-friendly. It is playfully subversive all the same. To begin with, the eccentric spelling and phonetic ambiguity of kulchur mount a sly yet forceful critique of mainstream culture, parodied by Pound’s disruptive, irreverent cognate. His revised sense of culture realigns and dismantles standard connotations of the term, leaving space to fill in what he calls the “fatal” gaps in history (GK, 31). Throughout the book, Pound seeks to recover “whole beams and ropes of real history [that have] been shelved, overclouded and buried” (30). Kulchur thus signifies a kind of archaeology of “real knowledge” (a recurring phrase in Guide), redressing what he considers to be a widespread crisis: the falsification and suppression of the past.

The Companion had to contend at the start not only with the mechanics of the project but also its justification. Guide to Kulchur hardly seems to warrant annotations, at least on the surface. Pound takes the reader by the hand into the wilds of his mind in 6 parts, 58 chapters, and roughly 75,000 words. But Pound is no Virgil—Guide conceals as much as it reveals. His staggering range of references and encyclopaedic scope may at times be virtually indecipherable to the lay reader. Each chapter can be seen as a cultural ideogram or, more precisely perhaps, a cryptogram to be decoded. To wit, a chapter titled “The Promised Land” surveys Chaucer, Dante, Henry VIII, Browning, Hardy, Gautier, and Swinburne, among others, while maligning Kipling to the point of libel, all crammed into 4 ½ pages. The book’s jazzy syncopation dazzles, but it is just as likely to leave the reader in a daze. As a guide proper, the book is a monumental failure. J. J. Wilhelm sees its failure in its trying “to do in prose what can better be done in poetry, which works far more with the imagination and with suggestion than with logical persuasion” (169). Be that as it may, Wilhelm misses the point.

Guide to Kulchur is a failure only insofar as Sigismondo Malatesta’s Tempio is a failure. As featured in Pound’s prefatory remarks, the Tempio ended up, like The Cantos, as an unfinished enterprise or, as Pound puts it in Guide, “a jumble and a junk shop.” In 1934, he would praise its “daring synthesis” in The Criterion (Pound, “Rev.” 496). For Pound, the Tempio typifies the kind of cultural bricolage that registers a crucial effort toward civilization building. Poundian kulchur, too, is constructed of materials retrieved ready-made from the midden heap of history. Malatesta’s “failure,” Pound reminds us, is “worth all the successes of his age” (GK 2). And just as the Tempio telegraphs for Pound a fundamental “all-roundness” in spite of itself, Guide likewise displays the fullness of his thought at its freest. The Companion provides commentary that helps the reader not to trip over the book’s “tattered formulations,” to borrow Michael O’Driscoll’s phrase (140), in order to share in Pound’s moments of discovery and revelation. Like Malatesta’s pastiche of architectural styles in the Tempio, Pound continued to append new material in subsequent editions up until as late as 1970, two years before his death. The date marks his last addendum to the New Directions photo-offset of the 1952 edition. The 1970 edition is the copy-text for the Companion, alongside the unexpurgated Faber edition of 1938 which Eliot emended for fears of libel suits even after copies of the book had already been bound. Donald Gallup leaves out the significant detail of Eliot’s role in the cancels. He also misses a few manuscript deletions or corrections by Eliot.

The Companion recovers these censored passages. More important, it provides commentary at key points to meet the needs of the specialist while keeping the critical apparatus unobtrusive so as also to appeal to university students and the general public. The book is organized as a page-by-page set of annotations, following the New Directions pagination. In this way, and unlike an annotated edition might, it complements, rather than competes with, the New Directions volume. This not only has kept costs considerably lower, it also has given me more freedom to produce much more comprehensive entries than would otherwise be viable in the marginalia of an annotated or critical edition. Finally, this format allows the Companion to be read side-by-side with Guide. The commentaries are cross-listed with the original text by means of corresponding page numbers and bolded keywords or phrases excerpted from the original text. The amount of detail and length of each gloss varies according to the complexity of the subject matter and the breadth of coverage already received in previous entries. Accordingly, whenever a reference, concept or figure is broached in Guide for the first time, it elicits more sustained attention in the Companion. The following annotation illustrates this approach. The title of the first chapter of Guide to Kulchur reads,


          that is, of the Philosophic Conversations (GK 15)

The corresponding annotation in the Companion cites the page number and provides a lengthy explication. As the commentary demonstrates, the reader will gain a much fuller grasp of not only the meaning of Pound’s references, but also of their historical and contextual relevance in his thought and body of work.

The book also includes a four-part introduction, which covers, respectively:

1) the history of the book’s composition, publication, editing, reception, and the changes in later editions;

2) a critical analysis of Pound’s method, including an exploration of his iconoclastic kulchur;

3) Pound’s vision for the book;

4) an apologia for the Companion itself, making a case for why it is needed.

Among the findings showcased in the introduction is the fact that 230 sheet sets of the first Faber edition were destroyed in a bombing during the Second World War. I connect this event to the history of the erasures, revisions, and additions to the original text, all of which testify to Jerome McGann’s idea that

No book is one thing, it is many things, fashioned and refashioned repeatedly under different circumstances. Its meaning, as Wittgenstein would say, is in its use. And because all its uses are always invested in real circumstances, the many meanings of any book are socially and physically coded in and by the books themselves. They bear the evidence of the meanings they have helped to make. (“From Text to Work” 238-39)

The history of Guide to Kulchur itself illustrates the world history that Pound synthesizes.

The book also bears the scars of Eliot’s editorial knife, as shown in the Companion. Although no match for Pound’s radical editorial manoeuvers in the manuscript of The Waste Land, Eliot’s excisions still altered the published text considerably. In the chapter “Happy Days” the evidence of his intervention is a conspicuous blank space (GK 286). A paragraph on Hardy is split at the middle, marking the point where Eliot removed a scathing comment about Hardy’s “stinking old sisters.” He even cut out a token of praise to himself. The recovery of Eliot’s edits from the unexpurgated Guide reveals his fears of libel and brings Pound’s foes out into the open. In a three-pronged assault, for instance, Pound had originally berated the 17th-century French bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, along with journalists for The Times, as well as Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University. Ignoring the long-dead Bossuet, Eliot redacts the original “N. M. Butler” to “some University Presidents” and “The Times leader writers” to “numerous leader writers” (164-65). Pound’s later exposé of The Times, The Telegraph, and other mainstream print media controlled by powerful elites is softened to “any paper” (196). Eliot also shucks off “punks, pimps and cheap dudes,” epithets Pound marshals to caricature England’s ruling class (190). A few pages later, he emends Pound’s condemnation of the Church of England, letting “ally of mammon” stand but erasing a jab at a prominent figure in the British establishment: Cosmo Gordon Lang of Lambeth, Archbishop of Canterbury (195). In its place, Eliot has Pound ventriloquize his own dread of the “danger of libel.” Other onslaughts are simply deleted out of hand. Pound’s typescripts at the Beinecke reveal how he took pains to oversee every aspect of the book’s textual and visual production. The typescripts also contain a range of excerpts that even he thought too hot to handle and therefore redacted before submitting to Faber. A striking case in point is a Dantean diatribe against university presses: “Oxford (particularly vile) Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, U?P etc. all run by slughead baboons, all run by usurers hirelings ch hanno perduto il ben del intelletto.” Pound cribs the Italian from the beginning of Canto III of Dante’s Inferno, where Virgil tells the Florentine poet to expect to see those “who have lost the good of the intellect.” Guide to Kulchur’s cutting room floor is littered with off-colour fragments.

In Derridean terms, the intentional blank spaces left in the wake of Eliot’s editorial cuts are the spectral traces that signal his “haunting” of the text. More important, the spaces bear out the fact that the production of a text is virtually always collaborative. In recovering Eliot’s elisions, I subscribe to Donald Pizer’s argument for restoring censored versions of a text because it allows for a “radical deconstruction of a text” (16). Eliot’s purging of potentially libelous material shows his legal misgivings on Faber’s behalf, but it also uncovers his own biases and conservatism.

Given the timely relevance of Guide to Kulchur to the growing scholarly debate on the cultural politics of modernism, the proposed Companion will be of interest to scholars working in Twentieth-Century British and American literature, European Modernisms, Cultural History, Italian Studies, Textual Studies, and general readers interested in the history of ideas in interwar modernism. As I demonstrate in an essay forthcoming with the MLA Approaches to Teaching series, college instructors can enlist Guide to Kulchur as a productive tool to teach Pound’s poetry, especially The Cantos. I also argue that Guide itself can be taught as a nexus of all of Pound’s main concerns, including the range of avant-garde mavericks he covers in the book. My Companion thus aims to be quite useful for graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in modern literature courses. The widespread support and help for this project that I have received from fellow Pound scholars and specialists in other fields suggest that academic specialists could also make extensive use of the book. The staying power of the New Directions edition of Guide leads me to anticipate a fairly wide readership. My project looks to contribute to the growing volume in editorial and critical studies of Pound and modernism.

To lay claim to Pound’s own mission statement for Guide to Kulchur, the critical annotations in the Companion are primarily designed “to provide the average reader with a few tools for dealing with the heteroclite mass of undigested information” (GK 23). Pound has bitten off far more than most of us could ever chew. I do not pretend to have produced a foolproof companion piece, far from it. Guide to Kulchur itself is a book of voids and gaps, leaving much unsaid. Yet none other than Confucius endorsed this radical revision of historiography. In Canto 13, Pound invokes the philosopher, who recalls “A day when the historians left blanks in their writings, / I mean for things they didn’t know” (13/60). Like historian, like annotator. The Companion is no different. My intent is “to lure the reader,” as Pound puts it, mindful that “any hodge-podge of oddities that arouses hunger or thirst is pardonable to the critic” (GK 161). All one dares hope in the end is that the Companion’s shortcomings will stir further appetite for the original. However disjointed and, at times, unpalatable Pound’s digest of cultures and civilizations may appear, it remains an essential index of his omnivorous interests and of his quixotic belief in his own capacity to make the vortices of power and the vortices of kulchur coincide into an “era of brilliance” (266).

The illustrations that accompanied this talk may be accessed at my Prezi presentation.




Chace, William. The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Redwoord City: Stanford UP, 1973.

Coyle, Michael. Ezra Pound, Popular Genres, and the Discourse of Culture. University Park: The Pennsylvania State UP, 1995.

Gallup, Donald. Bibliographic description of the unexpurgated copy of Guide to Kulchur, Faber 1938. Beinecke digital collections.

McGann, Jerome. “From Text to Work. Digital Tools and the Emergence of the Social Text.” The Book as Artefact. Text and Border. Eds. A.M. Hansen et al. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005. 225-40.

Nadel, Ira, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

O’Driscoll, Michael. “Guide to Kulchur.” The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Eds. Demetres Tryphonopoulos and Stephen Adams. Westport, CT.: Greenwood, 2005. 139-41.

Paul, Catherine. Fascist Directive. Ezra Pound and Italian Cultural Nationalism. Clemson: Clemson UP, 2016.

Pizer, Donald. The Editing of American Literature, 1890-1930: Essays and Reviews. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 2012

Pound, Ezra. Guide to Kulchur. [1938]. New York: New Directions, 1952.

Pound, Ezra. Guide to Kulchur. London: Faber, 1938.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. New York: New Directions, 1998.

Pound, Ezra. Rev of Stones of Rimini, by Adrian Stokes. Criterion XIII.52 (April 1954): 496.

Wilhelm, J. J. The Tragic Years 1925-1972. University Park: The Pennsylvania State UP, 1994.

Yeats, William B. “A Packet for Ezra Pound.” In The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats. Vol. XIV. Eds. Margaret Mills Harper and Catherine E. Paul. New York: Scribner, 2015.