The Ezra Pound /Marshall McLuhan Correspondence

edited by Edwin J. Barton


UA1987 17 1 15 BSF42

Marshall McLuhan and students with Mary de Rachewiltz in Idaho, 1978.McLuhan gave the fourth annual Pound Lecture at the University of Idaho on 25 April: 'The Possum and the Midwife.' Mary read from Canto CXV at the occasion.



List of Abbreviations           6

Preface                                 7

Introduction                         11

A Note on the Text              20

Letter One                           21

Letter Two                           23

Letter Three                        32

Letter Four                          33

Letter Five                           37

Letter Six                            38

Letter Seven                        42

Letter Eight                         47

Letter Nine                          49

Letter Ten                            54

Letter Eleven                       59

Letter Twelve                      63

Letter Thirteen                    63

Letter Fourteen                   67

Letter Fifteen                      72

Letter Sixteen                      78

Letter Seventeen                 82

Letter Eighteen                   85

Letter Nineteen                   85

Letter Twenty                      86

Letter Twenty-One              90

Letter Twenty-Two             94

Letter Twenty-Three           98

Letter Twenty-Four             99

Letter Twenty-Five             102

Letter Twenty-Six               105

Letter Twenty-Seven          110

Letter Twenty-Eight           111

Letter Twenty-Nine            114

Letter Thirty                        117

Letter Thirty-One                118

Letter Thirty-Two               119

Letter Thirty-Three             124

Letter Thirty-Four               134

Letter Thirty-Five               136

Letter Thirty-Six                 137

Letter Thirty-Seven             141

Letter Thirty-Eight              143

Letter Thirty-Nine               145

Letter Forty                         149

Letter Forty-One                 153

Letter Forty-Two                155

Letter Forty-Three              162

Letter Forty-Four                164

Letter Forty-Five                 169

Letter Forty-Six                  173

Letter Forty-Seven              175

Letter Forty-Eight               180

Letter Forty-Nine                186

Letter Fifty                          188

Letter Fifty-One                  193

Letter Fifty-Two                 194

Letter Fifty-Three               196

Letter Fifty-Four                 197

Letter Fifty-Five                 198

Letter Fifty-Six                   203

Letter Fifty-Seven              204

Letter Fifty-Eight               207

Letter Fifty-Nine                214

Letter Sixty                         217

Letter Sixty-One                 219

Letter Sixty-Two                 220

Letter Sixty-Three               221

Letter Sixty-Four                222

Letter Sixty-Five                 225

Letter Sixty-Six                   227

Letter Sixty-Seven              229

Bibliography                       235

Appendix One                    239

Appendix Two                    255


List of Abbreviations

AL    Autograph Letter, unsigned

ALS  Autograph Letter, signed

AN    Autograph Note, unsigned

ANS  Autograph Note, signed

PC.   Post Card, unsigned

TL    Typed Letter, unsigned

TLS  Typed Letter, signed


In truth, I only became fully aware of Marshall McLuhan and his theories in 1977 when I began work on my Master’s degree in English at the University of Toronto. I had been encouraged to go there and study with McLuhan by my undergraduate mentor at Franklin Pierce College, Nathan Cervo, who had done his own graduate work at Toronto. He told me that I was susceptible to learning from McLuhan because I had “the right kind of sense of humor.” It took me the better part of a year to understand what his words meant, but when I did understand, I realized just how perceptive my counselor was.

Because they met on the same days at approximately the same time, I was forced to choose between Northrop Frye’s graduate seminar on Milton and a graduate course called “Myth and Media: Joyce, Pound, Eliot, and Yeats” taught by McLuhan. No doubt owing to my sense of humor, which was not particularly well aligned with my career prospects, I chose the latter. I have never regretted the selection. McLuhan’s seminars were scheduled for Monday and Wednesday afternoons in the carriage house on St. Michael’s College campus, but we were informed on the first Wednesday of the semester that the Monday section would meet in the evening. These meetings, it turned out, were associated with McLuhan’s famed open forums, known simply as “Monday nights.” We quickly learned that the Monday forum was the three-ring circus and that our Wednesday seminar was only a sideshow.

McLuhan’s teaching style, as many former students have attested, was not like that of any other professor. Everything about the seminars seemed to be impromptu. They would typically begin with McLuhan’s remarking that he had been thinking about something very interesting. Then he would read or recite a particularly memorable line or lucid insight culled from a worthwhile book that he had been dipping into and which he highly recommended to us. Then he would go on to another matter without a hint of transition or logical connection. This approach, I would later learn, McLuhan referred to as the “ideogrammatic method.” I don’t recall his mentioning Eliot or Yeats more than a few times, and then only to quote them without comment or analysis. I don’t recall his mentioning Pound at all. But he did spend the better part of a Wednesday afternoon reading from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in a rather exaggerated Irish accent. Joyce’s final masterpiece, we were to see, or rather hear, was an acoustic work meant to be appreciated as a performance.

I was, at first, dismayed by these performances; there was no way of finding one’s bearings. Of course, I had not yet learned that his technique was the content of the seminar. And yet, for all my consternation about what I was learning and how I would be assessed, I found myself being very much entertained. To my good fortune, McLuhan’s son, Eric, who was on leave from the University of Dallas to write his thesis, began sitting next to me during the seminars and, on occasion, during the Monday nights. With a word or phrase at the right time, he began to orient me to what was happening. He also recommended to me the “right books” to digest fully from the extensive reading list that his father had provided us early on in the course. These works included Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, Erwin Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology, Sigfried Giedion’s Mechanization Takes Command, Harold Innis’s Empire and Communications, and E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion, among others, including McLuhan’s own works, none of which was obviously oriented toward literary studies. Indeed, McLuhan’s books, like his lectures, when they referred to literature at all, only did so in cryptic ways.

All the graduate seminars in English at the University of Toronto were two semesters in length. By late January of 1978, I came realize that the course really should have been named McLuhan Studies; it was all McLuhan all the time, and I was hooked. We were given the only assignment I can recall in the whole of the seminar, which was to be a kind of full term paper or thesis. I decided to write on Hemingway and Fitzgerald as Romantics who worked in the tradition of using exterior landscapes to express emotion. To my surprise, some weeks after submitting the essay, Professor McLuhan asked me to read aloud from my thesis. After I read the first paragraph outlining my subject, he interrupted to say that he didn’t wish me to read what I wrote, but only the quotations from Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Although I was somewhat abashed at the time, since then this incident has served to amuse me no end. After I finished at Toronto, I decided to teach at a Massachusetts preparatory school for three years. On New Year’s Eve of 1980, I learned that Marshall McLuhan had died in his sleep following a serious stroke in September of the previous year, and I realized that I was among the last of his students.

In 1982, I was determined to pursue my Ph.D. in English and was accepted by Vanderbilt University’s doctoral program. The Mellon Chair for the Humanities at Vanderbilt in those days was held by Donald Davie, who was famous for his works on poetic diction and syntax. But he had also written, much to his colleagues’ surprise, two books on the poetry of Ezra Pound. When I and other students expressed a desire for a graduate seminar on Pound, Davie acquiesced on two conditions: it would be a small group, no more than six to eight participants, and it would meet at night at his home. That seminar was a revelation to me, opening almost as many doors of perception as McLuhan’s had years before. And when a fellow graduate student casually mentioned to me that he had seen some letters between Pound and McLuhan at the Lilly Library of the University of Indiana, Bloomington, my dissertation topic was set. Most of McLuhan’s side of the correspondence was at the Lilly; the majority of Pound’s side was housed at Canada’s National Public Archives in Ottawa. After visiting both repositories, I went to work at Yale University’s libraries. By happenstance, I found a few more of Pound’s letters in the card catalogue at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library; even the librarians and docents were unaware of their existence. All this, of course, was before the time of personal computers and the worldwide web, never mind Google. My methods were not unlike those of a detective, which I hope would have made both Pound and McLuhan proud. Although the final edition was accepted as a dissertation, the work was never published. In the past year or so, I have done a complete editing job, taking advantage of new databases and eliminating some youthful exuberance and partisanship.

Edwin J. Barton, 2021


The accounts vary, but the consensus seems to be that in late April of 1945, in Sant’ Ambrogio, an American living in Italy heard a loud noise at the front of his house, which interrupted his translating into English The Book of Mencius, an ancient Chinese classic written by a disciple of Confucius. The disturbance, which turned out to be the slamming of two machine gun butts against the door, was not wholly unexpected. A few days earlier, the American, who was a fervid and well-known supporter of Benito Mussolini, learned that Il Duce had been apprehended and killed by Communist partisans near Lake Como while trying to escape to the Italian Alps. Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were then transported to Milan, where their corpses were hung by their heels in the public square of Piazzale Loreto. Thus, when the man found at his door two Italian partigiani with Tommy guns, he was prepared to surrender. Indeed, in advance of rising from his worktable, he had slipped his copy of the Mencius and a Chinese dictionary in his coat pocket. On his way out through the garden under armed escort, he managed to pick a seed pip from one of the eucalyptus trees. Also on his departure, the American left his keys with a young woman in an adjoining flat and made a gesture to her suggesting he was doomed to be hanged.

In some versions of the story, the partisans believed that there was a large reward for their prisoner; in other versions, the American was sought for questioning at the highest levels. But, in any event, when it was discovered that he had been making a series of broadcasts in Rome, filled with pro-fascist propaganda, wild invective against the Roosevelt administration, and virulent Antisemitic slurs, he was turned over to the American army and sent to a Disciplinary Training Center (DTC) in Pisa. This military prison and holding tank contained some of the worst criminal offenders in the American military, including murderers and rapists who were sentenced to death. While most of the cells were indoors, a few special open “cages” had been built outside for those detainees who were deemed likely to attempt escape or suicide. The American man was placed in one of these, leaving him with little or no protection from the elements. At night he lay upon a slab of concrete but could not sleep owing to the constant glare of a light that shone on his cage. Within a few weeks, he suffered a severe mental and physical collapse; he was moved to the medical compound of the DTC, where he recovered sufficiently to resume his translation of the Chinese text. He was given a typewriter and allowed some books, all of which enabled him to begin as well a new series of poems. These were later entitled The Pisan Cantos, and in 1949 they were awarded the first Bollingen Prize for Poetry.

In November of 1945, after languishing for most of the hot Italian summer and early fall at the Detention Training Center, the American was transported to Washington, D. C. to stand trial for treason. Under the advice of counsel, he pleaded insanity to avoid conviction and the accompanying death sentence. He was remanded to St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was to spend the better part of the next thirteen years. This American man, whose fanatical politics and other inexplicable obsessions had brought him to these depths, was Ezra Loomis Pound, arguably the greatest poet of the twentieth century, the man who was referred to as il miglior fabbro (“the better craftsman”) in T. S. Eliot’s dedication of The Waste Land, for which Pound served both as editor and “midwife.”

*       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, in Toronto, a Canadian professor of English by the name of Herbert Marshall McLuhan, who had by the spring of 1948 completed the second year of his long tenure at St. Michael’s College, belonging to the University of Toronto confederation, was in search of collaborators to work on ‘ground-breaking’ scholarship in the area of modernist literature. To his great fortune, he found a younger man, Hugh Kenner, who had taken his M.A. in English at Toronto in 1946 and was winding up the second of his two-year teaching stint at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario, where McLuhan had taught 1944-46. The two men had something else in common; they had both come under the wing of Father Gerald Phelan, a professor of Philosophy at St. Michael’s College, who helped McLuhan publish his first academic essay, on G. K. Chesterton, at the Dalhousie Review in 1936, and served as advisor for Kenner’s M. A. thesis on the same author, which was later published as Paradox in Chesterton (1946). Fr. Phelan had been instrumental in both men’s early careers, finding teaching positions at St. Louis University, Assumption College, and St. Michael’s College for McLuhan, and recommending Kenner for the Assumption job as well. He was also their spiritual advisor and urged their conversions to Catholicism: McLuhan’s in 1937 and Kenner’s much later. McLuhan’s faith and his training in Neo-Scholastic Thomism were crucial components in his literary criticism, as well as in his later work in media and communications.

In the hope of advancing their scholarly careers, McLuhan and Kenner agreed to a professional relationship. For starters, McLuhan wrote a letter to a famous poet who was incarcerated at a hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D. C., asking if he and a colleague could visit him. The ostensible reason for this visit was to engage the poet in “some talk . . . about contemporary letters”; indeed, the claim was made that they were “serious” students and admirers of his work. In truth, they did not know much about his poetry or his prose. In those days, “contemporary letters” meant for McLuhan and Kenner principally the writings of T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and, to a rather surprising extent, Wyndham Lewis.

Nevertheless, they went to call on this poet, imprisoned in an insane asylum, whose books they had never truly studied. In retrospect, it was of great import that they did go; for, to the extent that the appreciation of the poet’s career was turned, it must be credited that, in the first stages of that effort, McLuhan and Kenner were as much responsible as anyone. By 1951, Kenner would publish the “first study to criticize [the poet] on his own terms.” And in 1971, he published a masterful volume that placed the poet at the center of the entire modernist era. For ten years, McLuhan maintained a correspondence with the poet, before it was broken off as their interests diverged. By then, Marshall McLuhan was about to emerge as the media and communications guru of the middle to late 20th century, the man who coined the phrases “the medium is the message” and “the global village,” and the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media.

*       *       *       *       *

The intended purposes of this presentation of the correspondence between Ezra Pound and Marshall McLuhan are manifold. The first, of course, is to record as accurately as possible the text of the correspondence. The second is to orient the reader to the references made in the letters through the use of annotations. The third is to highlight and expand upon the principal themes of the correspondence by means of commentary. The theme that becomes immediately apparent in the first part of the correspondence is the extent to which McLuhan, with Kenner as his collaborator, desired to make known to the scholarly world the enormous contributions Pound had made to literature and criticism. Although McLuhan initially hoped to accomplish this task by asking questions, it soon became clear to him that the only way was to read Pound’s poetry and prose side by side and look for correlations. To their credit, McLuhan and Kenner did just this, and, if we are to believe McLuhan’s former colleague and friend Felix Giovanelli, it was primarily McLuhan, at least in the beginning, who offered the insights and provided the analysis, and Kenner who turned these into comprehensible critique in the form of scholarly books. It is not the inclination of the volume at hand to judge which of the two deserves the greater share of the credit for bringing about the rise of ‘Pound studies’; let it suffice to say that this controversy was a sore point with Marshall and, indeed, his son and collaborator, the late Eric McLuhan, and that Kenner, for his part, repeatedly acknowledged McLuhan in forewords and prefaces.

In any event, one of the first ‘jobs,’ as McLuhan was wont to put it, was to account for the considerable difference in attention to and appreciation for the work of Pound and that of T. S. Eliot. Both McLuhan and Kenner theorized that these discrepancies were a result of the contemporary zeitgeist in which literary scholars and more common readers now rested. Eliot’s poems and essays were more approachable and less exacting than Pound’s, for even more than Eliot’s works, Pound’s demanded high erudition, deep study, and facility with languages, both classical and modern. There was also the matter of styles: Eliot’s poems appealed to an “auditory imagination,” whereas Pound’s verse was sculpted and hard-edged. Eliot’s prose was sententious and cogent, whereas Pound’s was laconic and “ideogrammatic.” As McLuhan studied more and more of Pound’s writings, he began to recognize similarities between Pound’s poetry and the film-making of Sergei Eisenstein; both employed abrupt juxtapositions, Eisenstein of scenes and Pound of images. Moreover, McLuhan now realized that Pound’s work represented not just a new form of art, but also a new way of thinking. He aligned Pound’s use of superposition in both poetry and prose with the Aristotelian principle of metaphor: the notion that the relation of A to B can be understood as existing in a precise ratio with the relation of C to D. Thus, for instance, in Pound’s famous haiku poem—“The apparition of these faces in the crowd: / Petals on a wet, black bough”—the foregrounded “apparition of these faces” against the background of “the crowd” can be appreciated as having a metaphoric relation to the foregrounded “petals” against the background of “the wet, black bough.” However, the relation between these two images is neither rationalized nor explained; it has to be intuited. As McLuhan discovered through Pound’s work, another name for this kind of art and the aesthetic philosophy that informed it was ideogrammatic.

McLuhan’s increased understanding of the ideogrammatic method led to a second important theme in this correspondence: namely, his awareness of the enormous potential for using such theories of art and language in comparing disparate fields and eras of human endeavor. If the relation between two images could be expressed without rational explanation, then the relations between culture and technology could be likewise presented for analysis. The foremost example in McLuhan’s theories is the effects of the printing press on European Renaissance culture as seen in relation to the effects of electronic technology on global 20th century culture. This insight, of course, was to come later, but the idea itself was, in part, a result of the new ways of thinking McLuhan appropriated from Pound, as well as other modernists. In its early form, McLuhan’s adoption of a new way of conceiving relations between seemingly unrelated eras in human history can be found in his first book, The Mechanical Bride. He intuited that the folklore of industrial man was made up of carefully manipulated cultural “icons” that became as powerful to the contemporary masses as Christian iconology was to the Renaissance (see Erwin Panofsky). Likewise, he began to understand what Sigfried Giedion meant when he insisted that mechanization was taking command of modern culture. But it was in large part through his study of modernist writers, and Pound in particular, that McLuhan began to envision clearly what he had intuited or partially understood. Even before he delineated to Pound the broad outlines for The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan was explaining how Pound’s use of allusion, not as ornament, but as a means of drawing energy from the source of the allusion, is comparable to a vacuum tube, which can draw a considerable reservoir of electric energy from a faint source.

And yet, whereas McLuhan profited greatly from this epistolary relationship, Pound was never satisfied with his correspondent’s commitment to “agenda.” This is yet another important theme in these letters. Most of the disagreements between Pound and McLuhan derive from their very different backgrounds and orientations. Pound, though born, raised, and formally schooled in America, had spent the bulk of his adult life in Europe. McLuhan, a Canadian who lived in Canada nearly all of his days, had spent only a few years in graduate school at Cambridge and a few more as an instructor in the United States. Pound had associated with some of the finest minds and many of the greatest artists of his time; indeed, he was at the center of multiple artistic movements. McLuhan had been taught by I. A. Richards at Cambridge and had met F. R. Leavis; he was also well acquainted with Wyndham Lewis. His time with the high and mighty would come soon enough, but he had not experienced anything like Pound had; indeed, by comparison, McLuhan was a provincial. And finally, and most crucially, simply stated, McLuhan was a devout Catholic, and Pound most assuredly was not. For McLuhan, it was not just a matter of faith and spiritual orientation, but also a matter training and philosophical orientation. As his letters reveal over and over, his philosophical bent was Neo-Scholastic; in particular, he was a devotee of St. Thomas Aquinas. But, whereas McLuhan found recourse to Aquinas with great success in his study of James Joyce, his attempts to align Thomism with Pound’s aesthetics were forced at best. In one letter, he even tries, without much success, to persuade Pound that the scholastic article as employed by Aquinas is ideogrammatic in form.

For his part, Pound was suspicious of Catholic philology, which he found to be too reliant on Aristotle. Likewise, he remarked in the correspondence that Catholic theology ceased to be a relevant force when the holy fathers no longer believed in their own dogma. Pound’s spiritual alliances, if they may be called so, were with Confucius and the Eleusinian mysteries. And he was not buying what McLuhan was selling in a letter suggesting a correlation between the work of Chinese Catholic priests and Confucianism. Moreover, Pound seemed to be rather surprised at McLuhan’s ignorance of the labyrinth lore associated with ancient burial rituals, not to mention McLuhan’s asking if such ‘occult’ knowledge was Masonic. And yet, in the end as in the beginning of their correspondence, the sticking point was really a difference in agenda. McLuhan was, at first, interested in aesthetics and literary techniques, and he was later engrossed in media theory and communications, while Pound was always interested only in ideas going into action. The main thrusts of the Poundian agenda during his years in St. Elizabeths were threefold: to support economic change along the lines of social credit theories; to encourage and develop communication between professors and other serious persons across all disciplines, and to reform the curricula in modern schools, colleges, and universities by identifying a new set of necessary texts. And, whereas McLuhan was in agreement with at least two of these agenda items, he proved unwilling to act as the unwobbling pivot Pound hoped he would become. Another way of explaining their differences is to observe that, although both men were committed to the resuscitation of the word, McLuhan was devoted to reviving the logos in every sense—linguistic, philosophic, and spiritual—whereas Pound was more interested in policing the literary use and public utterances of the word. And so a valuable and lively correspondence came inexorably to an end.

A Note on the Text

As mentioned in the preface, all of McLuhan’s letters to Pound are housed at the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana in Bloomington; the bulk of Pound’s letters to McLuhan are held by Canada’s National Public Archives in Ottawa, though a few can be found at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Every effort has been made to present the letters as written. This means in the case of Pound’s side of the correspondence reproducing variant spellings, deliberate misspellings, unusual spacing, deviant punctuation, visual and verbal puns, profanity, and ethnic slurs. Indeed, it may seem to the reader of Pound’s letters that the editor has either failed at his job or has come to the task intoxicated. In fact, Pound’s correspondence is very much like his poetry in the sense that he often uses a kind of “telegraphese” for his diction and employs the space bar and return key of his typewriter to create rhythm and give emphasis to his syntax. Whether the reader will enjoy his unique style, or merely endure it, is a matter of taste.

I would like to acknowledge here that the following letters were previously published in Letters of Marshall McLuhan, eds., Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye (Toronto: University of Oxford Press, 1987): letter one, letter two, letter six, letter eight, letter nine, letter eleven (without the addition), letter thirteen, letter fifteen, letter sixteen, letter twenty, letter twenty-two, letter twenty-three, letter twenty-four, letter twenty-five, letter twenty-six, letter twenty-seven, letter thirty-three, letter thirty-five, letter thirty-six, letter thirty-eight, letter forty, letter forty-two, letter forty-eight, letter fifty-four, letter-fifty-six, letter sixty, and letter sixty-three.







Letter One (TLS) 

117 West 13th Street

New York City

May 31, 1948

Mr. Ezra Pound

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital

Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Pound:

My friend Hugh Kenner and I are much looking forward to a visit and some talk with you about contemporary letters, and your work, in which we have long taken serious interest. We live in Toronto and are visiting here in New York with John Farrelly. We have written to Dr. Overholser to say that we will be in Washington Thursday or Friday of this week.

Cordially yours,

H. M. McLuhan


St. Elizabeth’s Hospital: (properly St. Elizabeths) a federal institute for the criminally insane, Washington, D.C. Pound was incarcerated there, 1946-1958, after having been found unfit to stand trial for treason.

John Farrelly: McLuhan met Farrelly at St. Louis University while both were on the faculty there. McLuhan served as an instructor in English 1937-44.

Dr. Overholser: Dr. Winfred Overholser, superintendent of St. Elizabeths Hospital. According to regulations, all of Pound’s visitors were obliged to register their visits.


This letter is of historic interest in that it signals the beginning of a serious and comprehensive approach to Pound scholarship. The heralded first visit to St. Elizabeths, 4 June 1948, initiated not only the Pound/McLuhan correspondence but also an exchange and friendship between Pound and Hugh Kenner. It was this latter connection that inspired The Poetry of Ezra Pound (1951), which McLuhan called “the first study to criticize [Pound] on his own terms,”1 and culminated with the publication of The Pound Era (1971).

As Kenner has acknowledged in The Pound Era and elsewhere, it was in fact McLuhan who introduced him to Pound,2 both the man and his poetry, although there remains some doubt as to just how “serious” either one’s interest had been prior to their ‘pilgrimage’. Kenner has admitted in the preface to the new edition of his first book on Pound: “We had not come there as special fans of his. Joyce was the only twentieth century work I knew at all well, and Marshall, at that time pretty much a New Critic, believed with F. R. Leavis that the one major poet of our time was Eliot.”3

In any case, there is considerable evidence, both in their correspondence and in the dedication of The Poetry of Ezra Pound, that McLuhan had a great deal to do with Kenner’s ground-breaking scholarship. Indeed, they spent the rest of the summer of 1948 reading and discussing Pound’s poetry through The Pisan Cantos. It was McLuhan, moreover, who insisted on the importance of Pound’s prose works for understanding and illuminating the poetry. And by this method of correlating prose and verse, Kenner’s book was given its structure and meaning. Kenner’s first full-length study of Pound was only one of several projects he and McLuhan proposed to undertake together (see letter 6); for during the early years of their professional association there existed between them a kind of master and apprentice relation (see letter 14). As a mutual friend, Felix Giovanelli, once remarked in a letter to Pound (1950): “They’re a peculiar pair and seem to do things better in collaboration than singly. Mac initiates and Hugh organizes—Mac is original and Hugh is flu executant”4 [sic].


1 H. M. McLuhan, review of The Poetry of Ezra Pound, by Hugh Kenner. In Renascence 4 (Spring 1952): 215.

2 Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), xii.

3 Hugh Kenner, The Poetry of Ezra Pound, Preface to the Bison Book ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985), 2.

4 Felix Giovanelli, New York, to Ezra Pound, Washington, ALS 4 June 1950, The Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington.


Letter Two (ALS) 

St Michael’s College

Toronto 5

June 16 / 48

Dear Mr. Pound

Otto Bird is in New York and a friend of mine who sees him often will ask him to send you his thesis. Of course you could have it from the Toronto U. Library on inter-library loan but that would be less satisfactory. Meantime I shall check on how much of it is available in the Mediaeval Studies series.

It would be of utmost interest and value if you would make some recordings of your poems. An album of 5 or 6 discs is indicated. The machine for doing this is a light portable affair. Records initially on tape etc. An album would do more to get you a hearing than anything else. Loughlin would surely be interested.

The Pisan Cantos are truly wonderful, showing a range of experience that it would be mere impertinence for me to praise. Are not your affinities (so far as English poetry goes) with Ben Jonson? The same plastic and sculptured world?

The prime difficulty of your poetry—so far as contemporary readers are concerned—is surely the intensely masculine mode. This is an age of psychologism and womb-worship. Your clear resonance and etched contours are intolerable to twilight readers who repose only in implications.

Your Cantos, I now judge to be the first and only serious use of the great technical possibilities of the cinematograph. Am I right in thinking of them as a montage of personae and sculptured images? Flash-backs providing perceptions of simultaneities?

Cinema at present is womb-worship because of the conditions of projection in dark-room. No hope there. Didn’t Joyce tend to develop his technique in that darkroom?

I’ve been pondering your remark that Cantos 1-40 are a detective story. Should be glad of further clues from you. But one thing about crime fiction that I have noted may or may not be apropos here. POE in 1840 or so invented the cinema via Dupin. Dupin deals with a corpse as still life. That is, by cinematic montage he reconstructs the crime, as all sleuths have since done. Are Cantos 1-40 such a reconstruction of a crime? Crime against man and civilization. Are the entire Cantos such a 25 reconstruction at once of a continuing crime and of the collateral life that might have been and might still be?

Cordially yours

Marshall McLuhan


St. Michael’s College: belonging to the University of Toronto Confederation (see letter 13). This campus became the site for McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology, founded 1963.

Otto Bird: Bird had written a thesis entitled “The Canzone d’Amore of Cavalcanti According to the Commentary of Dino del Garbo,” (Mediaeval Studies 2 (1939): 150-207; 3 (1940): 117-160, which was of interest to Pound, whose own thesis, Guido Cavalcanti, Rime, had influenced Bird’s approach (see letter 8 and notes).

Mediaeval Studies: published by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, St. Michael’s Campus, University of Toronto.

Loughlin: properly James Laughlin, publisher of New Directions Books, Pound’s principal American house.

The Pisan Cantos: Pound’s Cantos LXXIV-LXXXIV (1948), composed during his incarceration at the American Disciplinary Training Center (DTC) near Pisa, Italy (June November 1945).

Dupin: Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, the protagonist in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Rouget,” and “The Purloined Letter.”


In the beginning of their correspondence, McLuhan’s interest in Pound was primarily, though not exclusively, literary; literary in the sense that he endeavored to place Pound among the traditions of English verse, but also in the sense that he wished to see Pound’s work in relation to that of contemporaries, particularly T. S. Eliot and James Joyce. Both senses are engaged in his noting Pound’s “affinities . . . with Ben Jonson”; a perception likely prompted by Eliot’s essay on Jonson in The Sacred Wood (1919):

. . . by contrast, not with Shakespeare, but with Marlowe, Webster, Donne, Beaumont, and Fletcher, he [Jonson] has been paid out with reputation instead of enjoyment. He is no less a poet than these men, but his poetry is of the surface. Poetry of the surface cannot be understood without study; for to deal with the surface of life, as Jonson dealt with it, is to deal so deliberately that we too must be deliberate, in order to understand.1

It was the apprehension that Pound too was being “paid out with reputation instead of enjoyment” that led McLuhan to suggest a series of recordings; for he recognized that Pound’s poetry is an oral poetry, a poetry of the spoken word and “clear resonance.” It is a poetry, moreover, that is most lucid and appreciable when uttered by the poet himself, as anyone who has heard Pound’s recordings can attest.

There remained for McLuhan the question of how, generally, Pound had been disregarded by aesthetes and more casual readers alike, especially when compared with the extraordinary attention and popularity accorded to Eliot. McLuhan concluded that the explanation was to be found in a divergence of technique; specifically, it was the difference between Pound’s “etched precision,” or sculptural mode, and Eliot’s predilection for “highly associative and psychological imagery” that, in “an age of psychologism,” had made the responses to the poets so distinct. In The Poetry of Ezra Pound, Hugh Kenner draws on Eliot’s essay to find support for a conception of poetic lineage. His description of two divergent strains in English poetry provides a useful elucidation of McLuhan’s remarks:

. . . why is his [Pound’s] poetry so little discussed and, one suspects, less read?

The same question might be asked of Ben Jonson, Landor, and Browning, who languish in the shade of, respectively, Shakespeare, Shelley, and Tennyson, as Pound in the shade of Eliot. Pound, with his multilingual erudition, his orientation towards politics rather than psychology, his exact critical sense issuing in precise, unequivocal, but apparently random judgments, his abrupt handling of fools, and his ‘poetry of surface’ . . . on all these counts has many claims to be considered the contemporary Ben Jonson.2

The problem for both Jonson and Pound, as McLuhan put it in an essay on Pound’s prose in Peter Russell’s Examination of Ezra Pound: A Collection of Essays (1950), was that “[f]or English letters depth of perception has tended to be associated with opacity and suggestiveness. So that the values of plastic hardness and precision in Chaucer are readily overlooked in favor of the rich associations of Shakespeare.”3 McLuhan’s admiration for Eliot’s work was immense; indeed, he quite probably preferred Eliot’s verse, at least, to Pound’s at the time. His objection to the almost exclusive position Eliot had assumed in literary circles is clearly expressed in Kenner’s The Poetry of Ezra Pound:

Many of Mr. Eliot’s phalanx of readers undoubtedly draw [a] sort of psychic comfort from his pages. It is the main thing poetry is now thought to be for; and it is so far antipathetic to Pound’s desiderated ‘nutrition of impulse’ that he may almost be said to have conscientiously precluded the possibility . . . The author of a recent volume of commentary has taken heart from the resemblance of Eliot’s dramatic situations to the stages of psychic individuation as expounded by Jung; that this sort of interest proliferates is not, of course, a judgment on Mr. Eliot, since the same has come to be true of Donne and Shakespeare.4

This is what McLuhan means by calling ours “an age of psychologism.” And when he characterizes it as an age of “womb-worship” as well, he alludes to a related predilection for Freudian and Jungian theories of art: namely, the popular notion of literature as a form of expression deriving primarily from the human unconscious. This conception of poetry, or prose, as embodying a kind of personal or collective myth was anathema in Pound’s theory and practice. Indeed, as McLuhan sees it in the above letter, “the prime difficulty of your poetry—so far as contemporary readers are concerned—is surely the intensely masculine mode.”

The literature of “womb-worship” as practiced by Dorothy Richardson, for example, McLuhan describes as “[o]ne big well of infantile loneliness” (see letter 10). Hers is a literature that seems to recede from knowledge of the material world and rely, instead, on associations of the unconscious mind to give utterance and meaning to personal myth. Pound, by contrast, considered himself a conscious artist, or craftsman. His art is grounded in the material world of facts, and his method demands precision and proportioned analogy rather than indistinct association. As McLuhan suggests, the demands on the reader are equally heavy, making Pound’s a literature unlikely to appeal to those who “repose only in implications.”

The connection between “womb-worship” and cinema has to do with those film techniques that are analogous to literary modes of stream of consciousness; this is perhaps best explained by a passage from McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1967):

In 1911 Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution created a sensation by associating the thought process with the form of the movie. Just at the extreme point of mechanization represented by the factory, the film, the press, men seemed by the stream of consciousness, or interior film, to obtain release into a world of spontaneity, or dreams, and of unique personal experience. Dickens perhaps began it all with his Mr. Jingle in Pickwick Papers. Certainly in David Copperfield, he made a great technical discovery, since for the first time the world unfolds realistically through the eyes of a growing child as camera. Here was the stream of consciousness, perhaps, in its original form before it was adopted by Proust and Joyce and Eliot. It indicates how the enrichment of human experience can occur unexpectedly with the crossing and interplay of the life of media forms.5

McLuhan describes “the conditions of projection in dark-room” for literature precisely when he speaks of stream of consciousness as “interior film.” That he came to understand Joyce’s use of this technique as very different from Dorothy Richardson’s ‘unvariegated stream’ is plain enough. His distinction between Joyce’s methods and Pound’s, however, is worth exploring; for it was Sergei Eisenstein’s use of ‘montage’ that McLuhan found more analogous to Pound’s practice:

It should be plain that the American and even British approach to film is much lacking in the free interplay among the senses and the media that seems so natural to Eisenstein or Rene Clair. For the Russian especially, it is easy to approach any situation structurally, which is to say, sculpturally. To Eisenstein, the overwhelming fact of film was that it is an “act of juxtaposition.”6

McLuhan’s analogy between Pound’s technique in poetry and the art of film-making, particularly as practiced by Eisenstein, recalls a passage from Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska:

The “one image” poem is a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another . . . . In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.

This particular sort of consciousness has not been identified with impressionist art. I think it is worthy of attention.

The logical end of impressionist art is the cinematograph. The state of mind of the impressionist tends to become cinematographical. Or, to put it another way, the cinematograph does away with the need for a lot of impressionist art.

There are two opposed ways of thinking of a man: firstly, you may think of him as that toward which perception moves, as the toy of circumstance, as the plastic substance receiving impressions; secondly, you may think of him as directing a certain fluid force against circumstance, as conceiving instead of merely reflecting and observing.7

When he declares that the “state of mind of the impressionist tends to become cinematographic,” Pound refers to what McLuhan calls “interior film”; that is, the mode of cinematographic expression analogous to interior monologue. But what Pound neglects to mention is that the technique of “super-position” in poetry has a cinematographic analogue as well: namely, the abrupt juxtaposition of scene and action known as the ‘cut.’ It was this technique of terse cutting that Eisenstein employed as an active principle in the art of film-making, a means of conceiving his art rather than merely “receiving impressions.” In Pound’s poetry, this technique translates into juxtaposition without copula of persons, places, objects, and situations, creating images that present “intellectual and emotional complex[es] in an instant of time.”

Further elucidation of McLuhan’s understanding of the analogies between Pound’s poetic practices and Eisenstein’s theories of ‘montage’ are best saved for later (see letters 33 and 44). His allusions to Poe, however, require some immediate attention.

For McLuhan, Edgar Allan Poe’s work serves as a touchstone and/or point of embarkation. And although he most often appeals to the tales of ratiocination, or detective stories, to make his point, it is “Philosophy of Composition” that underlies the theoretical structure of his arguments. In his chapter on detective fiction in The Mechanical Bride, for instance, he explores the significance of Poe’s innovative approach to artistic process:

A generation earlier Edgar Allan Poe hit upon this principle of “reconstruction,” or reasoning backwards, and made of it the basic technique of crime fiction and symbolist poetry alike. Instead of developing a narrative straight forward, inventing scenes, characters, and description as he proceeded, in the Sir Walter Scott manner, Poe said: “I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect.” Having in mind the precise effect first, the author has then to find the situations, the persons, and the images, and the order which produce that effect and no other.8

In detective fiction, McLuhan asserts, the sleuth “studies the corpse in its exact layout as a great critic would examine a masterpiece of painting.”9 The description of the murder scene becomes, in this way, a kind of literary still life. But the method of detecting the murderer, according to McLuhan, resembles more closely the processes of a much later art form: namely, film-making.

The sleuth pursues his clues backwards to the cause which produced them. He investigates the possible motives of each suspect. Then he assembles all these different perspectives as though he were piecing together a movie that had been shot in separate sections. When all is assembled, he then projects, as it were, the continuous film before the assembled house guests at the scene of the murder. He relates the events in their true time sequence, thus automatically revealing the murderer.10

It is this method of mental reconstruction that McLuhan believes, leaving time sequence and continuity aside, most resembles the poetic process not only of the French symbolists, but also of their modernist heirs: Eliot, Joyce, and, most particularly, Pound.


1 T. S. Eliot, “Ben Jonson,” in The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1920; reprint, London: Butler and Tanner, 1960), 105 (page reference is to reprint).

2 Kenner, The Poetry of Ezra Pound, 18.

3 H. M. McLuhan, Reprinted in “Pound’s Critical Prose,” in The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan, ed. Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), 79.

4 Kenner, The Poetry of Ezra Pound, 20.

5 H. M. McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 296.

6 Ibid., 289.

7 Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916). (Reprint, New York: New Directions, 1970), 89.

8 H. M. McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951; reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), 106 (page references are to reprint edition).

9 Ibid., 106.

10 Ibid., 106.


Letter Three (AL)

J’AYME DONC JE SUIS ezra pound

18 June [1948]

Dear McL

You go right on writin’

me letters—but dont expect

me to answer questions—

even if answers are known—

(printed). I think L.

will want to incubate

that Babby.




J’AYME DONC JE SUIS: “I love; therefore I am.” Pound had this inscription embossed on some of his personal stationery.

L.: probably James Laughlin, publisher of New Directions Books.

That Babby: probably the set of recordings McLuhan suggests in letter 2.


By the late 1940s, Pound was more attuned to matters economic and political than to discussing literature, even his own work, as the following letter from Dorothy Pound helps to explain. Yet neither this letter nor Mrs. Pound’s seems to have inhibited McLuhan’s queries and insights to any great extent; he merely couched them in more apologetic language and tones. McLuhan was to discover soon enough, moreover, that answers to his questions were indeed “known (printed),” as Pound suggests, in the Cantos themselves or, failing that, in his works of prose, most often in Guide to Kulchur (see letter 15).


Letter Four (TLS)

[dated below]

Dear Mr. McLuhan

E. P. Is more interested in agenda, than in analysis of the past. To get a few of you scholars to combine and break the deadlock on all live scholarship; improve the curriculum by definitely insisting on a better set of 50 (or even 100) books, and to cover with infamy the people who keep necessary texts unavailable even for the small body of students intelligent enough to want them.

He says some, or indeed most, of your questions are answered in the 80 cantos despite a number of egregious misprints, (“distributing” in error for “disturbing”, “fly” for “fish”), at points also a lot of greek letters dropped from stereos. These in the 34 earlier reprinted cantos. You will probably disagree with part of the nonsense in S. Rodman’s preface to the Penguin, the great step up from the Untermeyer era.

Yours sincerely

Dorothy Pound

E. P. Enjoyed your

visit so much.

Please let us

know should you

be coming this

far again.

211 10th Place, S.E.

Washington, D.C.

[June] 21, 48

The friend in Toronto I mentioned is

John Reid

24 Cornish Rd

He knows a little about economics,—I do not feel he is a very stalwart brain; he knows Wyndham L. I leave it to you.


Greek letters dropped from stereos: In the Cantos, Pound often repeats Greek words and phrases in Latin, and vice versa.

S. Rodman: Seldon Rodman, who edited the anthology 100 American Poems (1948). In the preface to the volume, Rodman wrote, “Il miglior fabbro—the master craftsman —Eliot was to call him in the dedication to The Waste Land, and he was that until the bitterness of his isolation, the animosity generated by his fancied neglect, and the poverty of his rootless egotism burst forth in the uncontrolled eclecticism of the Cantos and his petulant espousal of fascism.”

Untermeyer: Louis Untermeyer, who edited the anthology American Poetry Since 1900 (1923, reprinted several times until 1938). In his volume, Untermeyer describes Pound as a poet who “lost himself in the backwoods and marshes of literature.” Even more curious and pathetic for Untermeyer was “the spectacle of the prophet, scorning honor in his own country, living abroad and (having failed to find glory there) sending barbed reminders of his existence to the land he has rejected.”

John Reid: Canadian novelist. McLuhan wrote in a letter to Felix Giovanelli (1948): “Looked up John Reid here who knew Lewis for 3 yrs in England (1936-9) and then was resp for his coming to Toronto in ’39. Reid lived with Pound for a year in Rapallo. Knew Eliot well, and the whole Paris-London crowd. He is a novelist manqué of entertaining conversation but errant wits. Somewhat the confused child of wealth who took a long time to get his bearings.” (see letters 6 and 8)

Wyndham L: English writer, painter, and fellow vorticist with Pound, Wyndham Lewis, whom McLuhan met in Windsor, Ontario, and championed at St. Louis University (see preface to this volume).


Pound’s post-World War II “agenda” consisted, in the main, of three interconnected courses of action: first, to encourage the study of classic literatures— Greek, Latin, and Chinese, among others—not only for the sake of learning about language and literature, but also for the ethical instruction he believed is inherent in them (see letters 45 and 64); second, to promote economic programs such as Social Credit, organized around the principles of Silvio Gesell and C. H. Douglas (see letters 34 and 50); third, to loosen the stranglehold of a monopolistic communications and information system, particularly newspapers and journals, nearly all of which were allied consciously or otherwise in a “conspiracy of ignorance” and a “blackout of history” (see letters 35, 55, and 64). Pound hoped to gather a coterie of scholars and non-academic professionals who would help him put his plans into action. He seriously recruited McLuhan, who along with Cleanth Brooks had already expressed interest to Robert Hutchins in curriculum reform, and other university professors to direct two of the primary steps: to “improve the curriculum” in American colleges and universities and to make available “necessary texts.”

The late 1940s and early 1950s gave rise to several “great books” programs, the most distinguished and highly publicized being Professor Mortimer Adler’s at the University of Chicago (see letter 64). Although Adler and others like him had the best of intentions, their methods were not of the sort likely to promote what Pound called “live scholarship.’ Indeed, as McLuhan notes in The Mechanical Bride, it often seemed more nearly “as though Professor Adler and his associates had come to bury and not to praise Plato and other men.”1 The solution for both Pound and McLuhan was to give the great works of the past a “contemporary focus” (see letter 9). Pound, moreover, had his own ideas for “a better set of 50 (or even 100) books.” The problem was to find support and a publisher. As far back as 1938 Pound had complained in Guide to Kulchur:

The stupidity of my age is nowhere more gross, blatant and futile than in time-lag for getting Chinese texts into bilingual editions. The Ta Hio is so edited. It may even have been pirated, and if so piracy is lesser sin than the continued blithering of university presses, the whole fetid lot of them . . . . Perhaps Tokio will take pity on us, perhaps the best hundred books in ideogram will be provided with an english (or european) crib before we are many more decades deader, older, stupider and void of perception. At least we shd have in current editions the odes, the Ta Hio and at least 400 pages of the post-Confucian great poems, and a few dozen Noh dramas.2

Pound, himself, bridged part of this gap in culture with his publication of The Unwobbling Pivot, The Great Digest, and The Analects (see letter 45). Other texts concerning economics and history, had to wait for the Square Dollar Series (see letter 50). But getting desirable books into the hands of students was a goal resisted on many sides. In his essay entitled “The Jefferson-Adams Letters as a Shrine and Monument” (1937-38), he writes:

It is probable that I could pick one crow a week with the American university system ‘for the rest of my natural’, but two immediate crows are quite obvious, one with the modus of teaching history omitting the most significant documents, and second the mode of teaching literature and/or ‘American literature’, omitting the most significant documents, and assuming that the life of nation’s literature is restricted mostly to second-rate fiction.3


1 McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951; reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), 43 (page references are to reprint edition).

2 Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (London: Faber and Faber, 1938; reprint, New York: New Directions, 1970), 147 (page references are to reprint edition).

3 Pound, “The Jefferson-Adams Letters as a Shrine and a Monument,” in Selected Prose of Ezra Pound, 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1973), 147.


Letter Five (PC)

21 June [1948]

What else

hv. you got

in print?

or colleagues?

Ez P


This was scrawled on a postcard and arrived with “two cents due” stamped on the back; it is postmarked June 23, 1948. It would seem that, beyond merely showing interest in McLuhan’s publications, Pound is here following the advice he gave to his readers in ABC of Reading: namely, to “beware and avoid accepting opinions . . . men who have not themselves taken the risk of printing the results of their own personal inspection and survey, even if they are seriously making one.”1 


1 Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (London: Routledge, 1934; reprint, New York: New Directions, 1960), 40 (page references are to reprint edition).


Letter Six (ALS)

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

June 30 / 48

Dear Mr. Pound

You ask what else I have in print. No books at the moment, but 20 or thirty essays. However one job on current ads, comics, gallup polls, press, radio, movies etc. etc. is to be brought out late this year by Vanguard Press. Popular icons as ideograms of complex implication. About 70 exhibits with comments of 2-4 pages.

As I mentioned, having undertaken with Kenner a book on Eliot in which we planned sections on yourself Joyce and Yeats we began a study of your poems which is now in progress. So we now see that you must have a volume to yourself. Your poems—the Cantos—make heavier demands on the reader than anything else of our time. So time will work in your favor.

Read closely, your prose yields the preparation necessary for the cantos, and the kind of debt Eliot owes you becomes very plain. This debt is by no means clear to Eliot fans since his highly associative and psychological imagery is so very distinct in mode from your etched precision that they never imagine the influence.

Looked up John Reid whom I find pleasant enough. Shall see more of him. Hope you get out that album of readings of your poems. Regards to Mrs. Pound.


Marshall McLuhan


John Reid: see letter 4 and note.

Album of readings of your poems: see letter 2 and notes. 


The “job on current ads, comics, gallup polls, radio, movies etc. etc.” was later titled The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man, and, after several years of wrangling over format and editing, Vanguard Press published it in 1951 (see letter 33). The purpose of this study, as McLuhan outlines in his introduction, was to shed light on the means by which, as well as the extent to which, popular and/or industrial culture had influenced the contemporary mind.

Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best-trained individuals have made it a full-time business to get inside the collective public mind. To get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is the object now. And to generate heat not light is the intention. To keep everybody in the helpless state of mental rutting is the effect of many ads and much entertainment alike.

Since so many minds are engaged in bringing about this condition of public helplessness . . . it seemed fitting to devise a method for reversing the process. Why not use the new commercial education as a means to enlightening its intended prey? Why not assist the public to observe consciously the drama which is intended to operate upon it unconsciously?1

McLuhan sees magazine advertisements featuring pin-up girls to promote everything from cosmetics to nationalism, or male models employed to exploit illusions of sexual currency and roles, as icons. These carefully manipulated images seemed to him iconographic not only in the sense that they were representative of a culture, but also in that they provided clues about how a cult worshipping ‘glamour’ and material acquisition had been fashioned. The analogy between contemporary icons and Christian iconography of the Renaissance was important to McLuhan; indeed, his approach to the subject was influenced by Erwin Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology (see letter 14), which first appeared in 1939. Apropos of discovering intrinsic meaning or content in icons, Panofsky writes:

It is apprehended by ascertaining those underlying principles which reveal the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical persuasion—unconsciously qualified by one personality or condensed into one work. Needless to say, those principles are manifested by, and therefore throw light on, both ‘compositional methods’ and ‘iconographical significance.’2

In order to illuminate the psychic landscape engendered by commercial advertising, McLuhan proposed to “reverse” the processes of those who continually recreated and exploited that landscape. As he notes in his introduction, whereas commercial layouts seek to supply the spectator/consumer with “a ready-made image before he has time to conjure up an interpretation of his own,” the procedure in The Mechanical Bride is based on “providing typical visual imagery of our environment and dislocating it into meaning by inspection.”3 McLuhan’s method of dislocation relies not only on removing these visual images from context, but also on interrupting the continuity of their presentation and effect.

Most of the exhibits in this book have been selected because of their typical and familiar quality. They represent a world of social myths or forms and speak a language we both know and do not know . . . so much of which stems from the laboratory, the studio, and the advertising agencies. But amid the diversity of our invention and abstract techniques of production and distribution there will be found a great degree of cohesion and unity. This consistency is not conscious in origin or effect and seems to arise from a sort of collective dream. For that reason, as well as because of the widespread popularity of these objects and processes, they are referred to as “the folklore of industrial man.” They are unfolded by exhibit and commentary as a single landscape. A whirling phantasmagoria can be grasped only when arrested for contemplation. And this very arrest is also a release from the usual participation.4

*     *       *       *       *

The collaboration with Kenner on a book-length study of T. S. Eliot, like many similarly proposed projects, never came to fruition as planned. In the end, to his credit, Kenner wrote books of literary criticism, and McLuhan found other outlets for his erudition. And yet, as was the case with his first book on Pound, Kenner’s The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot (1959) owes more than a little to McLuhan’s genius for critical insight. Indeed, Kenner addresses the question of ‘collaboration’ in his preface:

Ten years ago Marshal McLuhan and I planned an “Eliot book” and spent some weeks reading through the poems and essays, conversing and annotating as we went. Though this book is very different from the one we projected and abandoned, it owes more than I can unravel to those weeks of association.5

*       *       *       *       *

For elucidation of what McLuhan means when he refers to the “kind of debt Eliot owes” to Pound, one may begin by turning to The Spirit of Romance, particularly Pound’s chapter on Dante. There, as Felix Giovanelli suggested to McLuhan in a letter, one can find evidence of Pound’s influence on Eliot’s “key phrases”; as Giovanelli goes on to remark, there is a striking similarity in their estimate of Shakespeare and Dante.6 For explanation as to why “[t]his debt is by no means clear to Eliot fans,” however, one must look to McLuhan’s essay on Pound’s critical prose:

By contrast with Pound’s sharp and alert sentences the gentle rhythms of Eliot’s paragraphs are a balm for minds which find only distress in the violence of intellectual penetration. Mr. Eliot has said the same things, for example, about Dante and the French Symbolists as Mr. Pound. They share an immense interest in verbal technique and poetic structures. But whereas Mr. Pound has been vehement and explicit about these things, Mr. Eliot has been unobtrusive and casual.7 


1 McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951; reprint, Boston: Beacon 19 Press, 1967), v (all page references are to reprint edition).

2 Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1939), 7.

3 McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride, vi.

4 Ibid., v.

5 Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot (New York: McDowell Obolensky, 1956), xiii-xiv.

6 Felix Giovanelli, New York, to H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, ALS 1948, Canada’s National Public Archives, Ottawa.

7 McLuhan, “Pound’s Critical Prose,” in The Interior Landscape, ed. Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), 75-76.


Letter Seven (TLS)

[July 1948]

McLuhan . S. Michael’s Col / Toronto CANada


Have you time to look into Domeican Quarterly or wherever

Bird printed Cavalcanti ,

or see if his work serious , and

what use made of my G. C.

I dont spose Gilson left his copy

In the liBERRY by any chanct.

bad pun on lie-buried still to be xploited.

shd / like brief report on the Bird, oh say i/2 page if

you have time and volonta

praps the Clas. Jouranal needs a nize li’l OBIT on

serious philology /

Cawflik phill / sometimes suspect.

I dont think anyone has correlated their Prop/ Fid

Avicenna with the earlier latin versions ,

and “ no one “ knows enough Arabic

to know etc.etc.


from. D. Pound

[in margin] 3211. 10th Place S.E.

Washington, D.C. 


Domeican Quarterly: Pound’s name for Mediaeval Studies (see letter 2 and notes). Clas. Jouranal is likewise another irreverent reference to the same scholarly outlet.

Bird: Otto Bird (see letters 2 and 8).

G.C.: Pound’s Guido Cavalcanti, Rime, which he had sent to the Medieval Institute, along with copy of Dino del Garbo’s commentary on Cavalcanti’s “Donna mi prega.”

Gilson: Étienne Henri Gilson, French neo-Thomist philosopher, medievalist, and historian. A professor of medieval philosophy at the University of Paris, Gilson founded, along with Father Gerald Phelan and Henry Carr, the Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 1929 and divided his time between Paris and Toronto until 1951, when he devoted himself full-time to the institute in Toronto (see letter 2).

Cawflick Philol: Catholic philology.

Prop/ Fid Avicenna: probably propter fidem Avicenna, or “taken on trust” Avicenna. Scholars of the later Latin tradition drew their knowledge of Aristotle’s work in part from the commentaries and interpretations of Avicenna, the 11th century Arabic scholar (see commentary).

From D. Pound: handwritten at the bottom of the letter, which was no doubt typed by E. Pound. 


Pound describes his dealings with Étienne Henri Gilson in Guide to Kuchur (1938):

It remains a fact that the anglo-saxon world has never developed a mechanism equal to that which once was, and alas is no more, in Paris. Even in my own case I have struggled for corrections, I have howled in vain for odd bits of supplementary knowledge. The eminent professor and historian G. promised me light on Medieval philosophy. I sent him my best set of photographs of del Garbo’s commentary on Guido. And there ensued years of silence.1

In a later edition, Pound amended his complaint with a footnote stating, “Professor Gilson has now set to Bird to a thesis on Dino del Garbo.”

The confusion over Pound’s copy of his thesis, Guido Cavalcanti, Rime, resulted from a misunderstanding on which Hugh Kenner sheds some light in a letter to McLuhan: “Bird is under the impression, probably thru Gilson, that EP meant to give it [his thesis] to the library [at the Medieval Institute].”2 In any event. Pound was very curious to know how Bird had employed his scholarship (see letter 8).

The suggestion of a “nize li’l OBIT on serious philology” arises from Pound’s suspicion that contemporary philologists possessed neither the tools nor the energy to sort out the history of Aristotelian thought through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Catholic philology was “sometimes suspect” in Pound’s opinion not only for its inability or unwillingness to sort out the tangle of sources and influences involved in the transmission of Aristotle’s philosophy and logic, but also because he believed that the Church had essentially ignored, or shunned, study of Aristotle until the renaissance of the later Latin tradition. In another way, Pound’s cynicism about the history and progress of philology falls into line with his longstanding commitment to preserve that strain of Aristotelian thought which emphasizes practical wisdom and material science rather than syllogistic rationalism and metaphysics. “Caw-flick philol[ogy]” was suspect for Pound when it altered or manipulated Aristotelian philosophy and logic to suit the needs of Christian theology.

Most of Pound’s remarks in this regard seem to have been directed at Gilson, who had devoted a good part of his career to promoting Aquinas as “a serious thinker with contemporary relevance,” although Pound was no doubt aware that McLuhan was also a neo-Thomist in spirit and training. In either case, it is often Aquinas who bears the brunt of Pound’s suspicions about Catholic philology. In a chapter of Guide to Kulchur entitled “Ici Je Teste,” for example, Pound insists that “[g]iven a free hand with Saints and Fathers one could construct a decent philosophy, not merely a philosophism.”

This much I believe. Given Erigena, given St. Ambrose and St. Antonino, plus time patience and genius you cd. erect inside the fabric [of the Church] something man cd. believe. The question is: how much more wd. Rome try to load onto you?

*     *       *       *       *

Grosseteste was a serious character, Albert de la Magnus was an intellect. There were centuries of honest work done inside the building. Aquinas lacked faith. The syllogism, time and again, loses grip on reality. Richard St. Victor had hold of something: There are three modes of thought, cogitation, meditation, and contemplation. In the first the mind flits aimlessly about the object, in the second it circles about in a methodical manner, in the third it is unified with the object. That is something a man can check up on. It is a knowledge to be verified by experience. I mean ours with St. Victor’s . . . Out beyond that, the so called rational statements attempt to prove what can not be proved; attempt to lift zero by its own bootstraps. A man sits still and claims that he moves by interjecting a “therefore.” The Descartian hat trick. His grandfather was Aquinas.3

As for Avicenna, Pound elects him to a “conspiracy of intelligence.” He is celebrated as well in “Canto XCII”:

After Apollonius, desensitization

& a little light from the borders:


Avicenna, Richardus.

All of the praise for Avicenna and suspicion about Aquinas is connected with Pound’s thesis in a passage from The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound:

The teaching of Aristotle had been banned in the University of Paris 1213. This prejudice had been worn down during the century, but Guido shows, I think no regard for anyone’s prejudice. We may trace his ideas to Averroes, Avicenna; he does not definitely proclaim any heresy, but he shows leanings toward not only the proof by reason, but toward the proof by experiment. I do not think he swallowed Aquinas.4


1 Pound, Guide to Kulchur, 54-55.

2 Hugh Kenner, Windsor, Ont., to H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, TLS, 14 July 1948, Canada’s National Public Archives, Ottawa.

3 Pound, Guide to Kulchur, 76-77.

4 Pound, “Cavalcanti: Medievalism,” in The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1968), 149.


Letter Eight (ALS)

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

July 3 / 48

Dear Mrs. Pound:

We find John Reid a very agreeable sort of person. Very glad you put us on to him. Hope to see him often. Poor chap can’t bear to read the works of W. Lewis since the great and inexplicable goring.

The Mediaeval Studies printed here at the Med. Institute (same premises as St. Michael’s College) has the Otto Bird thesis in vols 2 and 3. These you could borrow on inter-library loan from the Institute library. But, of course, they are in the Library of Congress. It is disappointing that you haven’t heard from Otto B. himself. But he is out of teaching now, and, I gather, has lost interest in such matters.

Looking through the 100 or more pages of the Bird stuff, I can say that it is much too technical and detailed for any brief resume. Should you not be able to get to see it any other way I think that Kenner, when next in Toronto, will photostat it for you. The Studies are $5 a volume or so. Bird has obviously got some fascinating material rounded up. But the job as a whole has, I hear, not escaped a blast of so from specialists.

So far as Gilson himself is concerned you may be sure his action was not motivated but that your not hearing from him was merely the typical effect of his getting along without files, without typewriter and without any sort of secretarial aid. Bird makes due acknowledgement to you in his preface.

Shall check li-bury for your own copy of G. C. since you mention it.

More later

Marshall McLuhan


John Reid: see letters 4 and 22.

W. Lewis: Wyndham Lewis (see letter 4 and notes).

Gilson: Étienne Henri Gilson (see letter 7 and notes).

G. C,: Pound’s thesis entitled Guido Cavalcanti, Rime (see letter 7 and notes).


In a letter to Felix Giovanelli, McLuhan wrote:

Looked up John Reid here who knew Lewis for 3 yrs. in England (1936-9) and then was resp. for his coming to Toronto in ’39 . . . W. L. charged him with being the centre of a conspiracy against him the day after L. had thrown a big birthday party for Reid here in Toronto. Reid hasn’t recovered yet. Can’t read the work of Lewis any more.1

From all reports this seems to have been standard behavior for Lewis, as McLuhan suggests in letter 22.

*       *       *       *       *

Otto Bird notes in the preface to his thesis, “When Mr. Pound raised the problem of interpretation of Guido’s poem in his edition of Cavalcanti . . . Professor Gilson suggested that a more detailed study of Dino’s [Dino del Garbo’s] commentary on it would be profitable.” He goes on to thank Pound for his “gracious gesture in communicating his copy of the ms. of the commentary to the Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto.”2


1 H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, to Felix Giovanelli, New York, ALS, 1948, The Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington.

2 Otto Bird, “The Canzone d’Amore of Cavalcanti, According to the Commentary of Dino del Garbo,” Medieval Studies 2 (1939): 150-207; 3 (1940): 117-160. 50


Letter Nine (ALS)

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

July / 48

Dear Mr. Pound

Kenner was in town Tuesday and took the Otto Bird material to Peterborough where he will photograph it and send it to you soon. Since he’s well on the way with a Joyce book and both of us are working on Eliot, it is my intention to present your work to the lazier readers of our time. This sound presumptuous. It is presumptuous. And I know how much work it involves. Reading your prose carefully, and reading the things you suggest should be read, will take time. But the time so spent will be much rewarded. Aware of the general disadvantages of books about poets, I shall not be in a hurry to decide on the pattern or approach. I know that the rationale of any such job should be to direct attention always to the texts. To keep them before the reader. To insist on the sharpest focus. To let the texts speak for themselves. In practice, would you agree that this means arranging the texts and expositions in an immediately contemporary focus? To give them their maximum of immediate impact? Rather than relying on historical perspectives?

You see I am thinking aloud, not asking for information. But should you disapprove of the project I shall desist.

In a merely historical perspective should not something be said of the fact that the job of getting English poetry into the central European current (the work you did in 1908-1914 with Gaudier, Lewis and others) could not have been done by the English? That Yeats and Joyce, Pound and Eliot, two Irishmen and two Americans, were obviously more aware and more receptive of what had fallen out of the English mind?


Marshall McLuhan


Addendum to Letter Nine (ALS)

Dear Pound,

my friend

Giovanelli sez you

enjoy letters written

to third parties as well

as those written to

yourself. Shall send

you some such

from time to time.



Gaudier: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1892-1915), the French sculptor who founded, along with Pound and Wyndham Lewis, the movement in the arts known as Vorticism (ca. 1914). See Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir.

Giovanelli: Felix Giovanelli, professor of Modern Languages at New York University. Giovanelli was one of many who tried to keep Pound current in the arts and world affairs by sending him letters stuffed with newspaper and magazine clippings. Pound also enjoyed writing and receiving letters in Italian, and Giovanelli was only too happy to oblige. Of the letters from McLuhan sent on to Pound, this volume includes only those which touch on Pound and his agenda. On “Pound’s interest in other people’s letters,” Hugh Kenner wrote to McLuhan that it “chimes oddly with his Cantos—scraps of ambient information sans head + tail but informative in their very quiddity and scrappiness.”1

Joyce book: Kenner’s Dublin’s Joyce was published in 1955. How much this study owes to McLuhan’s insights is suggested in Kenner’s acknowledgement: “Dr. H. M. McLuhan of the University of Toronto has permitted me free use of his unpublished History of the Trivium, on which my thirteenth chapter depends heavily, and afforded me the continual stimulus of letters and conversation.”2 For a fuller appreciation of McLuhan’s ‘history of the trivium’ see “James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial” (Thought 1953), reprinted in The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan, 1943 to 1962. See also McLuhan’s thesis The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time (1943) later published as The Classical Triivium (2006). 


McLuhan’s “intention to present [Pound’s] work to the lazier readers of our time” was only partially realized in his essay on “Pound’s Critical Prose”; he succeeded far less in presenting Pound’s work than in explaining why it had been accorded so little attention. The essay is nevertheless helpful, particularly on the subject of Pound’s role in “getting English poetry into the European current.” It begins by pointing to the significance of Pound’s American heritage:

. . . The America which Mr. Pound left in about 1908 gave him a great deal which he translated into literary perception and activity. It was the technological America which Sigfried Giedion has been the first to explore in Space, Time and Architecture and in Mechanization Takes Command.3

The implications of this insight are so numerous and far-reaching as to necessitate a lengthy article, if not the book McLuhan never managed to write. But one may begin by noting that whereas the majority of literary critics and historians, when they saw fit to credit it at all, tended to attribute Pound’s precedence in the development of modernist poetry largely to his absorption of civilizing influences in Europe, McLuhan traces Pound’s abiding interest in ‘technique’ to the less genteel culture of America. As Giedion and others have observed, by the late 19th century America had already begun to take over from Europe leadership in industrial and mechanical innovation. The notion that Pound brought with him to London something of the American spirit of fascination and pride in technological advances helps to explain, among other things, his intellectual compatibility with Gaudier-Bzeska.

In the America of 1908 the most authentic aesthetic experience was widely sought and found in the contemplation of mechanical tools and devices, when intellectual energies were bent to discover by precise analysis of vital motion the means of bringing organic processes within the compass of technological means. Mr. Pound records in Gaudier-Brzeska the delight of his young contemporaries in examining and commenting on machinery catalogues, “machines that certainly they would never own and that could never by flight of fancy be of the least use to them. This enjoyment of machinery is just as natural and just as significant a phase of this age as was the Renaissance ‘enjoyment of nature for its own sake,’ and not merely as an illustration of dogmatic ideas.”4

McLuhan suggests elsewhere how Pound translated this interest in machine technology to his pursuit of “technical excellence” and innovation in poetry; and how, in a broader sense, “Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Lewis from 1912-1922 concerted their energies to blast the high-piled mattresses of genteel British amateurism in the arts.”5

This fascination with technological discovery co-existing with erudition and sensitivity in language and arts was what gave Mr. Pound his peculiar relevance in London 1908. It was a combination of interests indispensable to anybody who wished to undertake the task of importing into English letters the achievement of the French from Stendahl to Mallarmé . . . As Mr. Pound saw it, the job was to acclimatize seventy years of French discovery within a single decade. And with the assistance of Wyndham Lewis, T. E. Hulme, T. S. Eliot and Joyce, that job was mainly done by 1922. But it could not have been done without Mr. Pound’s intense concern for technique.6

In the end, armed with what McLuhan calls “entire Yankee optimism” for his own ingenuity, and discrimination made possible by on-site investigations into layer upon layer of European culture, Pound set out to do for poetry what Henry James had done for the ‘form’ of the novel in his prefaces. But the first step was “to get the French sense of metier into English letters and arts”7; for as Pound remarks in Guide to Kulchur, “from the appearance of [Théophile] Gautier’s Albertus, or say from 1830 down to 1917, FRANCE was European civilization” (227). And, as McLuhan asserts in a review of Pound’s Letters 1907-1941, Pound was just the man to succeed in bringing French ‘hardness’ and ‘precision’ to a nation whose literature and intellectual life in general had gone ‘soft’ and ‘muzzy.’

The great period of artistic invention in France (1870-1900) he was able to interpret and adapt to the function of English letters. It was a happy wedding of American technology, salesmanship, and pedagogy to the muses.8


1 Hugh Kenner, New Haven, to H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, TLS, 14 July 1948, Canada’s National Public Archives, Ottawa.

2 Hugh Kenner, Dublin’s Joyce (London: Chatto and Windus, 1955), vii.

3 McLuhan, “Pound’s Critical Prose,” in The Interior Landscape, ed. Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), 77.

4 Ibid., 77.

5 McLuhan, “Poetry and Opinion: Examination of Ezra Pound and Letters of Pound,” Renascence 3 (Spring 1951): 200.

6 McLuhan, “Pound’s Critical Prose,” 78.

7 McLuhan, “Poetry and Opinion: Examination of Ezra Pound and Letters of Pound,” 200.

8 Ibid., 201.


Letter Ten (AL) 

[encl. 1948 July 15]

Dear Felix 

Keep a look-out for Corbière and Gautier for me. Also Laforgue’s moral tales in French and English. Latter are wonderful things. Simply haven’t reached English audience yet save in rather ponderous Eliot form. Al Capp at his best is not unlike Laforgue.

Also try to get me Pound’s prose (except Make It New and Polite Essays) but as for

ABC of Reading

How to Read

Pavannes and Divisions

Spirit of Romance


Guide to Culture

grab any or all of them. Pound’s prose is precise. It has to be read very slowly. Everything he mentions has to be read. His method in prose and verse is the ideogram. That is the sculpted item, whether historical, excerpted or invented. These he sets side by side in analogical ratios in accord. with Aristotelian principle of metaphor. He eschews the associated devices of ambivalent language which is Eliot’s main stock in trade. He detests psychology and isn’t interested in sensibility. His whole bent is intellectual,—aesthetics pushed to metaphysical intuition of being. Side by side with his passion for intellectual ratios or analogies is his insistence on melopoeia. Cantabile. Musical ratios. This cuts him off from rhetoric and the dramatic functions of language of the Elizabethan type—so much used by Eliot.

Tried Dorothy Richardson for 20 minutes too. One big well of infantile loneliness. Unbelievable. Something ought to be done about it.




Corbière: (Edouard-Joachim) Tristan Corbière (1845-1875). In “How to Read,” Pound includes Corbière on his list of writers providing “the minimum basis for a sound and liberal education in letters.” “If Corbière invented no process he at any rate restored French verse to the vigor of Villon and to an intensity that no Frenchman had touched during the intervening four centuries.”1 And in “The Hard and Soft in French Poetry,” Pound praises Corbière’s verse as being “hard, not with glaze or parian finish, but hard like weather-bit granite.”2

Gautier: (Pierre Jules) Théophile Gautier (1811-1872). In “The Hard and Soft in French Poetry,” Pound insists that “[a]nyone who dislikes these textural terms may lay the blame on Théophile Gautier, who certainly suggests them in Emaux et Camées; it is his hardness that I first had in mind. He exhorts us to cut in hard substance, the shell and the Parian.”3

Laforgue’s moral tales: Jules Laforgue’s Moralités Légendaires (1887). Pound described Laforgue as “a purge and a critic.” In “Irony, Laforgue and Some Satire,” Pound declares, “He [Laforgue] has done, sketchily and brilliantly, for French literature a work not incomparable to what Flaubert was doing for ‘France’ in Bouvard et Pécuchet, if one may compare the flight of the butterfly with the progress of an ox, both proceeding toward the same point of the compass.”4

Al Capp: popular American cartoonist best known for his Lil’ Abner strip, to which McLuhan devoted a section of The Mechanical Bride.

Cantabile: singable, suitable for the voice. Dorothy Richardson: English novelist (1882-1957), thought by some to be an innovator in stream-of-consciousness narrative technique. McLuhan relegates her to the ranks of “womb-worshippers” (see letter 2). 


McLuhan’s reasons for insisting that Pound’s prose must “be read very slowly” become clear in an essay on Pound’s critical work included in Peter Russell’s Examination of Ezra Pound: A Collection of Essays (1950):

. . . not unrelated to this preference [of modern readers] for psychological atmosphere to the exclusion of other qualities in poetry is our related expectation that prose is obliged to carry the reader forward by the appearance at least of casually [causally?] connected conceptions. Both in poetry and prose Mr. Pound has not only disappointed such ordinary expectations, he has resolutely avoided any such means of effect. They are not the means pursued by anybody whose tool is the engraver’s or whose presentation is analogical.5

The “Aristotelian principle of metaphor” to which McLuhan appeals is the fourth kind of metaphor in Aristotle’s definition: namely, that which “consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else . . . on the ground of analogy.” Aristotle goes on to state that this kind of metaphor is possible “whenever there are four terms so related that the second (B) is to the first (A), as the fourth (D) to the third (C); for one may then metaphorically put B in lieu of D and D in lieu of B.”6 (See also letter 25). McLuhan applies this definition in describing Pound’s method in both prose and verse.

Thus when he [Pound] says that Sweeney Agonistes contains more essential criticism of Seneca than Mr. Eliot’s essay on English Senecaism we have a typical observation whose form is that of exact juxtaposition. It is not a casual [causal?] statement but an ideogram, a presentation of an analogical proportion depending on precise analysis of Seneca, on the one hand, and of Sweeney Agonistes, on the other. Syntactically elaborated it would fill many pages. But Mr. Pound seldom translates himself in ordinary prose. And anecdotes and reported conversations which enrich his essay are, in the same way, never casually [causally?] illustrative but ideogrammatic. In the language of schoolmen, for whose precision of dissociation Mr. Pound has so frequently expressed his admiration, the ideogram represents the “copula of agglutination.” That is to say, the copula of existential reality and not the copula which connects enunciations and conceptions in rationalistic discourse. And it is the consequent solidity and sharpness of particularized actuality (in which the Chinese excel) that baffles the reader who looks for continuous argumentation in Pound’s prose and verse alike.7

It was no coincidence that McLuhan began to apply this same “Aristotelian principle” in his own writing (starting with The Mechanical Bride, but with more assurance and proficiency in The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media); indeed, this analogical method enabled him to move back and forth in time to compare different media. What McLuhan reckons to be the Aristotelian principle of metaphor is the basis and the justification for his seeing the relations between the effects issuing in the Renaissance from Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and those effects created in his own age by electronic technology.

The crucial distinction in understanding the ways in which both Pound and McLuhan employ analogies is suggested by a passage from Pound’s ABC of Reading:

You can prove nothing by analogy. The analogy is either range-finding or fumble. Written down as a lurch toward proof, or at worst elaborated in that aim, it leads mainly to useless argument. BUT a man whose wit teems with analogies will often ‘twig’ that something is wrong long before he knows why.

Aristotle had something of this sort in mind when he wrote ‘apt use of metaphor indicating a swift perception of relations.’8

*     *     *     *     *

McLuhan’s distinguishing between Pound’s “insistence on melopoeia” and the “dramatic functions of language of the Elizabethan type—so much used by Eliot” derives in part from Pound’s threefold division of poetic process in ABC of Reading.

NEVERTHELESS you will still charge words mainly in three ways, called phanopoeia, melopoeia, logopoeia. You use a word to throw a visual image on to the reader’s imagination, or you charge it by sound, or you use groups of words to do this.

Thirdly, you take the greater risk of using the word in some special relation to ‘usage’, that is, to the kind of context in which the reader expects, or is accustomed, to find it.

This [logopoeia] is the last means to develop. It can only be used by the sophisticated.9

Pound, here and elsewhere, points to Laforgue as having “found or refound logopoeia.” In either case, it was to a large extent Laforgue who influenced Eliot’s use of “associated devices of ambivalent language,” as McLuhan calls them. Pound, on the other hand, relied more heavily on melopoeia, that quality of cantabile which he observed and admired in the poetry of medieval Provence and Tuscany. Pound himself clarifies the matter in “A Visiting Card”:

In this last category [logopoeia] Eliot surpasses me; in the second [melopoeia] I surpass him. Part of his logopoeia is incompatible with my main purpose.10

Simply put, phanopoeia consists largely of visual descriptions, at which both Pound and Eliot excelled; melopoeia consists of sound effects (rhythms, alliteration, phonesthemes and so on); logopoeia consists of word play, such as playing on the differences between denotative and connotative and/or literal and figurative meanings of words and phrases.


1 Pound, “How to Read,” in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot (reprint, New Directions, 1968), 33.

2 Pound, “The Hard and Soft in French Poetry,” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 288.

3 Ibid., 285.

4 Pound, Irony, Laforgue and Some Satire,” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 281.

5 McLuhan, “Pound’s Critical Prose,” in The Interior Landscape, ed. Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), 79.

6 Ingram Bywater, trans. and ed., Aristotle on the Art of Poetry (New York: Garland Publications, 1980), 63.

7 McLuhan, “Pound’s Critical Prose,” 79-80.

8 Pound, ABC of Reading (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1960), 84.

9 Ibid., 37-38.

10 Pound, “A Visiting Card,” in Selected Prose, 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1973), 321.


Letter Eleven (ALS)

St. Michael’s College

July 15 / 48

Dear Pound

The present abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Saint-André in Belgium is a Chinese: Dom. Pierre Lou Tseng-Tsaing, former minister of foreign affairs for China about 1895-1906. In his Souvenirs et Pensées (Deschee [de] Brouwer 1943) he speaks of the deep affinity between Confucianism and the Benedictine rule—sense of the family in rule especially. The sense of work and studies. Also of the close relation between Gregorian and Chinese music and language.

Characteristic of your generosity that you should suggest prior claims of W. Lewis to a book. I know Lewis’s work in its full extent. Would be glad to do a book on him (for Jas. Loughlin?) after one on you. The work of the musqueteers in 1908-14. That’s the job to get into sharp focus. The vortex you created then has become a kiddies’ slide in the subsequent work of the Spenders Sitwells Audens and co. Thanks to Freud. Thanks to lack of sustained attention. Lack of energy even to contemplate what’s happening. To know what’s going on. The devil of a job in isolation. Problem: How to achieve a milieu. How to get 10 correspondent people together in one city. And keep them there to talk. To write. I haven’t met anybody who even imagines the need for such a group. It can’t be done in New York. No university contains more than one or two such potential allies. So it can’t be done at a university unless one had power to hire. The latter possibility is the one always in my mind.

Regards to Mrs. Pound

Marshall McLuhan


Addition to Letter Eleven (ANS)

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

July 16 / 48

Dear Mrs. Pound

Thanks much for Heffer

catalogue and Neumayer info.

Much interested in E. P.’s reference to

“Shakespeare” as “Jacques père.”

Any further data on this in print


Cordially Marshall McLuhan


Benedictine abbey of Saint-André in Belgium: also known as Sint-Andries or Saint Andrews in Bruge, Belgium. 

Dom. Pierre Lou Tseng-Tsiang: Dom. Pierre-Célestin Lou Tseng-Tsiang, who was formerly not only minister of foreign affairs but also prime minister of China.

Confucianism and the Benedictine Rule: McLuhan no doubt assumed that this analogy would interest Pound, whose thought was strongly influenced by Confucian philosophy and ethics. Pound never mentions Benedict in either his poetry or prose.

Prior claims of W. Lewis: Pound’s concern for bringing Lewis to the attention of the public was constant and unyielding. In a letter to McLuhan, Kenner reported, “EP sez for me to drop everything and make a Wyndham Lewis anthology.”1

The musqueteers: Meaning that Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska were the three musketeers in their roles as the prime movers of Vorticism. Their first volleys were fired in a series of broadsides entitled Blast (see letter 20).

Heffer catalogue: probably W. Heffer and Sons, Ltd., Booksellers, England.

Neumayer info.: probably F. B. Neumayer, Bookseller, London.

“Shakespeare” as “Jacques père”: Pound suggests the former as an alternate spelling and pronunciation of the latter: “SHAKESPEARE (Jacques Père, spelling it Shaxpear, because J is either pronounced hard or confused with I).”2


In Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir, Pound reiterates the “fundamental tenet of Vorticism” (from vortex) first declared in Blast:

Every concept, every emotion presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form. It belongs to the art of this form. If sound, to music; if formed words, to literature; the image, to poetry; form, to design; colour in position, to pairing; form or design in three planes to sculpture; movement, to the dance or to the rhythm of music or verses.3

In Blast, Pound had defined vortex as “the point of maximum energy” and said that the vortices relied on the “‘primary pigment,’ and on that alone.”4 Vorticism was, in other words, an attempt to revitalize the arts by stripping away all that was merely ornamental or did not contribute to what Pound called “an intellectual or emotional complex.” The vorticist painter sought to remove the narrative element from his art; the poet, according to Pound, to eliminate rhetoric and superfluous verbalizing.

All poetic language is the language of exploration. Since the beginning of bad writing, writers have used images as ornaments. The point of Imagisme [a precursor to Vorticism in poetry] is that it does not use images as ornaments. The image itself is the word beyond formulated language.5

*       *       *       *       *

The problem of “how to achieve a milieu” becomes a recurring theme in the Pound/McLuhan correspondence. As McLuhan expresses it in a review of Auden’s poetry, “One of the cruxes of criticism today has been occasioned by the situation in which we see a large academic interest in literature co-existing with the absence of any one civilized center.”

The breakdown of communication between the arts and science is, at one level, the result of a lack of conversation. But the absence of serious talk among men in various fields today is owing to irresponsibility. In a civilized center poets, physicists, philosophers and historians are vividly aware that their diverse interests really matter to society at large. They do not have to be told that what they do and think and see needs constant sifting through other minds and tempers. Without such sifting as daily conversation provides they know that the currents of thought and action turn awry into sterile channels.6

Pound, for his part, expanded the necessary scope of inter-communication beyond the academic sphere (see his reply to this letter) and attempted to create and maintain a network of his own from St. Elizabeths. McLuhan’s growing frustration with the absence of a focal community led him to establish the Centre for Culture and Technology in Toronto, where guests from diverse academic fields and non-academic pursuits were invited to speak and answer questions in weekly forums.


1 Hugh Kenner, Windsor, Ont., to H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, TLS, November 1948, Canada’s National Public Archives, Ottawa.

2 Pound, ABC of Reading (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1960), 187.

3 Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1970), 81.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 88.

6 McLuhan, review, Auden: An Introductory Essay, Richard Hoggart, in Renascence 4 (Spring 1952): 220.


Letter Twelve (TL) 

[July 1948]


No Power to hire ?? as full prof/ what power to pick 

fellows, or very minor instructors ,

on basis of being

able to perceive , tell pink from green , instead of

mere chewers and accumulators ?


death comes from non-intercourse between professorial and

young vital NON-scholastic 


Letter Thirteen (ALS) 

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

July 30 / 48

Dear Pound

I stand in less danger of professorial ruination that might be supposed. My temperament is sufficient to alienate this breed instantaneously. On the side of stimulating non-professorial contact with the young consider this. On the continent grade school and high school education together do not suffice to nourish two years of adolescent growth. Result, the level of college education is now that of grade school or early high school. By the age of 20 there are a tiny handful of men who are vaguely aware of having been starved and cheated. By 25 they have discovered a few good authors. By 30 they have begun to lay in the necessary stocks of Latin French Italian to enjoy these authors. How small is this group of self[-]taught swimmers? Not more than 200 on this continent. Probably 50. I mean of age 25-30. The Philadelphia of your day, the Dublin of Joyce’s day were radiant with widely-diffused intelligence compared with the same places or New York of to-day. The current literati who begin with a splash in print at 25 to-day (when a man’s powers should begin to amount to something) are mentally refugees from Buchenwald. Their only fare has been soup made from straw. Show me some of the vigorous non-professorial young of today. I’ve been prowling around looking for them everywhere. For the prudence and timidities of the professorial mind I have no use whatever. But from the point of view of leisure to work and of possible contacts with those young enough to be furnished with some tools and directives, the university is increasingly important. It is a place of ambush only.

Personally I have no power to hire anybody. Reason is simply this. St. Michael’s College is run by the Basilian fathers. There are 3 laymen in the place. The college is federated with

Victoria College

Trinity College

University College

These comprise the University of Toronto. Graduate courses are open to students of all colleges. I offer graduate courses. The undergraduate work is useless routine to which I devote no more than 8 hours a week. 6 hours in class. But I do not lecture about poets. I produce the poems. The ABC of Reading method.

No college and no business city or govt. is run by human persons anymore. I have yet to meet anybody who knew what he was doing let alone why he was doing it. Universal abdication of human motive is now plain. How to tackle that situation? Zombies. Sleepwalkers. Can’t argue with such. They agree with anything you say and go on. Mark that as the present feature. No disagreement.

For example I am busy getting a Latin school started for the very young. I see dozens of people every week about it. Everybody is in favor of it. Nobody will do a thing about it. This is a specific job which only one man can handle. So I’ll swing it. But if only somebody would disagree with me I would feel more hope.

Cordially yrs

Marshall McLuhan 


Addition to Letter Thirteen (AN) 

[July 30 1948]

P.S. I am preparing a booklet for the young. A Bibliography of necessary reading in all the arts and sciences with sufficient commentary on each item to provide a coherent picture of when and how to use one book to encounter another. About 100 pages with preface on the abeyance of all education to-day.


ABC of Reading method: As Pound insists, “the proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter and continual COMPARISON of one ‘slide’ or specimen with another.”1 This method Pound claims was based on the scientific principles of study employed by American naturalist Louis Agassiz (see letter 64).


On the matter of his “Bibliography of necessary reading in all the arts and sciences,” McLuhan wrote to Felix Giovanelli:

Shall send you my list soon. You make some interesting suggestions . . . For example, apropos of Cicero’s De Oratore I can spill a good deal about impt. for reading Joyce and “place” it as a great force in medieval and Ren. thot. and lit. Same with Ovid. The Odyssey. Oedipus. The basic classics are all given a sharp contemporary focus. Same with French and Italian things. Only those lined up which are strictly relevant to-day. Dante. Machiavelli, Vico, Villon, Montaigne, Flaubert etc. Apropos of Proust the relation to Bergson to T. E. Hulme to new physics, to W. L. Time and West[ern] Man, to Spengler. Etc, etc.2

As to the structure and intent of his bibliography, McLuhan planned “to show with reference to each book its relations to others in several dimensions e.g. (a) one book as propaedeutic [preparation for and entangled with] another (b) as antidote to another (c) as elucidating another (d) as a major historic and contemporary fact.”3

This proposed project took a different form, although the material was employed for a similar end, in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). But as early as 1948 McLuhan had already reached a conclusion that would lead him away from traditional forms of literary criticism: namely, that “[o]ur time is encyclopedic. That is, it not only comprehends much but is increasingly aware of unities of various kinds within the diversity.”4 And, although he had not yet arrived at an explanation for this predisposition, McLuhan clearly divined that his erudition was attuned to a project other than a literary Baedeker. Still, his original plan seems one that might have appealed to Pound in purpose:

. . . the books I hold up will be not only nutriment (one providing the energy and insight needed to proceed to the next) but a map. An aerial view of a territory to be occupied by subsequent toil. The particular university courses now in existence could be part of that toil. My instinct is to warn students to crack on languages (Latin and French at least) and to forego the survey courses where possible. Not to spend time boning up on stuff that can be read later by oneself when one has not already got the linguistic tools needed for later work.5


1 Pound, ABC of Reading (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1960), 17.

2 H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, to Felix Giovanelli, New York, TL, 1948, The Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.


Letter Fourteen (AL)

[encl. 1948 August 3]

Dear Felix

My little book on “books to read” comes along simply and quickly without effort on my part. I simply make a separate slip for each author who occurs to me. Put down little description of book and then mention other books on the list which provide a proper introduction to it or for which it provides an introduction or comment.

Ideal audience I have in mind is that of very bright college sophomores. Ones who can’t possibly get an education at college, except by their own directions. My list aims to provide (a) orientation (b) paideuma. To make possible for the young a development of a contemporary mind and sensibility. All books on the list whether Ovid or Sir James Frazer are to be read and seen as contemporary works.

The books are ones to be read many times. Over many years. They would enable a man to enjoy Finnegans Wake. They are not chosen as providing an adequate set of facts but as preparing the mind to move toward relevant fact of every sort to stimulate an appetite and sense of the relevant. Cicero’s De Oratore is on the list because it provides an approach to Dante and the Renaissance, but gets its principal meaning today from Joyce’s Ulysses. Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology is on because it provides simultaneously an introduction to medieval allegory (Dante) and the French symbolists and Jung. Jung is on not for his own sake but as an approach to myth and Joyce. My object is always to select books for their immediate relevance to major aspects of our own problems. Aristotle’s Ethics and Poetics I would say had much more contemporary relev. than Plato because we are emerging from a century of Platonism. I hope we are emerging.

For my sake ask yourself and every expert you meet “What are the 2 indispensable works in your blank-blank subject?” Music for example. Not works of “fact” but of orientation. Of basic perception and revaluation.

You under-rate Pound’s prose I suspect. Every sentence sends me scurrying to 15 books. To reading 20 poems aloud. He makes the heaviest demands of any writer of our time. So heavy that only Joyce Eliot Lewis have really been able to get anything from him. His chatty tone is utterly misleading.

My list of books aims to cover all the arts and sciences. In their inter-relationships. No so much the ekuklios paideia as the cycle of arts as one thing. This is inevitable in an age like ours when every motion of the mind (individual) is seen to involve the whole mind (society) and its entire relation to Being.

Philip Toynbee’s essay on Joyce blows the gaff on the contemporary English mind. A piddling lethargic mentality. One hopes that defeat may sting it to activity.

Beginning my exegesis of Eliot. I have written 4000 words on the title of Prufrock so far. Haven’t got to the body of the poem yet.

*       *       *       *       *

Only hope for a kid in school today is that he will be so emotionally retarded that he is unable to “adjust” himself at high-school age. Or else that he is at once brainy but so savagely hostile to the world that there is no danger of adjustment. The latter are Rimbauds (who in the USA became gangsters?) But what are a guy’s chances at college? 

My list of books must carry a preface in which the college as anything but a scene in which to acquire languages belatedly is thoroughly exposed. The list is to do for any chap in four years what I’ve buggered about for 15. That is a modest assignment. Kenner has done the job thoroughly in 2 years. I saved him at least 10 years in the Sargasso Sea. No personal credit to me. Could do the same for anybody at all just as it could have been done for me. I now have not one whit more equipment than I could have had in a civilized milieu at age 20. Except that in such a milieu I should also have had 5 languages at 20. A 100 books that you and I have read carefully a vital society digests for its members into tones or attitudes which are communicated instantaneously and unconsciously. For example I found Lewis hard going for years. I can now “give” Lewis to anybody—Lewis as tools for apprehending and manipulating the current world—in a few days. That is the essence of education— Economy of mental process. Nutriment plus tools. Perception and judgment. Contact with actual situation in any sphere plus a sense of how to deal with it according to its own rationale. E.G. there is a current rationale and fully developed education process in salesmanship, advertising, movie and book-making. These are to be eschewed. But true education must provide the tools for managing a situation in which such systematic debasement is the only rule. The education has got to be at least as efficient as the process of debasement. It has to have equal passion in it and equal unity or concentration.

What about running as an appendix a list of books in which a 100 or so bad books are “placed’ in a phrase or 2? What about an appendix of ideés reçues? However both of these can be easily digested as comments appended to the real books.

Much enjoyed your last letter.

Yrs. Mac.


paideuma: As Pound defines it in Guide to Kulchur, “the tangle or complex of inrooted ideas of any period.” Pound borrowed the term from German anthropologist Leo Frobenius (see letters 15 and 16).

ekuklios paideia: encyclopedic or all-round education.

Philip Toynbee’s essay on Joyce: “A Study of James Joyce’s Ulysses” in James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens (Vanguard Press, 1948), 243-284.

ideés reçues: received ideas or opinions, from Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des Ideés Reçues (see letter 37 and notes).


McLuhan takes up the question of providing a challenge to the “fully developed educational process in salesmanship, advertisement, movie and book making” in The Mechanical Bride, when he declares in his introduction: “Since so many minds are engaged in bringing about this condition of public helplessness, and since these programs of commercial education are so much more expensive and influential than the relatively puny offerings sponsored by schools and colleges, it seemed fitting to devise a method to reverse the process. Why not use the new commercial education as a means to enlighten its intended prey?”1

It was Erwin Panofsky’s Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (1951) more than his Studies in Iconology (1939) that enabled McLuhan to suggest how an examination of the anagogic level in medieval allegories, most particularly Dante’s Commedia, helps to illuminate the techniques employed by the French symbolists and their heirs. Having read The Spirit of Romance, McLuhan knew that Pound had defined the anagogic level in the Commedia as the sense in which “it is the journey of Dante’s intelligence through the states of mind wherein dwell all sorts and conditions of men before death . . . the journey is Dante’s own mental and spiritual development.”2 This level was managed, according to McLuhan, by ‘a retracing of the process of intellection.’ By way of suggesting in The Gutenberg Galaxy how this same concern “to follow the very process of intellection rather than to arrive at a private point of view . . . lends the air of ‘universalism’ to much scholastic meditation,” McLuhan quotes a passage from Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism:

A man imbued with scholastic habit would look upon the mode of architectural presentation just as he looked upon the mode of literary presentation, from the point of view of manifestatio. He would have taken it for granted that the primary purpose of the main elements that comprise a cathedral was to ensure stability, just as he took for granted that the primary purpose of the many elements that constitute a Summa was to ensure validity.

But he would not have been satisfied had not the membrification of the edifice permitted him to re-experience the very process of cogitation. To him, the panoply of shafts, ribs, buttresses, tracery, pinnacles, and crockets was a self-analysis and self-explication of architecture much as the customary apparatus of parts, distinctions, questions, and articles was, to him, a self-analysis and self-explication of reason.3

As McLuhan explains in The Gutenberg Galaxy, it was this “looking within and following the very contours and process of passionate thought”4 that enabled Dante to achieve the dolce still nuovo (new sweet style), just as centuries later, having rediscovered the technique via Poe, the French symbolists adopted the retracing of the process of cognition as their poetic method (see letters 44 and 46). 


1 McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride (reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), v.

2 Pound, The Spirit of Romance (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1968), 127.

3 Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, 2nd ed. (New York: Meridian Books, 1957), 58-60; quoted in Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (reprint, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967), 113.

4 McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 113.


Letter Fifteen (ALS) 

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

Aug. 16 / 48

Dear Pound reading Clement of Alexandria recently I came across a statement which would sound well in Guide to Kulchur:

These 3 things, therefore, our philosopher attaches himself to; first, speculation; second, the performance of precepts; third, the forming of good men;—which, concurring, form the Gnostic. Whichever of these is wanting, the elements of knowledge limp.

In Guide to Kulchur I have found all the help with the Cantos that anybody needs, including full light on your remark to me in Washington that 1-40 are a sort of detective story.

The Penguin Books have recently issued Fordie’s

Some Do Not

A man could stand up

Last Post

The Good Soldier

So I’ve been through them for the first time. For some “reason” No More Parades was not issued. These books repay the reading certainly, and I’ll get them read by others.

One thing I’ve discovered about all contemporary readers. Each one has a single reading pace. The books each one likes (understands) are just those adapted to his particular pace. Nobody dreams that some pages should read very slowly and very often. This is the unconscious effect of mechanism. People really do think of themselves as specialized machines nowadays. “That’s just my speed” is a most revealing remark.

My eyes goggled at a statement of Edmund Wilson in an essay on The Dream of H. C. Earwicker (p. 335 of the Given’s edition of “Two Decades of Joyce Criticism” 1948):

“One had to think about the book, read chapters of it over, in order to see the 74 pattern and realize how deep the insight went.”

This by way of artistic indictment of Joyce: “The moments of critical importance were so run in with the rest that one was likely to miss them on first reading.” This is an unintentional revelation of intellectual slobbishness all the more valuable because Wilson assumes that one reading is all that a good mind need give to any work.

Apropos of your valuable comment (in G. To K.) anent Francis Picabia and the technique for getting rid of rubbish by transposition of terms, inversion of clichés etc., I have thought of Finnegans Wake as a gigantic experiment in that mode. “Ulysses lanced the boil on the mind of Europe.” F. W. was intended to wash it out. Hercules— Augean Stables—diverted water. Rivers in F. W. beneficent, benign, purging the images of day. Is this not the rationale of that Rabelaisian drama?

Frobenius not to be had in English in Toronto. Is he to be had in French? I must get my hands on him.

Most cordial regards to you and Mrs. Pound

Marshall McLuhan


Fordie: Ford Madox (Heuffer) Ford (1873-1939) English novelist, friend and mentor to Pound. In Guide to Kulchur (1938), Pound pays tribute to him: “A man’s character is apparent in every one of his brush strokes. There are I believe scattered chapters in novels by F. M. H. which show civilization.”

The Dream of H. C. Earwicker: The correct title of the collection in which Wilson’s essay appears is James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, Seon Givens, ed.

Francis Picabia: Francis-Marie Martinez Picabia (1879-1953) avant-garde French painter and poet.

Frobenius: see letter 16. 75


Pound’s idea of that to which a philosopher should attach himself is rather more vigorous and distinct than Clement’s: “At this point we must make a clean cut between two kinds of ‘ideas.’ Ideas which exist and/or are discussed in a species of vacuum, which are as it were toys of the intellect, and ideas which are intended to ‘go into action’, or to guide action and serve us as rules (and/or measures) of conduct.”1 By way of example, he distinguishes between metaphysics and practical wisdom:

Note that the bloke who said: all flows, was using one kind [of philosophy], and the chap who said: nothing in excess, offered a different sort.

In our time, Al Einstein scandalized the professing philosophists by saying, with truth, that his theories of relativity had no philosophical bearing.2

That McLuhan’s reading of Guide to Kulchur side by side with the Cantos illuminated for him Pound’s remark “that 1-40 are a sort of detective story” should come as no surprise. For, in addition to shedding light on his conception of “the Tempio Malatestina” as “perhaps the apex of what one man has embodied in the last 1000 years of the occident” or suggesting how “the tragedy of the U.S.A. over 160 years” began with “the decline of the Adamses,” Pound offers in Guide to Kulchur an outline of his approach to history.

You can write history by tracing ideas, exposing the growth of a concept.

You can also isolate the quality or the direction of a given time’s sensibility. That means the history of an art.

For example two centuries of Provençal life devoted a good deal of energy to motz el son, the union of word and music.

You can connect that fine demarcation with demarcation in architecture and re usury, or you can trace it alone, from Arnaut and his crew down to Jannequin, where a different susceptibility has replaced it.

But the one thing you shd. not do is suppose that when something is wrong with the arts, it is wrong with the arts ONLY. When a given hormone defects, it will defect throughout the whole system.3

In other words, the early cantos detect in history through representative men, ruling families, or defects in art, to name but a few examples, the high and low points of human achievement, as well as their hidden causes or markers. Yet it is likely that the “full light” which McLuhan professes to have discovered went beyond what Pound had in mind here. That is to say, McLuhan found support for his suspicion that, like Poe’s detective/protagonist in the tales of ratiocination, Pound’s method of revealing “[c]rime against man and civilization” was to reconstruct the crime by “retracing the process of intellection” (see letter 2).

*       *       *       *       *

The passage in Guide to Kulchur to which McLuhan alludes regarding Francis Picabia’s “technique for getting rid of rubbish by transposition of terms” appears in a section subtitled “Guide”:

A definite philosophical act or series of acts was performed along in 1916 to ’21 by, as I see it, Francis Picabia . . . Bayle and Voltaire used a sort of reductio ad absurdum for the destruction of hoakum. Picabia got hold of an instrument which cleared out whole racks of rubbish.

“Europe exhausted by the conquest of Alsace Lorraine.” The transposition of terms ideés reçues, The accepted cliche turned inside out, a, b, c, d: being placed

b, d, c, a

c, b, d, a etc.,

in each case expressing as much truth, half truth or quarter, as the original national or political bugwash.4

Pound saw Ulysses as serving a similar purpose, in answer to that prayer for which in 1912 he “invoked whatever gods may exist,” in the quatrain:

Sweet Christ from hell spew up some Rabelais

To belch and . . . and to define today

In fitting fashion, and her monument

Heap up to her in fadeless excrement5

But, although Pound praised Ulysses as the job in which “the whole boil of the European mind had been lanced,” his judgment of Finnegans Wake was very different from what McLuhan declares both in the above letter and below:

It [Picabia’s transposition of terms in ideés reçues] is the pervading linguistic tech. of Finnegan. Finnegan is a purgatorial book (Ulysses = Inferno). Dreams pursue the images of day by irrigation. Finnegan is a purging of the collective unconscious. It is a heroic task. Hercules purged the Augean stables by diverting a river through them. Finnegan is full of rivers, beneficent, benign. Joyce thought of himself as Hercules “purifying the dialect of the tribe” (Mallarmé’s phrase, used by Pound and Eliot over and over) . . . Finnegan is seen as lustral. Getting the bullshit out of the boudoir the bidet and the bull session. Hence its heroic Rabelaisian roistering. Then the return to intellectual limpidity which Joyce planned for his Paradisal work, as Pound for the last 15 Cantos.6

To the contrary, Pound wrote in a letter to Joyce in 1926 that he could “make nothing out of it [the Work in Progress] whatsoever. Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine wisdom or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization. Doubtless there are some patient souls, who will wade through anything for the sake of a possible joke . . . but . . . having no inkling whether the purpose of the author is to amuse or to instruct . . . in soma . . .”7 More pointedly, in a letter to Hilaire Hiler (1937), Pound stated, “No need of transition crap or Jheezus in progress. I am about thru with that diarrhoea of consciousness. Why ain’t I called it that before and not in private epistle? All I thought when I last saw J. J. was: ‘in regress.’”8

Moreover, Pound makes his stance clear in Guide to Kulchur: “That anyone shd. have tried to use Picabia’s acid for building stone, shows only the ineradicable desire of second-rate minds to exploit things they have not comprehended.”9 McLuhan, on the other hand, went on to write a book entitled From Cliché to Archetype (1970) based in part on his belief that “transposition of terms, inversion of clichés etc.” provide the modern writer with a fresh beginning, a revitalized language. According to McLuhan, “It is the worn-out cliché that reveals the creative or archetypal processes in language as in all other processes and artifacts.”10


1 Pound, Guide to Kulchur, 34.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 60.

4 Ibid., 87.

5 Ibid., 96.

6 H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, to Felix Giovanelli, New York, ALS, 1948, Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington.

7 D. D. Paige, ed., The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound: 1907-1941 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950); reprint, New York: New Directions, 1971), 202 (reference is to reprint edition).

8 Ibid., 291.

9 Pound, Guide to Kulchur, 88.

10 McLuhan, From Cliché to Archetype (New York: Viking Press, 1970), 127.


Letteer Sixteen (ALS) 

St. Michael’s College

Toronto 5

[August 1948]

Dear Mrs. Pound

Thanks for the offer of Frobenius. But I read only French. However I’ve been able to get The Voice of Africa, and The Childhood of Man. No mean samples of his work I take it.

[Childhood of M/ hardly Frob at all,

sort of summary of where things were when he


Next a Baedeker for the university frustrates. A list of books with specific indications of their kind of relevance. A Guide to Kulch. for the kind of people who remain illiterate through the misfortunes of current educational misguidance. I should much like to see EP’s Guide to Kulch. in a Penguin. I should like to see it on every Walgreen counter.

[Immediat prog/ ought to be to

KICK a dozen NEEDED books into Penguin

or some series, or at least

IMPRINT/ esp/ Legge Four Books/

O.K. Guide to Kulchur/ by all means.]

It is, in fact, very hard to get at all. Next job, a book on E.P. If I can summon the courage. Because the more I read him the less complacent I feel to do a good job. W. Lewis can wait till after that. Though something will have to be said about him in the Eliot book, the Baedeker and also the E.P. book. It is the reading habits of the current high-brows, their unbelievable slackness and inattention which makes the work of E.P. and W. Lewis inaccessible. Also the four or five catch-all concepts, Freudian, socialist etc. These satisfy the avant garde gentry who receive grace from the Holy Zeitgeist which renders effort on their part quite needless.

[curse on laggards still in Linc/ Steffens

Shaw/ Upton Sinc/ era.

liberaloid slosh. NEVER Bullseye.]

A long habit of diagnosis on my part has forced me to observe the tiny measure of autonomous existence these influential folk choose to exercise. It is the abeyance, willful or compulsive, of all faculties of the mind which has occurred. To the extent, therefore, that these people are no longer viable at all, some preliminary therapy is indicated. They can’t be set at tasks of average intensity without collapsing, or reacting sadistically at least.

The appeal must be to the young. But the young have been robbed of their energies by association with these mental sad-sacks. Worse, they have been systematically deprived of all linguistic tools by which they could nourish their own perceptions first hand at the usual traditional sources. In the name of the sacred and unimpeded unfolding of their little egos the old have withheld all linguistic training from the young on this continent for the past 40 years. The young are tired. They are easily discouraged when they see the ground they have to make up. In the name of what, they ask, should we bother to read ourselves & repair the damage?

[McL/ imposit to write directly to Penguin.

NOT under any circs/ indicating consultation.]

Personally I’m not tired or discouraged. So I am a cause of annoyance and discomfort wherever I happen to be. But isolation is a poor strategy except for the mystic.

Most cordial regards

Marshall McLuhan

N. B. Bracketed sentences and phrases indicate Pound’s remarks, which were typed in the margins of this letter. For full reply made from these remarks, see letter 21.


Frobenius: Leo Frobenius (1877-1938), German anthropologist, archaeologist, and explorer. Pound admired Frobenius’ approach to cultural morphology and adopted the term paideuma as a controlling concept in his own work (see letter 14 and notes).

the Eliot book: see letter 6.

Legge Four Books: James Legge (1815-1897) Scottish sinologist, missionary, and scholar. Legge translated Classical Chinese texts into English (see letter 21 and notes).


As McLuhan saw it the trouble with the “catch-all concepts, Freudian, socialist etc.,” was that they served as intellectual anesthetics and provided a convenient rationale for abnegation of individual responsibility. In an essay subtitled “Has the Avant-Garde Its Own Mass Culture?” (Commentary 1948), with which McLuhan became familiar via Giovanelli (see letter 23), Harold Rosenberg noted that “the image of the ‘alienated individual’ is usually derived by American contemporaries from Marx.” And yet, among the avant-garde “it seems that Marxism in the United States became a renunciation or negation of experience, a plunging of the individual into mass inertia, precisely because he yielded himself to the general intellectual ‘climate.’”1

Of the widespread acceptance and popularization of Freudian theories in the first half of the twentieth century, Pound wrote, “It is typical of a bewildered society that it should erect a pathology into a system.”2 For his part, McLuhan objected most strongly to the affectation of a “let-us-nurse-our-neurosis” or “we’re-glad-we’re-sick” posture promoted by artists and intellectuals in the 30’s and 40’s as the only appropriate response in an ‘age of anxiety.’

Some three decades earlier, Pound addressed the problem in “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”: “The age demanded an image / Of its accelerated grimace.” And those who yet sought it by mid-century, McLuhan declares, had only to consult the “Holy Zeitgeist” of their own age to “receive grace.” In Guide to Kulchur, Pound defined zeitgeist as those “tints of mental airs and idées reçues, the notions that a great mass of people hold or half hold from habit, from waning custom”; as such it was not to be confused with paideuma, “the tangle or complex of inrooted ideas of any period.”3 


1 Harold Rosenberg, “The Herd of Independent Minds,” Commentary 6 (Sept. 1948), 244 and 249.

2 Pound, “The Jefferson-Adams Letters as a Shrine and a Monument,” in Selected Prose, 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1973), 154.

3 Pound, Guide to Kulchur (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1970), 58.


Letter Seventeen (AN) 

[23 August 1948]

[Pound to McLuhan]

No occident fr/ Aristotl

has made a ass of self

studying error


you waste time on Mac. etc.



only not get the few

right answers


 2 + 2 =

once you get that —

do you go explaining

why Jimmie Fedbler

says = 7 ,or

= 3 


It is difficult to know precisely what Pound meant by this rather cryptic message. But he may have been offering his opinion—“you waste time on Mac. etc.”—of a proposed study by Felix Giovanelli, with which McLuhan agreed to help, tentatively titled “From Machiavelli to Marx: A Study in the Psychology of Culture.” The purpose of this examination was to show “how from Machiavelli to Hobbes there is a single movement of culture, and from Locke to Rousseau the same thing turned inside out. This is a neurotic pattern: first fear arising from insecurity; then concealment of fear by hostility; then concealment of hostility by solicitude; then disintegration of the pseudo-sentiment; then nervous breakdown. 1914-1942 is the movement of breakdown in this neurotic cycle. We have an opportunity to restore reason to its function now.”1

 This subject of this project would seem to fit Pound’s description of the kind of error the occident had made “a ass of self studying” from Aristotle on, in that it involved primarily a series of intellectual conflicts over abstractions. In a chapter of Guide to Kulchur entitled “The New Learning,” Pound suggests why this approach to history and philosophy, not to mention psychology of culture, always proves insufficient to the task:

The distinction I am trying to make is this. Rightly or wrongly we feel that Confucius offers a way of life, an Anschauung or disposition toward nature and man and a system for dealing with both.

The occident as a result of 1900 years of fact and process feels this way toward Christianity, but not toward any brand of philosophy. Philosophy as the word is currently used means a highbrow study, something cut off both from life and wisdom.2

Instead of this Pound proposes a method of teaching by which the student “can ferret out the evidence, that Zeno, Epicurus, Pythagoras did teach a modus vivendi, did advocate modes of life, and did not merely argue about certain abstractions.”3

The point for my purposes is that the man in the street in England and the U.S.A. 1938 lumps ‘em all in with the highbrows . . . I mean as distinct from roast beef and the facts of life, as distinct from the things that come natural, ideas that he drinks in with his “mother’s milk” or from the synthetic feeding bottle of the occident as we know it.4

Pound’s point may have been that Giovanelli and McLuhan were reversing the proper order for bringing about change by their “studying error” first and then pondering a method for “restor[ing] reason,” rather than “get[ting] the few right answers” first and then explaining why the wrong answers continue to persist.


1 Felix Giovanelli, New York, to H. M. McLuhan, Toronto, (ALS), [8 March 1948], Canada’s National Public Archives, Ottawa.

2 Pound, Guide to Kulchur (reprint, New York: New Directions, 1970), 24.

3 Ibid., 25.

4 Ibid., 26


Letter Eighteen (AN)

24 Aug. [1948]

[Pound to McLuhan]

Yes , yes . a condition

which it is up

to you to

remedy —

Hitch’n with It .


specific injections .


specific injections: perhaps in response to McLuhan’s suggestion in letter 16 that “some preliminary therapy is indicated” in order to bring around “the avant garde gentry who receive grace from the Holy Zeitgeist which renders effort on their part quite needless.” As before, Pound recommends focused and selective activity, “specific injections,” rather than abstract theory or “preliminary therapy.” 


Letter Nineteen (AL)

[26 August 1948]

[Pound to McLuhan]

Pre cicely .

to penalty the boy

fer not readin’ grampaw’s

works when written

instead of with 30

year. time -lag .



to penalty the boy: probably in reply to McLuhan’s accusation in letter 16 that “[i]n the name of the sacred and unimpeded unfolding of their little egos the old have withheld all linguistic training from the young on this continent for the past 40 years.” 


Letter Twenty (AL)

Monday Sept 5 / 48

Dear Felix

Regards to Margaret of whom nothing said of late. I enclose letter from Mrs. Pound. A charming lady. Let me say that you will get much pleasure and enlightenment from Ford Madox Ford’s Return to Yesterday. Light on Pound, Lewis et al. (Please try to snag a copy of Blast. and Bombardiering. Natch I’m interested to know what Percy’s latest book contains. Novel about Toronto?)

Ford deals with res non verba. His anecdotes always point to social, political, economic, aesthetic axes and dynamisms written a[s] situation. His March of Literature (1939) is the best book on comparative lit I’ve come across. Please give me your opinion.

*       *       *       *       *

Right now I could enter grad. school and do good course work because I would not be bothered with the intelligence or stupidity of the instructor. But it has taken me a long time to take stupidity and indifference for granted as a universal and irremediable human condition. Pound has never reached that point. All his strategies depend on the prior condition of alertness and eager appetite for truth. W. Lewis: “I write from the standpoint of genius.” E.P.: “I write for those who are topflight inventors and creators in the arts.” T. S. Eliot: “I croon to those who are living and partly living a song of their remote but better selves.” Therefore Lewis and Pound are ignored and Eliot is widely misunderstood. But widely. Old Possum was the shrewdest man. And I dislike him for his virtues.

Say hello to Marius and John F. For me. I think of them much.

Yrs. Mac.


Margaret: Felix Giovanelli’s wife.

res non verba: Latin for “things not words.” Pound recalled in “Canto LXXXII”: “and for all that old Ford’s conversation was better, / consisting in res non verba, / despite William’s anecdotes, in that Fordie / never dented an idea for a phrase’s sake.”

March of Literature: Fully titled The March of Literature: From Confucius’ Day to Our Own, Ford’s study was published in 1938. He begins his examination of Chinese poetry by offering some of Pound’s translations from the volume entitled Lustra.

Marius: Marius Bewley, one of McLuhan’s circle of friends and associates in New York. Giovanelli described Bewley in a letter to Pound as “a talented Scrutiny boy.”

John F.: John Farrelly (see letter 1).


Ford’s Return to Yesterday (1932) is “a tribute” to his friendships with Henry James, Joseph Conrad, W. H. Hudson, and others. As such, it remains an interesting and useful account of the literary mileu centered around London at the turn of the century. In his final chapter, “The Last of London,” Ford offers a brief and amusing, if somewhat exaggerated, account of Pound’s background and goes on to relate how it was that he arrived at last at the doorstep of The English Review:

Then came Ezra, led in by Miss Sinclair. His Odyssey would take twelve volumes in itself. In a very short time he had taken charge of me, the review and finally of London.1

Ford observes in his “Coda” that “The English Review seemed then [circa 1914] profoundly to have done its work. Ezra and gang of young lions raged through London. They were producing an organ of their own. It was to be called— prophetically—Blast.”

One day Ezra and the young man I have called Mr. D.Z. took me for a walk . . . Those walks were slightly tormenting. Ezra talked incessantly on one side in his incomprehensible Philadelphian, which was already aging. That made it all the more incomprehensible. Mr. D.Z., dark, a little less hirsute but more and more like a conspirator went on and on in a vitriolic murmur. On this occasion he raised his voice a little, so as to be heard by me but not by Ezra. Ezra would not have stood for it.

D.Z. said:

Tu sais, tu est foutu! Foutu! Finished! Exploded! Done for! Your generation has gone. What is the sense of you and Conrad and Impressionism. You stand for Impressionism . . . This is the future. What does anyone want with your old-fashioned stuff? You try to make people believe that they are passing through an experience when they read you. You write these immense long stories, recounted by a doctor at a table or a ship captain at an inn. You take ages to get these fellows in. In order to make your stuff convincing. Who wants to be convinced? Get a move on. Get out or get under.2

Blasting and Bombardiering (1937), Wyndham Lewis’s recollection of his experiences before, during, and after the Great War, in many ways takes up where Ford’s memoir leaves off; and, like Ford, Lewis offers highly subjective portraits of the artists and intellectuals who made up his circle:

The men of 1914 were a “haughty and proud generation.” I quote Mr. Ford Madox Ford: the Joyces, the Pounds, my particular companions. Nineteen Fourteen is the year I have selected for the commencement of this history, and as observed by Mr. Madox Ford, who had seen the generation of James, Conrad and Hudson, this new “generation” was remarkable for its “pride.”3

“Percy’s latest book” was not, in fact, a novel at all, but an extended essay on twentieth century culture entitled America and Cosmic Man (1948). In a central chapter of the work, Lewis explains what had been his original purpose:

Why one takes any interest in this so-called Pot, and the problem of its melting, is very simple. We lock ourselves up, in that antiquated group-pen the “nation,” and pretend to be a “race,” and a mighty fine one too, as did par excellence the National Socialists. But in America you have a powerful country of great size which at least cannot call itself a “race.” Like everybody else, it takes on the competitive attitudes, the jingo nationalism. But those devoutly hoping for an international order naturally see in America the thin edge of the wedge. The requisite raw material is there, namely the great variety of races present—all that is needed for the manufacture of Cosmic Man.4

And yet, as McLuhan would point out some years later (see letter 51) by the end of America and Cosmic Man, Lewis seems far less optimistic. For his part, McLuhan turned his talents, starting with The Gutenberg Galaxy, to exploring how electronic technology might provide a landscape, “the Global Village,” in which “Cosmic Man” might flourish, although with typical McLuhan objectivity he never decides whether this outcome would be positive or not. 


1 Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday (New York: Horace Liveright, 1932), 373.

2 Ibid., 399f.

3 Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1937), 254.

4 Wyndham Lewis, America and Cosmic Man (reprint, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1949), 197f.