REVIEWS OF RECENT PUBLICATIONS
ON EZRA POUND
Steven G. Yao and Michael Coyle, eds.
Ezra Pound and Education.
Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 2012.
Review by Reka Mihalka
“Universities vs. Education: A Promise”
Ezra Pound was notorious for dismissing universities as mere “beaneries” (as the present volume frequently points out), or institutions that are concerned only with the transference of existing knowledge rather than with the creation of new insights. Steven G. Yao and Michael Coyle’s volume is an almost three-hundred-page-long refutation of Pound’s harsh judgment. As uncharacteristic as it may be for a scholarly volume, the editors decided to accommodate not only academic papers, but also poets’ reflection on and engagement with Pound’s poetry (namely those of Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Bob Perelman) as well as students’ essays about Pound’s poetry, translations, and politics. The heterogeneity of the material on display is a confirmation that universities managed, contrary to Pound’s expectations, to stay in tune with the times by maintaining a creative exchange with living poetry and to help students map their own interests and voice their opinions (we can well imagine how Pound would have cherished such an opportunity!).
That a volume dealing with the relationship of Pound and education can (and bothers to) make this point is already noteworthy. However, from the perspective of the research community, it is more significant that after scarce and in-between studies of the subject, the present volume incorporates multiple perspectives approaching this pivotal aspect of Pound studies. So far, with the exception of a few monographs (e.g. Gail McDonald’s Learning to Be Modern: Pound, Eliot, and the American University andKathryne Lindberg’s Reading Pound Reading) most discussions of Pound’s relation to education have been relegated to biographies, individual essays, and encyclopedic ventures including celebrated titles like the Ezra Pound Encyclopedia and Ezra Pound in Context. At long last, we now have a collection of essays devoted exclusively to the topic that was undoubtedly fundamental for Pound.
Even though the volume does not try to be comprehensive, a sufficiently wide range of topics is covered. In the first part of the book, entitled “Educative Affiliations,” Pound’s educational views are put in context. Reference points for comparisons include Emerson, the philological tradition, Cummings, Lionel Trilling, and Matthew Arnold. In the second section, Pound’s correspondence with the young editor of the college journal The Globe and with politicians is under scrutiny. In the last academic section, essays investigate diverse issues of the interrelation of poetics and education, including a survey of reading strategies of The Cantos, the topos of lynching and related imagery in The Pisan Cantos, and canon-formation.
As the introduction to the volume supplies the reader with a concise summary of all the scholarly essays, I will concentrate only on a few topics that I personally found the most revealing. Therefore, this review is not meant to be an objective evaluation of the book, but a reader’s response to a few promising new directions of research. Subsequently, I will reflect on the following chapters in their original order: the philological tradition (Anne Birien), Pound’s relation to Cummings (Michael Webster), Pound’s interactions with politicians (Alec Marsh), a reading history of The Cantos (Peter Nicholls), and, finally, Pound’s intertwining roles as avant-garde poet and pedagogue (Alan Golding).
Anne Birien’s study explores Pound’s paradoxical exasperation and fascination with the American education system. Birien’s explanation identifies Gaston Paris’s concept of philology as a major influence on Pound’s understanding of the role philology could play in the cultural renewal of a country. Paris, who, similarly to Pound, studied German, old French, Italian, Latin, and Provençal, also became an advocate of the comparative study of languages and literatures and stressed the potential in creative exchanges between cultures. He believed certain details in literature can be singled out as signs of innovation, and a collection of these distinct details would outline the development of literature. It is not accidental that most of these ideas sound familiar: Pound may initially have learnt about Paris through William Shepard, Pound’s professor at Hamilton College, but Pound also referenced Paris’s works in The Spirit of Romance, which was in fact dedicated to the French philologist. Birien’s convincing argumentation and insightful analyses help the reader appreciate the historical complexity of Pound’s stance towards philology.
Michael Webster’s compelling essay outlines the changes in Pound and Cummings’s frienship throughout their lives. This is a story of how the former disciple, Cummings, came to realize Pound needed more guidance than he did, especially in terms of sound judgment and sympathy for other human beings. The essay outlines the diverse but ingenious strategies Cummings used to steer Pound back to what he considered a decent path, ranging from slyly and humorously side-tracking the conversation to covert chastising through literary references. Webster properly corroborates each of his claims with excerpts from the correspondence (or the lack of it: what is omitted from the letters is just as revealing as what is in them), rendering his text not only an enlightening but also a captivating piece of writing.
Alec Marsh’s study focuses on the educational campaign Pound launched to persuade American politicians of his views between 1933 and 1941. Marsh compiles evidence from archival sources to show the extent of Pound’s engagement to reach decision makers (including the Roosevelts). Marsh argues that Pound’s aim with this project was to reconnect with his homeland and to (re)establish himself as an American authority figure and a local voice. Accordingly, he developed a rhetoric, often referred to as “Ezratic” or “murkn,” which was anti-Roosevelt in scope and loud, aggressive, and impatient in style. His campaign continued throughout his ill-fated visit to Washington in 1939, until mail correspondence was terminated with Italy due to the war.
Peter Nicholls’s self-reflexive and thought-provoking essay in the middle of the volume is a gentle reminder to the academic community what the classic essay style is capable of today. In this avowedly personal account, Nicholls recounts the reception history of The Cantos. Considering the readership of the epic poem and their stance towards Pound’s poetry, Nicholls identifies the first or “hippy” stage epitomized by Allen Ginsberg as one that was willing the overlook the older poet’s ideological misjudgement (although this is not exactly the term Ginsberg uses) for the sake of the lessons learned about progressive poetics. The second phase in Nicholls’s view is a reaction against this approach, which rejects the notion that aesthetics may outweigh ethics. Referring to Massimo Bacigalupo, Nicholls argues that in the second phase the readers refuse to follow the poet-pedagogue and give voice to critical evaluations instead. The third phase, exemplified by Charles Olson and Robert Duncan, is a subversive one, in which the younger generation reads Pound “against himself,” (151) opening up the text where Pound wished to get closure through the “false certainties of ideology.” (151) Finally, Nicholls suggests that the third (or even the fourth?) phase could focus on the textuality of The Cantos, and hope to find complexity in language rather than ideas. What is peculiar is that there is a single adjective that recurs several times in Nicholls’s description of the phases involved in the reception history of The Cantos: nomadic. Symptomatically, though, the referent of the word changes according to the stages, referring at times to Jewish people (by Pound), to Pound and his work (by critical readers), and lastly to the subversive readership who set up their tent in this field of reference themselves. This semantic net may have been cast by the scholars of the fourth stage in their attempt to refocus the discussion on language.
Lastly, Alan Golding reads Olson and Pound side by side to shed light on the relation of avant-garde poetics and didacticism. Regarding Pound, Golding touches on a range of relevant topics including the unique mixture of professionalism and mysticism in the rhetoric of pedagogy and canon formation vs. literary history. Yet his analysis of the apparently opposing but in fact inseparable concepts of authority and error may be of special interest. Starting from an analysis of the relation between the text of “The Jewel Stair’s Grievance” and the pedagogical commentary to it, he proceeds to consider the position of authority in The Cantos. The nuanced readings of both Pound’s and Olson’s poetry yield fruitful comparisons and the references to Bob Perelman even warrant a smooth transition to the poetic section of the book.
The book’s editors did a thorough job arranging the essays into coherent sections; and their merits in covering a broad spectrum of genres have already been mentioned. What may be worth considering for future volumes is the inclusion of cross-references to eliminate repetitions between essays. Additionally, the names of the authors in the page headings would be a welcome change to help the odd reviewers orient themselves in the book.
William Pratt and Caterina Ricciardi, eds.
Roma/Amor. Ezra Pound, Rome, and Love.
New York: AMS, 2013.
Review by Alexander Howard
“What’s love got to do with it?”
In the closing contribution to William Pratt and Caterina Ricciardi’s co-edited collection Roma/Amor: Ezra Pound, Rome, and Love (2013), Ira B. Nadel poses a number of questions. Broadly speaking, Nadel’s essay seeks to get to grips with “the many and sometimes contradictory lives of [Ezra] Pound” (259). To be sure, Nadel is interested in the “near endless retellings of [Pound’s] life” (259). In Nadel’s reckoning, whether they are “polemical or political, literary or cultural, these narratives are never dull and inescapably contextual” (259). Nadel is particularly curious about the last of these terms. Above all, he wants to know what it means to “write a contextual biography” and why such an approach seems especially “preferable” when it comes to constructing critical “accounts of Pound” (259):
Is context the best approach to evaluate his multiple achievements as essayist, editor, poet, agitator and economist (and, for some, crank)? Or is context necessary to defend his life in a world he constructs of social and political unrest? Is context security in his essentially destabilized environment? Of course, there are other approaches, from the psychological to the literary, but for Pound, the weight of biographical narrative has been contextual. (259)
Why might this be so? Do we agree with this? In fact, does it even matter? Nadel tells us that context, when read in purely conceptual terms, “elides action and experience, self and event. It erases differences and enacts a untied modality between the individual and his culture” (259). To put it another way, context can be said to refer “to what immediately surrounds a subject, an awareness of coterminous developments in fields that act as foils for the central character or text” (260). In equal measure, “context elides events and self so that a biographer can best tell the subject’s story by, or through, the situations surrounding that figure” (265-6). Nadel then relates this to Pound. He reminds us of that fact that we tend to tell Pound’s personal “story” in terms of the “cultural or political conditions [that] prompted his actions. Think of Pisa; think of the use of place in The Pisan Cantos.” (266). At this point, having heard so much about context, one longs for something approaching a detailed, analytical discussion of the actual poetry contained in the Pisan Cantos. Failing that, a few words on place and space would have been nice. But this turns out to be little more than wishful thinking. It seems that Nadel is far more comfortable cleaving to a purely contextual line. He continues:
Context has been both a defense and argument for the more controversial aspects of Pound’s life, his anti-Semitism explained as the result of early suburban prejudices in Philadelphia, his radio attacks on America the result of the fascist environment of Italy in the thirties and the subsequent war in the forties. Context has provided an escape from the more complex issues of Pound’s life, as well as an argument justifying a number of the more polemical positions he expressed. (266)
In this sense, Nadel suggests, “Pound’s career has become increasingly more, rather than less, contextual with critics arguing that the Pound the poet, economic theorist, and radio broadcaster are not separate or one” (266). However, Nadel evidently has some reservations about the seemingly endless critical possibilities offered by the promise of contextualization. He posits that in the case of some authors “context may be clearly limited, circumscribed and subject to intervention from many additional elements (psychology, for one)” (266). And yet the apparently inescapable fact remains. For a writer such as Pound, context “is abundant and necessary. But it is always constructed and must be challenged as we ask how it should be used and why” (266-7). Hence Nadel’s conclusion that, for better or worse, “with a figure as contradictory and complex as Pound, context may offer the most stable approach to a life that continually rewrites itself, framed by texts that are continually being rediscovered, reread, and reinterpreted” (267).
One can only wonder what Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz made of all this contextualizing conference talk. Not all that much, if the latter part of her short-but-bittersweet contribution to Roma/Amor is anything to go by:
Research and symposia are highly commendable, but I would appeal to scholars to teach their students how to read Pound’s poetry, to look closely at what’s on the page. All the generalizations about this or that Movement, about his generosity to writers, etc., are no substitute for his Cantos. […] Pound should not be left at the mercy of demagogues and careless reporters, be it in his own country or abroad. The scholar’s job should be to enlighten and transmit the good, the true, and the beautiful in his POETRY. (173)
Now, if we bear Mary’s suggestions in mind, it comes as little surprise to find that the strongest essays included in the decidedly mixed critical bag that is Roma/Amor are those which do more than merely furnish text with context. Notable highlights include Peter Liebregts’s “Between Alexandria and Roma: Ezra Pound, Augustine, and the Notion of Amor,” Tim Redman’s “Ezra Pound and Roman Catholicism: An Overview,” and Catherine E. Paul’s “Ezra Pound in Mussolini’s Rome.” In one sense heeding Nadel’s call, Peter Liebregts emphasizes the importance of adequate contextualization at the outset of his contribution to Roma/Amor. Any discussion about Pound and Augustine of Hippo must, Liebregts writes, “be placed in the larger context of Pound’s own attitudes towards religion or the religious spirit” (133). But Liebregts does more than merely contextualize. For instance, Liebregts’s article, which is unsurprisingly informed by his earlier research into the field of Neoplatonism, also has a number of interesting things to say about Pound’s forthright stance as regards monotheistic religious dogma. Liebregts usefully foregrounds the manner in which Pound repeatedly argued—both in letters and articles—“that our limited knowledge does not allow us to make any definite statements about the nature of mystic experiences, or to ascertain whether they are merely subjective and personal wish-fulfilments or truly objectively occurring manifestations of the divine” (136). At the same time, however, Liebregts stresses the fact that Pound, despite his evident distrust of theological dogmatism, “admired the way the Catholic Church had been an intellectual force and a preserver of the philosophical thought of the classical tradition” (137).
Tim Redman says something similar in his fascinating account—and analysis—of Pound’s relationship with Roman Catholicism. Pound’s initial interest in Catholicism can be traced back to his reading of Dante. Redman describes how this fondness “evolved into a continuation of Dante’s project” in the early sections of The Cantos, “as Pound considered the enmity between Sigismundo Malatesta and Pope Pius II” (109). In Redman’s retelling, Pound’s subsequent decision to settle in Italy in 1924 “led him to a nuanced appreciation of Roman Catholicism, particularly the Church’s teachings about social justice contained in the great encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadrigesimo Anno” (109). Still, “Pound’s growing respect for Catholicism was never strictly doctrinal” (109). That is to say, Pound used particular elements drawn from Catholicism to construct what Redman describes as “a palimpsestic view of religion, a unique result of his own beliefs and the decades he spent in Italy” (109). Reading this “palimpsestic” version of theology alongside Pound’s paganism, as well as his passion for social justice and ethical rectitude, Redman comes to find that “a somewhat more precise definition of his beliefs would be that he was a Confucian with pronounced Catholic tendencies, if one could include the kinds of pagan influences on Catholicism that he saw in Italy” (117). Redman’s conceptualization of the palimpsest is important here. “A palimpsest,” Redman notes, “is a papyrus or parchment on which the original text has been erased or obscured to make room for a new text, frequently written on top of the old” (117). Mining the metaphorical potential of this historical practice of textual erasure and overlay, Redman argues that our expatriate poet came to regard the institution of Italian Catholicism as a sort of palimpsest itself, “inscribed over the vestiges of the older pagan religion that preceded it” (117). This palimpsestic architectural practice, which gets a mention in Dante’s Paradiso, is, Redman tells us, “eminently pragmatic. People were used to going to a site for worship. The new franchise, as it were, simply builds next to or on top of that site” (117). Accordingly to Redman, Pound simply adored this kind of architectural work, which was indicative of “a basic Italian pragmatism and tolerance” (118). As it happens, examples of this kind of pragmatic practice are clearly evident in Italy’s capital city, “where the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva indicates that the new church of St. Mary was built on top of the old temple to the goddess of wisdom, Minerva” (117).
Significantly, notions of architectural transformation also come to the fore in Catherine E. Paul’s detailed account of Mussolini’s Rome. Consider Paul’s opening remarks:
It is fair to say that most modern visitors to La Città Eterna have their eyes focused on the ancient monuments and glorious churches. Still, the way we see these sites and understand the interrelationships among them has been shaped by Benito Mussolini’s transformation of the city through vast archaeological and urban renewal projects. Some of the most dramatic building projects of this area are outside the city center, but others affect the center’s historical fabric. (51)
Moreover, given the Rapallo-based poet’s well-documented “interest in the cultural projects of Mussolini’s regime and the ways that Fascism was creating a national identity for Italy’s previously disparate regions, it is no surprise that transformations of Roma Capitale caught his attention” (51). Paul describes some of these profound transformations in her evocative paper, which also usefully charts Pound’s reaction to them. The most visible and important of these projects was the regime’s excavation—or liberation—of ancient Roman ruins in the modern surroundings of the capital city. For example,
The Temple of Fortuna Virile was “liberated” from the church built around it, the Mausoleum of Augustus was revealed from under an (admittedly excellent) auditorium, the Palazzo Cesarini was demolished to allow excavation of republican-era temples still visible in the Largo Argentina, and the entire church of Santa Rita was moved to enable a view of ancient structures underneath it. (56)
Paul points out that archaeological recovery projects such as these often went in hand-in-hand with processes of urban renewal. Pound was enthused with the regime’s various building projects. In Paul’s estimation, the most striking of these projects was perhaps the Foro Mussolini. Located in the northern part of Rome, this forum, which is now known as the Foro Italia, “consists of a vast open space, decorated with mosaic pavement, lined on both sides by inscribed marble slabs, and flanked by modern buildings designed for athletic pursuits” (58). Pound found much to admire in architectural configurations such as these, the completion of which he regarded as clear signs of Fascist progress. Paul describes how Pound, in his writings of the 1930s, “emphasizes that this newly imagined capital city does not eclipse Italy’s heteroclite language, culture, and history, nor does it lay yet another layer of “rubbish” onto the pile. Instead, it recognizes disparate elements of value and unites them” (59). But this is not all. She argues that Mussolini’s architectural and archaeological transformation of Rome had a profound impact on Pound’s conception of his own literary praxis. Frustratingly, Paul’s account breaks off at this point, just as things could get really interesting. This is indicative of Roma/Amor as a whole, which represents something of a missed critical opportunity, a chance to properly come to terms with the poetic and political implications of Pound’s true Italian heritage, the repressions of which—if the relatively recent emergence of Casa Pound is anything to go by—continue to reverberate in often profoundly disturbing ways. Despite this, Paul’s concluding remarks on the matter of Mussolini’s architectural transformations are worth quoting at some length, conveying as they do something of Pound’s deep-seated admiration, nay, undying love for the Italian Fascist project:
For Pound, who was during this period working to identify new models for making the cultural heritage of the past useful to the present, these transformations of Rome became a prominent metaphor for how to best read and write. The Fascist transformation of the city showed Pound new prospects for his own writing. He incorporated the regime’s imagery and rhetoric. He adapted their methods of using objects of the past to give power to the present. He learned from them ways of overlaying beautiful things with propagandistic significance. And he learned how to remake the entire fabric of a text. Mussolini’s Rome, then, became for Pound a great source of literary inspiration. (59)
Ezra Pound a Siena tra Accademia Chigiana e Monte dei Paschi.
Siena: Nuova Immagine, 2013.
Review by Claudio Sansone
The outset is promising: the study appears explicitly interested in the manner in which socio-economic conditions make of Siena a unique cultural locus, and suggests it will examine how Pound both perceived and contributed to its millennial history of cultural production. From this implicitly Marxist standpoint, the book hopes to expand upon the dialectic that exists between music and banking. In stressing that the multicultural and multi-disciplinary are ubiquitous in Siena’s history, Adami underlines the urgency of an academic appreciation of the reasons for which Pound was attracted to the city.
A preliminary approach is made by tracing a charged portrait of the aged poet through the lens of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s famous televised interview of 1967, and through Pasolini’s recital of the famous ‘What thou loves well remains’ sequence. It is through these lines that Adami formulates his question of Pound’s specific tie to Siena—though Siena is not discussed overtly by Pasolini, this segue is as brusque as it is poignant.
The second chapter presents a general picture of Pound that is unlikely to be of interest to the specialist, but that is written engagingly (it demonstrates, without doubt, Adami’s ability to straddle an academic and general-interest audience). There are two key focalizations in this whistle-stop biography that help create a context for Pound’s interest in monetary theory, and they are skillfully redacted. First is Adami’s description of fin-de-siècle Hailey, Idaho—a speculative but functional description that underlines Pound’s appreciation of money and its social functions. Second is the particularly effective treatment of Pound’s thoughts on usury and money theory (explicated with ingenious—if surprising—use of quotations from Marx’s Das Kapital). This leads into an excellent introduction to Pound’s interest in the major economic theories of Hugh Clifford Douglas and Silvio Gesell. However, the biography breaks off in the early 1920s (with Pound meeting Olga Rudge), providing the reader only with a minute and incomplete list of ‘interests’, failing to represent the importance of music in Pound’s career in a detailed fashion, or in a new light.
The third chapter details Pound’s early interactions with Mussolini and the fascist regime, and presents a compilation of quotations that form a neat (if sparse) story-line of the relationship Pound had with the movement and its leader. It is only at this point in the book (about half way in) that a discussion of Pound’s interactions with Siena begin. Adami presents superficially the research Pound was undertaking in 1927 when he (somewhat accidentally) came across the founding act of Monte dei Paschi (1624) and Narciso Mengozzi’s Il Monte dei Paschi di Siena e le Aziende in Esso Riunite (1892). Unfortunately, the discussion on the topic is entirely lacking in substance, and seems only to resolve itself in quotations from the Cantos that are given (without a discernible logic) in either English or Italian, sometimes both. Adami moves all-too-quickly to a discussion of Pound’s interactions with the Accademia Chigiana, yet does not present a thesis on the aesthetic relation of banking and music in Pound qua poet (as the introduction had lead the reader to expect). The chapter’s scattered discussion of Pound and Rudge’s involvement with the prestigious academy is partly redeemed by the inclusion of a previously unpublished letter (with facsimile) sent by Chigi Saracini to Pound, in which he invites him and Rudge to assist in the publication of the complete works of Vivaldi.
In the fourth chapter, the facsimiles from the academy archives continue to follow (six of Pound’s letters to Chigi Saracini are reproduced, written over the years 1942-44). Through these letters, we discover the manner in which banking, politics, and music were interwoven in Pound’s mind. Yet, the discussion of Vivaldi and Monte dei Paschi is obviated by a further catalog of quotations from the Pisan Cantos, and from other (previously published) correspondences, which are presented without much comment. Adami concentrates his scholarship on the six letters as a way of gauging Pound’s political ‘temperature’, and, outlining (without much analysis) Rudge’s involvement with the cataloguing of Vivaldi—admittedly, the presentation of this material certainly makes for a valuable set of pages. Finally, a very brief concluding chapter deals (purely anecdotally) with Pound’s arrest and incarceration.
Overall, Adami fails to engage with his titular topic more than superficially and, as a result, the text’s actual additions to scholarship—beyond, perhaps, the rehearsal of historical material for an Italian audience—are slight. That the book presents an interesting (though partial) overview of Pound’s career in Italy cannot be denied, yet the pages that deal with Siena are too few to be considered as constitutive of the beginning of an analysis—even if the use of copious quotation does help to collect many of Pound’s thoughts on the city. The reader is disappointed to find that a number of interesting points raised in the introduction(s) are only addressed implicitly, and that (with the exception of those pages dealing with unpublished correspondence noted above) the salient points of this study deal with material that has already been covered, in greater depth, by other critics such as Murray Schafer, Stephen Adams and Catherine Paul. The fact that Paul’s essay “Ezra Pound, Alfredo Casella, and the Fascist Cultural Nationalism of the Vivaldi Revival”(Ezra Pound, Language and Persona 2008) is absent from the bibliography is symptomatic of Adami’s superficial treatment of the subject of Pound and music, and I cannot refrain from noting that the most recent criticism on the topic dates back to 1977. In addition to the insubstantial bibliography, the lack of an index also lowers the scholarly tone of this study.
Perhaps, the frustrating constraints of practical reality are revealing themselves in the fact that Adami’s premises are not brought to fruition, something that is rendered all the more disappointing by the fact that he situates himself at the intersection between English and Italian Pound Studies. As it stands, this book is more a decoration for the shelves of the Accademia’s friends than it is a scholarly pursuit.