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“Antreten gegen die Welt”: Ezra Pounds Erbe, eds. Theresia Prammer & Christine Vescoli. Lana, Südtirol, 2018.


review by Walter Baumann



This publication contains the proceedings of the 32nd Literaturtage Lana 2017. In their foreword the two editors give their reason for staging this symposium entirely devoted to Ezra Pound, 45 years after his death. Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, and Pound’s grandson, Siegfried de Rachewiltz, attended as honoured guests.

Under the title “Hier spricht Pound,” the German poet Marcel Beyer, winner, among other prizes, of the Georg Büchner Preis in 2016, begins his presentation not with Pound and the radio, but with a paraphrase from a passage in White Album by the famous Californian author Joan Didion. In it she tells the reader that when travelling from Sacramento to San Francisco she “kept the radio on very loud not to find out what time it was but in an effort to erase six words from my mind, six words which had no significance for me but which seemed that year to signal the onset of anxiety or fright. The words, a line from Ezra Pound’s 'In a Station of the Metro,' were these: Petals on a wet black bough."

What Beyer intends by starting with the Didion story seems to be to show the contrast between Didion’s radio culture and Pound’s book culture. To this end he gives the beginning of Pound’s Radio Speech of 6 July 1942 in German. Here is the original text:

Had I the tongue of men and angels I should be unable to make sure that even the most faithful listeners would be able to hear and grasp the whole of a series of my talks. That is the disadvantage of the radio form, and heaven knows when I shall be able to print these texts in book or books available to the American and English public. Books implying that [the] reader CAN, when he wishes, look back, take up the statement of the preface, see where Chapter X hitches onto Chapter I.    

Beyer’s conclusion is that, after providing ample details of Pound’s failure to adapt to radio, Pound, the great conqueror, did not conquer the radio, since he was firmly stuck in the world of books.

The East German-born poet, Durs Grünbein, also the winner of the Georg Büchner Preis (in 1995) frames the story of his getting to know Ezra Pound by a visit to his grave in Venice, on St. Michele. It was in Dresden’s main Library that he first came across the book published by Verlag der Arche in Zurich: Ezra Pound: Cantos I – XXX, bilingual, with Eva Hesse’s translation. Shortly afterwards a colleague made him a present of Ezra Pound: Cantos 1916 – 1962 (dtv, also 1964). The opening lines of Canto 3:

I sat on the Dogana’s steps

For the gondolas cost too much, that year

made him fall in love with Pound as well as Venice.

Quite a large section of his essay deals with Cantos 72 and 73, the Italian ones. While he considers them powerful poetry, he explicitly dissociates himself from their glaring fascism.

James Dowthwaite, at the time visiting professor at Göttingen University, deals with Pound’s search for “a language to think in,” which, he says, led to Pound’s “abandonment of philology.” So “Poetry thus becomes, in Pound’s words, an attempt to throw off the ‘crust of dead English’ and, according to Hulme, the way it does this is with visual, concrete images.” Dowthwaite emphasizes that “contrary to Hulme, who argues that language is flawed, Pound discerns that it is not language itself which is flawed, but the use to which it is put.” Having given T. E. Hulme more importance that Pound did, he passes on to Fenollosa’s claim “that the Chinese written character is a medium for poetry specifically, that is for those poetic aspects that differentiate it from ordinary language.” And “Poetry’s affinity with music, according to Pound, relies upon the cadences of words.” Dowthwaite also deals briefly with Pound’s adoption of the term Paideuma (to replace “Zeitgeist”) and the fact that Pound’s notions about language do in no way tally with those of De Saussure, Wittgenstein, Jakobson and Derrida.

           The only essay in Italian is by film maker, translator, professor at Genoa University, and native of Rapallo, Massimo Bacigalupo, whose knowledge of Pound’s life and work is second to none. It is an invitation to an exploration of The Cantos. Detailed instructions are given for undertaking this Odyssey, which starts with the descent to Tiresias and becomes more and more Ezra Pound’s own journey, especially in The Pisan Cantos, where the poet likens the conditions of the military prison to Circe’s swine-sty. The love of Rapallo and environs is particularly stressed by Bacigalupo, as well as Pound’s late appreciation of “Rock’s world,” of the Naxi people living surrounded by the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas.

In the dialogue between Elmar Locher, literary scholar, formerly at Verona University, and Joseph Vogl, philosopher, literary and cultural scholar at Humbold University in Berlin, the topic is money, interest and usury in Ezra Pound, with the line from Canto 45 as motto: “With usura hath no man a painted paradise.”

The first and simple question Locher poses is: What is money? Vogl admits that he is afraid of simple questions like this, as it isn’t enough to say that money is a measure of values, a medium of exchange and a means to store values. Money circulates and is unstoppable. With the emergence of Central Banks and credit money, etc., it is no longer clear to anyone how much money is in circulation.

In answer to Locher’s question about money in Ezra Pound, Vogl claims that it is impossible to separate his work from the topic of money. The term “usura” is simply the cipher for it. The two things that were important to Pound, and to us, were the trauma of World War One in which war profiteers and financiers were heavily involved, and the wild capitalism at the end of the 19th century in America, of the Robber Barons. There follows a wide-ranging discussion of the foundation of banks as private rather than government institutions, of Pound’s adherence to the theories of C. H. Douglas and Silvio Gesell, and other interesting things like Pound’s debts to Aristotle’s analysis of the nature of money.  

The last item in this brochure is the transcript of the broadcast recorded at Lana, featuring Beyer, Grünbein, Vogl and Pound’s grandson, Siegfried de Rachewiltz, with Nina Schröder as moderator. Beyer stresses the impossibility of dealing with Pound without reservations; Grünbein maintains that since words entered the political sphere, literature could not be separated from politics. Vogl thinks that Pound was a puzzle to himself and placed far too much importance on USURA. Siegfried de Rachewiltz points out that Pound was in contact with Lady Balfour’s Good Earth Movement and wanted to establish at Brunenburg a self-sufficient community, of “Selbstversorger.” Quoting “Learn of the green world” from Canto 81, he suggests that Pound might well support Greenpeace, if he were alive today.