Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Adams cantos are oddly balanced by the Confucian ones that precede them: a "Decad" each means that one admittedly very important man's life is made the equivalent in significance to 3,000 years of Chinese history. An inevitably Orientalist Chinese history at that, given that Pound's source was written by an 18th century Frenchman. But the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, is key to Pound. Immersed in post-Romantic habits of thought as I am, I'm often surprised by my own affection for the Enlightenment attitude as refracted through a can-do faith in rationality and (in English) its Latinate prose style. Clearly the pairing of Confucius and Adams is meant to imply a kind of continuity: the intensely scholarly Adams (who read Thucydides in Greek but was even fonder of Cicero) is part of another dynasty that sought to create a new order on one end and lamented industrial capitalism's overwhelming of that order on the other (I am thinking of the Henry Adams of The Education and Brooks Adams, author of The Law of Civilization and Decay). This evening at the Bookery I'm leafing through the new David McCullough biography of Adams and enjoying the excerpts from his diary, presented in the context of his life and in considerably less abbreviated form than they are in The Cantos. There's something about the forthrightness with which these nonetheless complex sentence structures yield up a person's character that endears the era to me; this at least partly explains my affection for the Patrick O'Brian novels, which so effectively emulate this style in the characters' conversation and correspondence. In addition to seeing him as a kind of reincarnation of Kung, Pound seems to have been drawn to Adams for his agrarianism (though I don't happen to identify Adams with that as strongly as I do his friend and rival Jefferson—incidentally, I did love learning that they went on a tour of the English countryside together in the 1780s), his reluctance to be involved in European wars (Pound emphasizes a passage from a letter speaking against this kind of intervention with a thick black line in the margin), and his opposition to Hamilton's federalism and desire for a central bank (making him a kind of proto-usurer in Pound's eyes).

I don't have the book in front of me so I can't give you any quotes; maybe tomorrow morning, just to give the feel, which is mostly surprisingly rational given that he wrote them in the late 30s and was already making his radio broadcasts. Speaking of which, I got a delightful yet disturbing package from Ben Friedlander in the mail this afternoon—it was a little like receiving a copy of the videocassette from The Ring). There was a CD with a picture of Pound giving the Fascist salute in Naples on it, transcripts of two broadcasts, and (just in time!) a tiny (maybe an inch and a half tall) little copy of the Salo or Italian Cantos translated into English, the most outspokenly Fascist of the bunch (Pound never translated the second one, which celebrates the martyrdom of a raped Italian girl who leads a troop of Canadian soldiers into a minefield—in the voice of Guido Cavalcanti, natch), along with a summary of Ben's attempts to get the tapes of Pound's radio broadcasts in some kind of order. There he is: Pound at his absolute ugliest. I will take some time to consider the Salo Cantos tomorrow before I launch into the Pisan Cantos, the most celebrated and controversial book of the bunch.

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