Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The first really ugly anti-Semitism rears up its head in Canto 22 (I've decided to start using Arabic numerals) when Ez accompanies his Jewish guide Yusuf to the synagogue in Gibraltar (I think—interesting Ulysses connection). The service is described sneeringly, with the rabbi and other participants taking a lot of snuff and grinning mindlessly at each other. It's pretty depressing:
And then they got out the scrolls of the law
And had their little procession
And kissed the ends of the markers.
And there was a case on for rape and blackmail
Down at the court-house, behind the big patio
               full of wistaria;
An' the nigger in the red fez, Mustafa, on the boat later
An' I said to him: Yusuf, Yusuf's a damn good feller.
And he says:
                        "Yais, he ees a goot fello,
"But after all a chew
                                ees a chew."
This is one of Pound's "casuals," in which the detritus of the modern world are portrayed primarily for comedy and disgust (sometimes the two are not distinguishable). Various edifices of Christian art (such as Sigismundo's Tempio at Rimini) are emblems of the "eternal," but the scrolls of the law are casual. So the contempt goes pretty deep. And yet Zukofsky could still say this: "I never felt the least trace of anti-Semitism in his presence. Nothing he ever said to me made me feel the embarrassment I always have for the 'Goy' in whom a residue of antagonism to 'Jew' remains. If we had occasion to use the words 'Jew' and 'Goy' they were no more or less ethnological in their sense than 'Chinese' and 'Italian.'" Perhaps Zukofsky's secularism insulated him somewhat from the roots of Pound's contempt? Or was he simply blinding himself to the obvious because Pound was in fact his friend and mentor, in spite of everything?

Well. If anti-Semitism (or the uglier, more American sort of racism: blacks are treated more badly than Jews in The Cantos, not even seen as a threat) made me put down each book in which it appeared, my library would be sadly impoverished. So I press on to the Adams and Jefferson cantos. Beyond them, "the Boss," Il Duce. Beyond him, Pisa.

And now for something completely different: the new HOW2. Very impressed by Sawako Nakaysu's translations of the pioneering Japanese modernist Sagawa Chika. There's a sly sense of humor there, and many arresting images (I suppose, to go back to Pound, it's inevitable to derive "imagism" from a language that doesn't use Roman characters; phanopoeia is what's translatable). A kind of surrealism is also at play: "Autumn, sick with yellow fever, is the Arabian script staggering on the windowpane." "A chef clutches the blue sky. Four fingerprints are left; gradually the chicken bleeds. Here, too, the sun collapses." Actually a pretty good description of the death of a chicken rendered somehow noble.

Also a good review of Original Green, a book by Patricia Carlin, one of my editors at Barrow Street.

1 comment:

The Blah Brain said...

Hey, you live in Ithaca? So do I! ha

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