Thursday, July 08, 2004

Section: Rock-Drill is named in part for a sculpture by Jacob Epstein, "The Rock Drill"—you can see a charcoal study of it here and here's a bit of the menacing, Cylon-centurion-like torso. Apparently he cut it down after WWI as if attempting to destroy the demonic power of the original, which he described this way:
It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock-drill, and my ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill...and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menancing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconsed. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into...Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.
Clearly Epstein was caught up in a passion similar to that of Marinetti, another figure of tremendous importance for Pound. I wonder if he's thinking of the pre- or post-war Rock Drill, if he means it as an emblem of technological monstrosity, phallocentricity run amuck—or of the legless being stripped of its potency and imprisoned by its armor. The sketch seems slightly more benign, reminding me of the idealized workers on Soviet posters—a force for production, not destruction. The "Section" is also curious: the word may refer to a new section of the poem as well as the section or core-sample that one obtains with a drill. That seems the most likely interpretation, given that the first half of the decad is devoted to recapitulating Pound's Confucian values and discovering new warriors against usury in 19th-century American history (Thomas Hart Benton and John Randolph of Roanoke): it's a dense core sample of the ideals laid out in the previous 84 Cantos. I also associate the word "section" with the one-square-mile sections imposed like a grid on the geography of North America before much of it had even been "discovered" (I play with this idea in Fourier Series); but this kind of abstraction seems entirely antithetical to Pound's notion of "periplum." And the frightening image of Epstein's original Rock-Drill lingers in the mind. So perhaps "Section: Rock-Drill" is actually a condensation of the forces opposed by Pound's poem. Probably a little more research could settle this question for me.

The poetry itself is dense; there are more Chinese characters and more Greek in this decad than in any of the other sections of The Cantos so far. You could extract much of Pound's philosophy of government (and ethics generally) simply by listing the meanings of the various ideograms: sensibility, clarity, point of rest/balance, sincerity, equity, sacrifices to the dead, "the unwobbling pivot," and "the One Man." It seems that even from the insane asylum Pound couldn't let go of his hero-worship—though there are blessedly few Mussolini references and relatively little anti-Semitism in these Cantos. A notable exception being these italicized lines from Canto 91:
Democracies electing their sewage
till there is no clear thought about holiness
a dung flow from 1913
and, in this, their kikery functions, Marx, Freud
      and the american beaneries
Filth under filth,
                  Maritain, Hutchins,
or as Benda remarked: "La trahison"
"1913" refers to the founding of the Federal Reserve Bank, the principle trahison or betrayal in American history according to Pound's lights, since it took power over interest rates and the like out of the hands of Congress, where the Constitution had originally put it. (Pound would have had nothing whatever good to say about the unelected and unstoppable Alan Greenspan.) But Pound's contempt for democracy as it is practiced (one might say, with a nod to the Marxists of old, "actually existing democracy"), and the seething ressentiment toward iconic Jewish thinkers and the universities ("beaneries") that promulgate their thought, continues to dishearten. The italics serve to emphasize and also to separate this outburst from the poetry around it, much of which is lovely and moving. Also, by this point the reader has been so long sunk in various mythologies and leitmotifs that the appearance of one of their elements echoes back through the poem and resonates in the mind. The figures of "Erigena" or "Mount Segur," or the Latin phrase "sunt lumina" ("are lights") immediately suggest Pound's paradisal longings and the pagan theology by which he expresses them. Plus new terms and concepts are introduced, the most important of which has to be "Sagetrieb." A German coinage for "oral tradition" it literally means something like "the drive to speak"; he extracts this notion from the Chinese ideal of ministers "invicem docentes" ("teaching each other"). It first appears amid a flurry of ideograms toward the end of Canto 85 and then recurs occasionally thereafter, but the word beautifully captures both Pound's reverence for tradition and the urge (trieb) to extend it and keep it alive, in the present tense. At the beginning of 90 it is associated with the legendary minstrel Amphion, said to have built the walls of Thebes with the music of his lyre; music instead of labor for production. This is the intelligence of keen observation and also of Gelassenheit (as in 83, represented by Chinese characters meaning "don't help to grow"). I'm curious though how to read it against this crucial passage from 87, which I'm convinced must have directly influenced Ronald Johnson:
The tower wherein [Poictiers], at one point, is no shadow,
           and Jacques de Molay, is where?
and the "Section", the proportions
      lending, perhaps, not at interest, but resisting.
Then false fronts, barocco.
           "We have", said Mencius, "but phenomena."
monumenta. In nature are signatures
      needing no verbal tradition,
oak leaf never plane leaf. John Heydon.
           [Selloi] sleep there on the ground
And old Jargeheld there was a tradition,
      that was not mere epistemology.
Mohamedans will remain,—naturally—unconverted
If you remove houris from Paradise
There's a lot to unravel here, but what draws my attention foremost is the notion that nature contains "signatures / needing no verbal tradition". Sagetrieb may be something other than "verbal tradition"; in a 1957 interview Pound spoke of "the intelligence working in nature and requiring no particular theories to keep it alive; a respect that is reborn in a series of sages, from Confucius, through Dante, to Agassiz." But maybe "verbal tradition" is Sagetrieb and Pound's point is that Nature itself has no need for it to achieve its telos of continuous differentiation. In that case, Sagetrieb is only needed by humans as that which mediates their relationship to nature; without it we are left with usury (exchange detached from production) and the devastation of the Rock-Drill. Sagetrieb becomes Pound's word for myth that also encompasses a certain functionality, a way of being distinct from the pursuit of profit (what Lawrence calls "the whole self-preservation system"). What would be interesting for my purposes now would be to examine how Pound models Sagetrieb, not just how he conceptualizes it. My claim for pastoral is that it is a representation of life in touch with nature, not just a wish for that life (all lyric poetry provides an imaginary fulfillment of that wish, but not all lyric poetry creates an image of that fulfillment). And of course Pound's pastoral is constantly compromised by the intrusions of history—not just from without, but from within, in the form of his deformed, anti-Semitic soul.

Lots more to say about Section: Rock-Drill and I may say some of it. But I'm also eager to press on to Thrones de los Cantares. Six-hundred sixty-seven pages down, can you believe it? Only one-hundred fifty-three to go.

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