Wednesday, June 30, 2004

For my 500th post (huzzay! alarums and excursions!) I thought I'd try to put The Pisan Cantos to bed for now. I've been dwelling on the recurring Latin phrase "aram neumus vult": "the grove needs an altar." Pound's resolutely pagan vision of pastoral in these Cantos (made most explicit by the long lynx passage ending Canto 79) requires the grove or garden to be made sacred, to be a place that invites the gods to return to it. The desire for an altar makes me think of Heidegger's temple as his figure for the artwork that organizes the nature (or "earth") around it, that which "worlds." Here are some excerpts from the passage on the temple in his essay, "The Origin of the Work of Art":
A building, a Greek temple, portrays nothing. It simply stands there in the middle of the rock-cleft valley. The building encloses the figure of the god, and in this concealment lets it standout into the holy precinct through the open portico. By means of the temple, the god is present in the temple. This presence of the god is in itself the extension and delimitation of the precinct as holy precinct....

Standing there, the building rests on the rocky ground. This resting of the work draws up out of the rock the mystery of that rock's clumsy yet spontaneous support.... The temple's firm towering makes visible the invisible space of air. The steadfastness of the work contrasts with the surge of the surf, and its own repose brings out the raging of the sea. Tree and grass, eagle and bull, snake and cricket first enter into their distinctive shapes and thus come to appear as what they are. The Greeks early called this emerging and rising in itself and in all things Phusis. It clears and illuminates, also, that on which and in which man bases his dwelling. We call this ground the earth. What this word says it not to be associated with the idea of a mass of matter deposited somewhere, or with the merely astronomical idea of a planet. Earth is that whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises without violation. In the things that arise, earth is present as the sheltering agent.

The temple-work, standing there, opens up a world and at the same time sets this world back again on earth, which itself only thus emerges as native ground. (Poetry, Language, Thought 41-42)
Now this isn't pastoral—this is a whole aesthetic theory, even a theology. When Pound talks about the grove needing an altar, he's talking about the work of the poet (really the work of the artist, which encompasses the work of the statesman—in Pound's case, unfortunately, that's Mussolini), which is to found a vision of the world. But the how of that founding is significant: Heidegger preaches a worlding that "arises without violation," and he elsewhere opposes this to the spirit of modern technology, which suppresses the qualities of things (the Being of beings) and converts them into resources for exploitation. Heidegger treats technology as an autonomous force, "unconditional production" (PLT 115), the spirit of techne run rampant; his critique is not based on an understanding of capitalism or commodity reification, which is one of his most serious flaws as a critic of modernity (it makes him vulnerable to charges of irrationality and humbug, charges whose seriousness is exacerbated by his Nazism). But in a way, my understanding of modernist pastoral is beginning to depend on the failure, the aporia in the critiques of Pound and Heidegger. Failing to come directly to grips with the beast of capital—failing even to make an accurate picture of it—Pound and Heidegger create potent fantasies of nature as the only source capable of renewing recognizably human values. The poet-thinker goes into nature (into the cage, into the clearing), the source of value both economic (Pound's Monte dei Paschi bank) and cultural (the "worlding" "thinking" that Heidegger equates with "poetry"). Both Pound and Heidegger fetishize thingness, use-value (though Heidegger may be more extreme: Gelassenheit or letting the thing be may mean refraining even from using it, let alone exchanging it). Without a working critique of capitalism (and perhaps, without a collective consciousness--I'll have to think more on that), Heidegger's pastoral gestures toward renewal are dead-ends into the merely personal. After the war and his "turn," Heidegger's Thinker (which he aligns with the terse figure of the Black Forest farmer) is a solitary figure, detached from der Volk (as Adorno detaches himself, violently, from mass culture), letting things be. He does open the path toward environmentalism, though. At his best, Heidegger opens the possibility for mythic, mimetic thought (thought which shelters Being, the thought of letting-be) to check the ravages of instrumental rationality. But he was never a dialectical thinker, and at his worst he simply superimposes myth over the rational. If we would all just go back to speaking ancient Greek, he seems to say, everything would be all right.

But Pound, Roman in many senses, floundering alone in his tent, a disintegrating mass of texts, seems at least to understand what he's missing: he reaches desperately for the bonds of affection. Thus his evocation of the lynx/Dorothy in 79 and this statement near the beginning at 80 (previously falsely attributed to Adams): "Amo ergo sum, and in just that proportion." Canto 80 adventures through Pound's past, stopping at more restaurants (including, significantly, a cafe in London that was turned into a bank), briefly eulogizing "poor old Benito"—but the tone has changed. He is uncertain now, softer, searching, exploring the boundaries of a tautology voiced by Alexandre Dumas:
The young Dumas weeps because the young Dumas
has tears
     Death's seeds move in the year
                                   semina motuum
          falling back into the trough of the sea
          the moon's arse been chewed off by this time
semina motuum
     "With us there is no deceit"
                  said the moon nymph immacolata
                  Give back my cloak, hagoromo.
                  had I the clouds of heaven
                      as the natuile borne ashore
                  in their holocaust
                      as wistaria floating shoreward
with the sea gone the colour of copper
     and emerald dark in the offing
Hagoromo is a Noh play about an Ariel-like nymph who loses her magical cloak and does a dance signifying the phases of the moon to get it back; some commentators have seen Noh as a model for the Cantos, a solution to the problem of writing a long Imagist poem. The problem is addressed from another direction late in the Canto, with the repetition of a phrase attributed to Aubrey Beardsley: "Beauty is difficult, Yeats." This difficulty is not merely aesthetic; rather, it is the difficulty of bringing the aesthetic into the political. The connection to Yeats harks back to much earlier in the Canto, where Yeats' membership in the Irish Senate is recalled:
the problem after any revolution is what to do with
your gunmen
as old Billyum found out in Oireland
         in the Senate, Bedad! or before then
         Your gunmen thread on moi dreams
         O woman shapely as a swan,
Your gunmen tread on my dreams
Whoi didn't he (Padraic Colum)
         keep on writing poetry at that voltage
"Whenever you get hold of one of their banknotes
(i.e. an Ulster note) burn it"
                  said one of the senators
                  planning the conquest of Ulster
This he said in the Oirish Senate
         showing a fine grasp of...
                  of possibly nothing,
If a man don't occasionally sit in a senate
         how can he pierce the darrk mind of a
Now, it could be that Pound has legitimate reasons (within his kooky system) for denigrating the unnamed senator's (neither Yeats nor Colum [another poet] but certainly associated with them) proposal, but I'm tempted to read the breakdown signified by those ellipses as Pound's loss of confidence in his own critique. This gets turned around by a kind of protest: why wasn't he, Pound, a senator? Why don't poets have real power? But perhaps when poets do, they end up attacking money (like Pound himself), unable to free themselves from fetishization, from nominalization. Yeats the "smiling public man" is a warning to Pound: beauty is difficult and the more so in government. There may be in fact no place in government for the beautiful. Pastoral provides a flight out of government and history into beauty—but Pound is alone there with the shades: "[Only shadows enter my tent / as men pass between me and the sunset,]".

So I see I've completely failed to dispose of the Pisans entirely. Next time I'l make another push, at least through the "what lovest well" canto—the emotional climax of this decad. I'm curious as to how this beginning of a withdrawal from meddling in political affairs will be reconciled with the "advice to princes" that the bulk of the remaining Cantos are said to consist of. Perhaps it will be a floating antimony. Or perhap Pound's renunciation will be incomplete.

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