Thursday, June 10, 2004

Really getting into it now. Yesterday I read Eleven New Cantos (31-41), which forecast later nuttinesses: wholesale importation of presidential diariess, Major Douglas' Social Credit, Greek words sparkling with the same luster Heidegger tried to put on them (I think of Heidegger more and more as I read; he and Pound had similar ideas around techne). Learning things about Martin van Buren, a president I never expected to care about; Pound's hero for remarks like "Thou shalt not. . . jail 'em for debt" (Canto 37). More anti-Semitism in Canto 35, what my trot, William Cookson's A Guide to the Cantos of Ezra Pound mincingly calls a "satire, directed agaisnt Viennese Jewish society. . . not narrowly racialist." Oh no? When someone named "Tsievitz / has explained to me the warmth of affections, / the intramural, the almost intravaginal warmth of / hebrew affections, in the family, and nearly everything else...." One could come up with a positive spin on "intravaginal" if one labored hard enough, I suppose, but it's meant to disgust and succeeds. Cookson's apologetics are often hard to take, as in this paragraph explaining Pound's adoration of Mussolini, who appears as "the Boss" (and who finds the Cantos Pound shows him amusing, "divertente"):
It is probably impossible to have the kind of acute perception which Pound possessed without a counterbalancing blindness. In politics he missed much which was obvious to people not "afflicted with genius." But it needs to be pointed out that despite Pound's admiration for Mussoini, the political thought of the Cantos represents an attempt to restore the Anglo-Saxon heritage—it is against unlimited sovereignty and therefore fundamentally anti-fascist. Of such contradictions poems are made.
It's more Cookson's tone than what he says that raises my suspicions and hackles. Because there is indeed evidence of an unfascist, even anarchistic Pound in the Cantos, as in this extract from a letter by John Adams in Canto 33 [the typography here is hard to duplicate]:
Is that despotism
or absolute power...unlimited sovereignty,
is the same in a majority of a popular assembly,
an aristocratical council, equally arbitrary, bloody,
and in every respect diabolical. Wherever it has resided
has never failed to destroy all records, memorials,
all histories which it did not like, and to corrupt
those it was cunning enough to preserve......
Plus there are again the beauties, scattered here and there but sometimes concentrated, as in Canto 39, which evokes the dangers and erotic pleasures of Circe's island:
               there in the glade
To Flora's night, with hyacinthus,
With the crocus (spring
               sharp in the grass,)
Fifty and forty together
               ERI MEN AI TE KUDONIAI [In the spring the quinces]
Betuene Aprile and Merche
               with sap new in the bough
With plum flowers above them
               with almonds on the black bough
With jasmine and olive leaf,
To the beat of the measure
From star up to the half-dark
From half-dark to half-dark
               Unceasing the measure
Flank by flank on the headland
               with the Goddess' eyes to seaward
By Circeo, by Terracina, with the stone eyes
               white toward the sea
With one measure, unceasing:
               "Fac deum!" "Est factus." ["Make God!" "He is made."]
Ver novum! [New spring!]
               ver novum!
Thus made the spring,
Can see but their eyes in the dark
               not the bough that he walked on.
Beaten from flesh into light
Hath swallowed the fire-ball
A traverso le foglie [Through the leaves]
His rod hath made god in my belly
               Sic loquitur nupta [So the bride speaks]
               Cantat sic nupta [So sings the bride]

Dark shoulders have stirred the lightning
A girl's arms have nested the fire,
Not I but the handmaid kindled
               Cantat sic nupta
I have eaten the flame.
He really does try to awaken the gods, doesn't he? Pound's battle-cry is "Damned to you Midas, Midas lacking a Pan!" (Canto IV). The spirit of unexploited nature. Here's where I begin to stitch the idea of Social Credit to pastoral; I don't know enough about economics to understand exactly why it's as nutty as everyone says it is (though I do understand Pound's fatal conflation of use-value with exchange-value, which is what enables him to discredit the labor theory of value; for all his epic reach, Pound wasn't much of a systematizer), but there's something powerful about the notion of "underconsumption"—that there are goods/gods aplenty and we just don't have a fair system of distributing them. One purely pastoral solution to this is Morris' world of artisanship and handicrafts, and Pound pays some homage to this idea. But by lodging the creditor, the usurer, in the position of devil, he ends up praising not just the forces of production but everything to do with production: the capitalist (more often pictured as an aristocrat like Malatesta) is celebrated because he owns the means of production, and his exploitation of the workers goes unnoticed. Douglas Mao, who's on my dissertation committee, makes a brilliant observation about this in his chapter on Pound in his book Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production:
[V]irtually the same take on subject-object relations that serves a Marxist politics when the normative subject is a member of the proletariat can be absorbed by an anti-Marxist, and in this case lingeringly Fascist, agenda when the subject in question belongs to the class of rulers. It is worth recalling, in addition, that Pound's regression to the archaic form of instruction to princes in these cantos [Rock-Drill and Thrones] virtually requires him to neglect the changes in the experience of making engendered by mass production, to imagine techne (against his earlier habit of opposing the artisinal to the industrial) as a mode of knowledge that operates similarly in handicraft, assembly line work, and government. Viewed in relation to the thinking of a Marxist like Lucacs, therefore, this passage shows also how Pound's alignment with Fascism, if in some respects adventitious, was nonetheless supported by a characteristically Fascist transformation of revolutionary rhetoric into a gospel of action founded on historical continuity rather than rupture, and in particular upon an excision (from the center of historical inquiry) of attention to alterations in the conditions of production. (183)
What I find most suggestive here for my own project is the notion of how a critical approach to the operations of capitalism (instrumental reason, quantity absorbing quality, etc.) utterly transforms depending upon the subject position of the critic. Pound's fatal flaw then becomes his identification with rulers rather than the ruled (consider how directly the instincts of a Pound-influenced poet like Oppen run in the opposite direction). But there's something deeply pastoral about this: I think again on Shakespeare's pastoral plays, As You Like It and The Tempest in particular, in which a ruler forced out of power and into nature discovers a new wisdom, even a new power, from his association with nature; and when he returns to power at the end of the play he presumably will carry with him the new knowledge, which will make him a more just or perhaps just more secure ruler. Propsero is an interesting figure because he must renounce the power his ability to read the book of nature has given him before he becomes Duke again; he must drown it. To carry back the power of shaping nature to the throne would certainly turn him into a despot. The best example of pastoral lesson-teaching in Shakespeare comes in the anti-pastoral of King Lear, where exposure to what "poor wretches feel" prompts the king to say, "O, I have ta'en / Too little care of this!" We do get a more genuinely pastoral scene later, when the mad king is dressed in flowers. But this pastoral prepares him for death, not rulership. Hm. Well, it's the germ of an idea, and something may take shape around it today, as I plunge into The Fifth Decad of Cantos, 42-51.

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