Monday, June 21, 2004

Well into the Pisan Cantos now. (Can't help but hear Helium's high-pitched, delighted "Peeeesans!") It's easy to get fed up with the apologia for Mussolini in the first Canto, 74, not to mention this truly vile bit—remember, it's 1945:
from their seats the blond bastards, and cast 'em.
    the yidd is a stimulant, and the goyim are cattle
in gt/ proportion and go to saleable slaughter
with the maximum of docilitv.
Okay, that last word is a delicious pun (was Pound aware of television? It was around, but the culture of television that makes "docilitv" work as a pun really wasn't). And Pound may not have known about the death camps yet. But it's almost enough to make me want to throw the book across the room and say the hell with Pound. How strange, though, to be here at the Bookery and pick up Laurie Elrick's book sKincerity, which wears its progressive and feminist politics on its sleeve (its skin), and recognize the verse form (page as field + citation) that Pound more or less invented. From "Serial Errant":

Towns used to sue to keep prisons out
          (This won't hurt a bit now, just a little . . .)


          "We need
          J-O-B-S jobs . . .

          and a CURE (citizens united
          for the rehabilitation of

          to keep our uh . . . heh heh . . .
          hotels full."

(Crack / Down but
market's a
Who knows how much Pound, if any, Elrick's read (actually she's reading in Ithaca this Saturday at 4 PM at the Lost Dog Cafe with Rodrigo Toscano, so maybe I'll ask her). But I think she offers as good an example as any as to how pervasive Pound's techniques have become in the service of writers with progressive or radically leftist agendas. Really I suppose it's the "including history" part that works so strongly, and the diminuition of the authority of the "I" that happens when you import others' texts. Of course in Pound the diminuition of authority can start to seem like an evasion of responsibility. Many of the statements that might be construed as expressions of regret or remorse are masked by being rendered in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, or what have you. The Greek word "Dakruon" meaning "weeping" or "of tears" appears three times in one line in Canto 76—but who is weeping, and for what cause? Immediately following this comes the cryptic "L. P. gli onesti" which Sieburth glosses as "L[aval]. P[etain]. the honest [or honorable ones]." You don't have to know very much about WWII to know that "honor" is not the first epithet anyone but a die-hard Fascist sympathizer could ascribe to Marshal Petain. (There's just the glimmer of the possibility of irony here, as in Marc Antony's "honourable men," but I doubt it.) Immediately following, however:
                              J'ai eu pitie des autres
probablement pas assez, and at moments that suited my own convenience
                         Le paradis n'est pas artificiel,
                                   l'enfer non plus.
Paradise is not artificial, nor is hell. What are we to make of this repurposed Baudelaire, coming as it does after praise for Fascist collaborators and Pound's muttered admission to his own failures of compassion? Paradise is not to be made by man (and this brings us to the problem of who is addressed by the famous repeated line, "Pull down thy vanity," which I'll get to later this week)? Paradise is real, and the hell of Pisa is real? Are paradise and hell being asserted as transcendencies beyond human action and influence, or they immanent to human experience, part of our nature? I have no answers as of yet. But he owns his remorse with the "Je," while elsewhere expressions of grief stand half-mute and isolated: "lisciate con lagrime / politis lachrymis [Grk. WEEPING]".

In Canto 76 there's a grudging revision of the disrespectful synagogue scene in Canto 12 that I complained about a few weeks ago. Pound's paganism strains to make a democratic turn when he retrieves the phrase "each on in the name of his god" from the Hebrew bible (Micah 4:5) so as to open a channel for Jews to participate in his kind of religiosity, which is a polytheism of texts opposed to monotheist beliefs:
So that in the synagogue in Gibraltar
     the sense of humour seemed to prevail
     during the preliminary parts of the whatever
but they respected at least the scrolls of the law
          from it, by it, redemption
A little lower down he admits "there is no need for the Xtns to pretend that / they wrote Leviticus." Not my favorite piece of the Torah, but here Pound shows a glimmer of respect for Jewish texts and textual practices. His hatred of the Talmud seems deeply perverse, given the Talmudic explosion of interpretations and constellary texts that The Cantos both invites and is. But that blindness is probably typical of a) Pound's probably psychosis and b) the tendency of anti-Semites to use Jews as a repository for disclaimed parts of their own ego: their perceived weakness, effeminacy, uncleanness, what have you. This is I believe the basic argument of Robert Casillo's book The Geneology of Demons, which should probably be required reading for any would-be Poundian. This doesn't reduce Pound's culpability, or my absolute contempt for his beliefs. But I feel strangely sympathetic toward him too. He was so lost, and he put so much faith in books, to the point of believing his literary company would save not only himself from loneliness but the entire world from the inhumanities of capitalism. (And I think Pound's progressive impulses are genuine when they manifest as a critique of capitalism and not simply as the reactionary rejection of modernity—that perhaps is how he could call himself a "leftist Fascist.") That's the kind of idealism I recognize, somewhat uncomfortably, within myself, and within many of the writers I admire.

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