|Onan the Librarian|
One hears arguments in support of imperfect heroes that genius will carry their reputations above and over and far, far away from the corrosive and unforgivable aspects and deeds of their lives, a notion I take under advisement for this reason: it depends on the art they create. Pound fails this simplistic criterion for reasons more subjective than they are objectively sustainable, those being that his motivation really wasn't to create things of beauty that even the boob, the numskull, and the drooling poltroon could relate to, but rather power. Bob Perelman, poet and especially astute critic of modernism, pointed out that the difficulty of Pound, Gertrude Stein and others who operated under the assumption that their icon-smashing, perspective dashing, syntax relaxing experiments were going to be the death of the old filters and provide populations with new ways of seeing. Pound, I am sure, wanted the world to see things his way, complexly, nuanced, infinitely connected to the real roiling subject of humanity, which was godless and unguided by nothing else other the critical desire to kick a homeless man in the throat, steal the pennies off a dead uncle's eyes and, most loathsome of all, desire to rule the world for reasons no more significant than what a meal at the cornet spittoon saloon will give you.
But this was something of a bad bet--the more original his vision, the harder it was for him to make people see. So it became more about power, power embedded in a charismatic man who could, through major feats of willpower, transform the landscape, in the world and of the psyche. Readers, viewers, butchers, wives, teachers, witless dregs no longer had a choice to vote with their feet or let their tastes guide their selection; great historical forces were at play. Or at least Pound was running his mouth and sucking up to fascist powers on whom he sought common cause and a large stipend. His poetry seemed odious and thick as bales of mildewed hay, bloodless examples of what his theories were elaborating on. He was a Rush Limbaugh for those intellectuals who fancied themselves better than the rest of the population, who existed solely to annoy them, slow them down.
Eliot, though, is a more slippery sort to grasp. He is negative capability incarnate, the brooding and sad sack Methuselah of the generation that didn't have the patience to wait the years it usually took to be jaded, aristocratically bored, permanently and fashionably melancholic, and on the other hand a closeted racist, homophobic, Jew-baiting ass hole. Anti Semite he was, but he could make you feel his weariness, his loneliness, his sadness that the world was ending badly, becoming a fetid stew of mediocre thinking and piecemeal achievement. He was a great poet and a real pill as a human being. He is someone you would compliment for the stunning brilliance of his language and then try to slam into with your truck as he left work. He was a man you wanted to admire and then spit on. That is greatness.