Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ezra Pound the Mountebank

Onan the Librarian
Ezra Pound is a traitorous, spunk-stained groin polisher with at least two ideas that have traveled well through the decades. Otherwise, he is a ball of congealed grease, dust, and hair you pull out of your brush, an utterly unusable poet. Pound was a lousy writer besides. Reading him is like taking a bullet in the bidness. Eliot, however, was a terrific poet quite apart from his grouchy affectations of upper-class Royalism. The writing remains evocative, ironic, with a tangible melancholy and despair that makes one want to live life fuller than they had been. He might have gained much by having a hard one crease his private channel, but then we will never know; all I know is that Eliot's poems still get the heat to the meat.

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 instead power. Bob Perelman, poet and an incredibly astute critic of modernism, pointed out the difficulty of Pound, Gertrude Stein. These writers 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 transform the landscape, in the world, and the psyche through major feats of willpower. 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 significant 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 the brooding,sad-sack Methuselah of the generation that lacked 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, loneliness, and sadness that the world was ending badly, becoming a fetid stew of mediocre thinking and piecemeal achievement.  He was a great poet and a natural pill as a human being. He is someone you would compliment for the stunning brilliance of his language and then try to slam into your truck as he left work. He was a man you wanted to admire and then spit on. That is greatness.


  1. Jude D. Root12:55 PM PST

    Eliot's fascist leanings are all the most insidious because of the excellence of his craft as a poet. I suspect he would be the first to say that one cannot separate the moral value of a writer's content from the skill of his craft. That is why Eliot should be reprehensible to anyone who admires modern-day standards of tolerance and cultural diversity. Eliot utilized the fragmentation and rootlessness of the modern world to highlight his yearning to return to a medieval Christian/monarchist society -- complete with fear and mistrust of Jews and other outsiders. Such a desire is naive at best; at worst, it buys into theories of cultural purity that have genocidal implications. Pound was a nut-job, but at least he couldn't hide his madness behind his art. Pound should be appreciated with care; admiring him is not healthy.

  2. Pound was a self-hating thug and bullshitting bully. He has his pseudo-intellectual knock-off-supremacist admirers. Sicko-phants.

    Eliot, aside from "Prufrock" and his cat poems, was a charlatan, a fraud. (It was easy for him to get published by Faber: he was an editor at Faber.) Were his complete works -- sans those noted -- published honestly, they would be printed in invisible ink, for that is the weight and merit of their "substance".

    None of which is a knock on "Modernism," the de-colonization of US literature (Karl Shapiro) from the European and British oppressions, to which latter both Pound and Eliot aligned themselves as anti-democratic expatriates.

    1. Hello JNagarya. Thanks for the response. I agree with your general opinion of Pound, who I think was politically reprehensible and one of the worst major poets of the 20th century. Traitor, reactionary, race-baiter, I have no sympathy for a man who's ambition had more to do with having power and influence over whole populations rather than poetry itself. He was, though, an idea man about the craft and art of the poem, and some of his criticism remains relevant. The way we discuss the quality and function of the image and the modifiers that do and do not attend it in context draw heavily from his notions about ridding ourselves of the weight of literary history and devising a poetics that can can help the reader perceive the world in new ways. Pound didn't want ot stop there, of course, he desired to rule the world and aspired to be The Boss. Bully and self-aggrandizing creep he may have been (and traitor) but some of ideas, at least, had value.

      Eliot was a in league with Pound as anti-semite and race baiting neurotic who disguised his bigotry in a tradition of genteel Classicism, but I will defend him as a poet; too much of his images, his cadences, his drifting allusions hit the mark ; he is one of those writers who had an especially strong gift for getting the elusive essence of alienation , dread, spiritual desolation in a dehumanizing culture in his poems without turning them into padded, freighted dissertations. It is one of the tragedies of contemporary literature that Eliot, whom I think is one of the strongest poets of the last century, should happen to be, politically,a callous and malicious monster.


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