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Jeff Twitchell-Waas <[log in to unmask]>
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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 24 Jul 1998 01:00:18 +0800
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The posts by Lucas Klein and Robert Kibler I find stimulating and
informative, although I cannot resist playing devil's advocate. I recall
Joseph Safdie's original point and query, that it highly appealing to think
of Pound as a closet Taoist but how much do we gain from this in terms of a
critical public discussion of the Cantos?
Kibler offers a neat thumbnail of what is essentially Taoist in Pound: an
"insistence on poetic movement or fluency itself—a fluency temporarily
locked in the details of material and conceptual forms, yet existing
simultaneously outside of material form." But there are other obvious
sources for such an orientation closer to home, such as Pound's
neo-platonic interests, metamorphic polytheistic strands that appear so
prominently in the very earliest Cantos, or American transcendentalism as
already mentioned. Pound hardly had to look to the East to find ample
examples of heterodox counter-discourses, the collection of which was
well-nigh a compulsion with him. He had no difficulty finding traditions of
poetic thinking or poetical argumentation in the West. That he incorporated
China into his own counter-discourse in major and complex ways is
unquestionably the case, yet I'm doubtful that Chinese philosophy
fundamentally altered his thinking and attitudes early or late. It strikes
me as more to the point to ask how he Orientalized (that is, Westernized)
his Chinese materials. 
Klein quotes a number of well-known and lovely passages, but why these are
specifically Taoist is merely asserted. The most substantial passage from
Canto 74 is largely a translation or paraphrase from Confucius (or is it
Mencius?). As I mentioned previously and Kibler usefully elaborated on,
given the syncretic tendency of Chinese intellectual traditions, there is
little reason Pound would have had to go beyond his Confucian reading to
pick up these purportedly Taoist elements. But why insist on specifically
labeling these elements/moments Taoist rather than as contained in
Confucianism as Pound undoubted would have insisted? Is the problem a too
narrow or dogmatic or prejudicial understanding of Confucianism, at least
as Pound understood it?
The suggestion taken from Hansen that Taoism is a "terrorist political
philosophy" set in opposition to Confucian regimentation seems to me
actually to be moving closer to Pound's conception. I tried to suggest
previously that Pound sketches a historical-political paradigm that sets
Confucianism and Taoism as antithetical tendencies in practice. When it
comes to ideas into action, Pound felt the former resulted in responsible
governance and the latter did not. Defining the Taoist as deconstructivists
would hardly have endeared them to him. He was not interested in some
academically correct understanding of philosophical Taoism, and that was
certainly not what he was designating when he used the term in the Cantos.
To the degree that important aspects of Pound's thinking/sensibility are
congruent with Taoism, he did not need Taoism to acquire them. For one,
they are already within Confucianism—and in much preferable form as well as
far as Pound would be concerned because they appear within a framework of
social and pragmatic responsibility—call it social order, if you like.
Whether or not the latter appeals to us or not, it would be a bit perverse
to deny it did to Pound.   
In principle, I don't object to the idea of approaching the Cantos as a
Taoist work or as one moving toward Taoism, if one finds that personally
meaningful. I happen to think that the more positive impulses in the poem
are in fierce struggle with the more negative impulses, as I think Alex
Schmitz was pointing out (though, I'd want to credit Robert Duncan rather
than Kenner with this perception)—and that the former are frequently
repressed by the latter. But what concerns me is the temptation to repress
or somehow subsume all those other often more unpleasant or at least
certainly troubling elements of Pound's work. I also wonder if as
Westerners we're moving toward a better understanding of Taoism by trying
to insist Pound is a devotee despite himself. 
Jeff Twitchell-Waas