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- Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Dirk Johnson <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 21 Dec 2001 17:34:31 -0800
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- Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
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Mr. Davis:

You say: "Never have I encountered so many questions begged, so
many assertions substituted for proof, so many denials supplied instead of


Within your original message: "The Cantos is "responsible" for the other
unreadable long
poems of the Modernist era--like Olson's Maximus or Merrill's The Changing
Light at Sandover."

Was this meant as a paradigm for your later (in time) statement?  You did
not prove that Maximus or Sandover is unreadable.  I found Maximus readable
in high-school and Sandover readable a couple of years ago.  You have not
only made an assertion into a proof, you have done so in such an oblique way
that it can't be untangled into more than air. Then you attacked other
people for not giving this air a full analysis with proofs and

Would you also assert, without proof, that, since the Cantos were
"responsible" for their own greatest achievements, Olson and Merrill found
the Cantos to be unreadable?

My goodness!

I prefer to refer to them , i.e., the Cantos, as plural description (there
are how many Cantos?) rather than as a singular title - yet this does not
lead to your reductio of either "one thing or a miscellany"/ "great epic
poem of the 20th century or a complete mess ".  In fact, this
black-and-white way of thinking you employ toward poetry will merely lead
you into binary structures that shrink to infinity without arriving at
anything; cf Zeno. (By the way, you don't think that Zeno's Paradox is a
mooring on the Adriatic, do you?).  You may have missed your calling as a
computer BIOS programmer, the realm of the pure binary.

My goodness!

Do your really expect to be given complete analyses by those responding to
your suggestions when you have either failed or refused to give complete
analyses yourself?  Refer back to your original missive: "... the Cantos is
a failure according to any critical measure we wish to use."

In light of your animadversions concerning the quality of the responses to
this statement by some of the esteemed members of this list (of whom I am
not one, that is, esteemed or OneHavingResponded), one must conclude that
you were merely jesting.  Surely a jest employing such broad-ranging
generalities doesn't require a lengthy and detailed response from critics
whose published work on the subject is readily available. (I don't know
whether or not you've read, e.g., Mr. Pearlman's Barb of Time or not, but if
you wish to engage him, you might at least give the man some respect by
countering assertions he has made there or elsewhere rather than expecting
him to give detailed responses to vague assertions you put forth as fact.)

You proffer as evidence of this failure (that is, Pound's, not Pearlman's)
something slightly more specific: "...a small army of scholars has gained
tenure by annotating its [the Cantos] lines, and that enterprise has taken
fifty years."

Is this the same charge you level at the Iliad to prove that it's a failure?
Virtually every word of the Iliad was annotated by Hellenistic times - by
the time of Plato it had already been worked over more than the Cantos have.
By your reckoning, the Iliad must have been (must be) even more obscure than
the Cantos - people STILL get tenure annotating it -- and it's been nearly
3,000 years since it came to be!

My goodness!  Could this not be a result of people finding the poem

And William Blake?  (My goodness, that wasn't a sentence, was it?) Can you
read him (Blake, that is)?  Since you seem to insist that a long poem be
digestible by some kind of rationalistic system before it can be deemed
readable, I suppose that you would find his e.g., i.e. Blake's, Milton
impossible to read, er, ah.... unreadable.  In this you are in the company
of virtually every critic (with the exception of Swinburne, and even he
found them difficult) before the 20th Century. But I find Blake's Milton
charming and entertaining as well as very clear and - My goodness! -
coherent.  Look under the microscope too long and you may not be able to
identify anything at all (that was a joke for fans of Swinburne's

Do you insist that art follow criticism?  Shall we condemn Shakespeare for
having humor in his tragedies?  Must a 20th Century poet conform to "unity,
wholeness, and variety"?  Come to think of it, you haven't proven that the
Cantos don't fit these criteria which linger in the background of all of
your remarks.  In fact, you seem most put out by the variety of the Cantos.
The gist of your position seems to be: "Since there is too much variety in
the Cantos, there can't be unity or wholeness [coherence, I am not a
demigod, I can not make it cohere]."  But since, due to the teeming variety
of the Cantos, you find them unreadable, why would you even care if they did
match the other two criteria?  Would being supplied with a proof of their
unity and/or wholeness make them readable to you?

And is it that, when you sought to apply the criticism of Horace (perhaps
unconsciously and in varied terminology), you forgot the third term
(variety) while asserting "... the Cantos is a failure according to any
critical measure we wish to use."?

And.... Self-sufficient work of art? Before attacking the Cantos for not
being one, please give me an example of a poem that IS a "self-sufficient
work of art".  Does that mean it doesn't need to be read?  Or does it mean
that it has no direct ties to or dependencies on the culture in which it
arises?  Really, I'd be thrilled to encounter one of these "self-sufficient
work of art".  They must really be something! Is that sort of like a....
like an...  um, er....  I admit it.  I'm at a loss.  I can't think of a
single referent in the universe that is "self-sufficient".  Wow!!
Self-sufficient art!!!! These must be great works indeed!!  Please let me
know what they are so I can encounter them!!!

My goodness!  Can a self-sufficient work of art actually BE encountered?


Dirk Johnson
Assistant Vice President
Kelling, Northcross & Nobriga
A Division of Zions First National Bank