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Everett Lee Lady <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 14 Sep 1999 23:36:55 -1000
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Almost forty years ago, I made a decision to put my involvement with
Ezra Pound behind me.  This was not so much because I thought that
there was anything wrong about it, but because I decided that it was
important to find my own path in life and that I did not want to go
through life primarily thinking of myself as a Poundite.  ("Poundite" was
the adjective that everyone I knew at that time used.  Now I see that
"Poundian" has become the preferred form.)
So for forty years, I maintained a pretty firm disinterest in things
concerning Pound.  I noted the occasional biographies, glanced through
them in bookstores, looked in the index to see if names I knew (Sheri
Martinelli, John Chatel, Bill McNaughton) were mentioned (usually, but
usually briefly), noticed with relief that my own was not.  I threw
away my letters from Pound, which was just as well because there was
little of interest in them.  (I do regret, however, not having saved
the letters from Sheri, which were much more interesting.)   My signed
copy of KULCHUR got left behind in the library at a commune/school called
Summerlane in upper New York State.
A few years ago, I decided that maybe it was time to remember that time
from my past again and to find out what people now know about it which I
didn't know at the time, to once again become acquainted with
Pound's thought and see whether I now found any value in it, and to
understand more about Pound's poetry than I did at the time --- the
only critical work on the CANTOS then was Hugh Kenner's book, and I
didn't read even that, since it was part of our mystic as Poundites to
despise critics.  When Kenner's name came up, Pound would say, "I've
designated him as the official biographer."   Only recently did I
discover that the cover of THE POETRY OF EZRA POUND should have read,
"By Ezra Pound (as told to Hugh Kenner.)"
I have to say that everything I have learned recently has confirmed
that my decision forty years ago was the correct one.  Nobody seems to
understand much more about EP than they did when he was in St.
Elizabeths, and none of the academics who have made a profession out of
being experts on Pound seem to have any interest in his ideas.
Perhaps that's just as well.  Most of the ideas don't seem to have had
that much value, and a lot of them were just plain foolish.  A recent
subject heading on this mailing list was, "Pound's Fatal Flaw," and
certainly one of EP's fatal flaws was the tendency, once he had
learned a little bit about a subject, to believe that he was an expert
on it.  (I tend to have the same flaw myself, and have learned to be
wary of it.)  The kind of thinking which EP had trained himself in and
which served him so well as a literary critic did not prove equally
valuable in investigating questions of economics, government, politics,
and the like.
Still, you would think that if someone wants to be an expert on Pound,
such a person would try to understand Pound's thinking and his ideas.
Those who contribute to this list certainly don't seem to know anything
about the lesson of Agassiz and the fish, for instance.
Reading this list for several weeks now, and looking at several months of
archived articles, I discover that apparently the most significant
things about Pound are that he was an anti-semite, that he was (or
perhaps was not) a Fascist, and was (or perhaps was not) a traitor.
Oh, and yes, there are some really good lines in his poetry, and he was
a pretty good literary critic.
The idea seems to be that if we can just find the correct labels to pin
on him, then we'll understand who the man was.  And so the arguments
turn on the correct meanings of the labels.  What does "Fascist" really
mean, what is the correct definition of "treason"?  If we just had, it
would seem, a sufficiently comprehensive dictionary, then we would
understand everything about Pound.
In this case, I don't know that I have much to contribute here.  I'm not
an expert on the meanings of words such as "Fascist," "treason" and the
like.  It does seem to me that anti-semitism is not primarily a character
defect, but rather a matter of holding opinions which are based on
incorrect factual information and reasoning, but I don't know that I want
to argue the point.  (I live in a part of the world, incidentally ---
Hawaii --- where ethnic stereotypes and ethnic prejudices are an
essential part of life.  One may try to be free of them, but one can't
ignore their existence.)
What information I can give here may be of interest to only a few,
since it has to do with my actual experience, at the age of 17 and 18,
of what EP was like.  I am no Pound scholar, nor do I have any interest
in being one.  I can give you some of my perceptions of the fish, but I
can't help you in figuring out what labels to pin on him.
It has been suggested that when Pound said, "New York bankers," he meant
this as a code word for "Jews."  From what I knew of EP, I would say
that this has it almost backwards.  Yes, anti-semitism was a constant
background to Pound's conversations (or perhaps it might better to call
them lectures), but over and over again he stressed that the
fundamental and number one issue was economics, and in particular the
monetary system.  I can't claim that this is an actual quote, but I
think he would have said, "If the country could just gain control over
its own money, then the Jews would no longer be such a problem, because
they would have lost their power."   (There was also a suggestion that
re-introducing Greek and Latin into the nation's schools might be a big
help in this respect.)
I think that when people read the radio speeches or material such as
the Agresti letters, with the frequent references to "Jewsevelt,"
etc., they imagine a strident tone of voice.  In fact, a big part of
EP's charisma was that he said these sort of things in a quiet voice of
complete conviction, with a somewhat humorous intonation on words like
"Jewsevelt," and so on.   He talked about Jews in somewhat the same
tone that Repblicans today use in talking about Clinton, or Democrats
in talking about Newt Gingrich.
For the most part, things EP said had a common-sense appeal very
much like that which would later be characteristic of Ronald Reagan or
H. Ross Perot.  One can easily see this in books such as THE ABC OF
I recently read a suggestion that Pound had set aside certain days of the
week at St. Elizabeths for literary visitors, and certain others for
political ones.  This does not correspond to my memory at all.  I
definitely recall being at the hospital almost every day of the week for
at least one summer (1957), and every weekend during the school year.
If some more or less distinguished literary vistor was present, then
naturally Pound would talk primarily about literature, but mostly what
he talked about seemed to depend both on his mood and on questions that
visitors might ask.  I never had any sense that he tried to conceal his
political views from anyone.  Quite the contrary.
When Kasper and Horton started their publishing company (later renamed
the Square Dollar Press after Kasper became notorious), Pound did not
instruct them to publish anti-semitic books.  The only book on their list
even vaguely of this nature was Mullins's book on the Federal Reserve,
and anti-semitism was only a minor theme of that book.
Instead, EP had them publish Fenellosa's monograph on the Chinese
character, Alexander Del Mar's rather curious little book on the history
of currency, the Analects of Confucious, writings of Louis Agassiz, and
maybe one of two other books of similar nature.
It is true that someone among the Pound  circle (not EP himself; most
likely Kasper's ex-girlfriend Nora) gave me a copy of the Protocols and
a few similar anti-semitic books.  I read them, thought they might
conceivably be true, although a lot of the arguments were far from
convincing and some of the claims were quite far-fetched.  In any
case, I did try being an anti-semite for a while, but after a while
just got bored with it.  And later on, when I did notice that someone
among my circle of acquaintances was Jewish, I usually observed that he
seemed to have pretty much the same interests and concerns as I did.
The things I industriously set about learning as a direct result of
recommendations from EP were not a matter of right-wing politics or
anti-semitism.  In addition to the volumes published by the Square
Dollar Press, mentioned above, I contacted a rare book company and
bought Thomas Hart Benton's (not the artist, his father) memoir THIRTY
YEARS IN THE SENATE and Martin van Buren's autobiography.  Benton's
book consisted mostly of transcripts of Senate debates, and was quite
fascinating in its way, but I never did figure out what I had been
intended to learn from it.  Van Buren's autobiography was largely
devoted to settling some now long-forgotten grievance with some other
politicians.  (Something about whether his election as Vice-president
had been valid, as I recall.)   Louis Agassiz's book was mostly devoted
to disputing the theory of evolution, but I don't think that this was
EP's concern.
And of course I read THE LAW OF CIVILIZATION AND DECAY by Brooks Adams
(Henry Adams's older brother), which Pound was constantly recommending.
I later read Spengler by way of comparison.  It seemed to me that
although the two were similar, Spengler was more of a philosopher and
Adams more of a historian.
A few years later, I subscribed to the Congressional Record for at least
a year.  Pound had always claimed that a lot of the nation's
muddle-headedness about government might be cleared up if the
Congressional Record were sold on newstands.  Indeed, reading the
Record is a fascinating experience, but since it doesn't record the
work of Committees, one learns only a limited amount from it about the
legislative process.
The more important way in which EP's influence changed my life was in
the courses I chose to take in college.  I already knew that I was
interested in languages, and had had some French and Latin in high
school.  Because of knowing Pound, and having read the ABC OF READING, I
now took three years of Greek in college, at which point the Classics
Department suggested that I might as well apply for a second Bachelor's
degree in Classics.  (My primary degree was in Mathematics.)  I also took
three years of German, another year of Latin, and a year of classical
Chinese.  (Thank god nobody at the universities I went to taught
In addition, it was EP's influence that made me satisfy my humanities
requirement by taking upper level courses in Chinese History and Greek
and Roman History, rather than some freshman survey courses.
God knows what good any of this ever did me.  But I hope that it will
indicate that there was a little bit more to Pound's interests and
ideas than anti-semitism, Fascism, radio speeches, and a few good lines
of poetry.
--Lee Lady   <Http://www2.Hawaii.Edu/~lady>