A Lotta Light on "a little light"
This is one beautiful book.
Prof. Leon Surette dedicates his critical exegesis of Ezra Pound's CANTOS to
Marshall McLuhan, and McLuhan would be proud of his former student (ca.1962).
McLuhanites may feel Surette does not discuss the role of communication
media sufficiently since McLuhan taught that THE CANTOS OF EZRA POUND, like
FINNEGANS WAKE, is a radio program, not a book - McLuhan wrote that the Wake
"mated book and radio" and the Cantos "mated radio and the printed page".
Surette does give a nod to that level of interpretation by quoting a letter
Pound wrote to his father in 1924 saying as much (Letter to Homer Pound,
November 29, 1924. The Ezra Pound Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale
University). And I would add: this perspective is what makes the Vorticist
Vortex (Lewis, Eliot, Joyce, and Pound - I'm not referring to the artists'
movement known as "Vorticism") in London (1914-25) the most perceptive and
prescient of the many art and intellectual movements to pop up in the global
civil war of that period.
However, not many McLuhanites know or have emphasized that McLuhan puzzled
(see pp.231-40 of LETTERS OF MARSHALL McLUHAN, 1987) over the fascination
for the Eleusinian Mysteries and other occult rituals that obsessed so many
thinking citizens of Europe and North America at the end of the nineteenth
So, it's entirely appropriate that Surette would focus for much of his
literary career on these more hidden themes of his teacher (see Donald
Theall's intellectual biography, THE VIRTUAL MARSHALL McLUHAN, 2002). And
the good news is that Surette has a gratifying terminus for his "40-year
epic research project" (see my reviews of his trilogy on the Vorticist Vortex).
A hundred years ago these four Menippean satirists of London knew the
significance of making a self-shaking "psychic" revelation or experience the
opening motif and archetype of their respective, most puzzling, aesthetic
production (an epyllion, at least, but often a fusion of the "little epic"
and the epic).
It had to be if their works were to speak to the minds and bodies of their
contemporaries who, ever since the telegraph had entered daily experience in
Westerners' lives, had become intrigued with this new strain of spiritual
Surette places his wager on the pattern of the CANTOS spelled out on
pp.284-5 in THE LETTERS OF EZRA POUND, ed. D. D. Paige, 1951. It's a happy
bet as Surette eventually comes to rake in his winnings. Some of his
professional colleagues agree since I understand A Light from Eleusis was
given an award by The Ezra Pound Society in 2001.
An aside: A LIGHT FROM ELEUSIS helped me formulate a new position regarding
Pound's statement that his CANTOS are a failure. I am now proposing that the
four London Vorticists (Vortex) had a secret (unstated, that is) motive to
consciously include failure in their work as they watched the obsolescence
of the Gutenberg arts become obvious before the Gorgon of new technologies
like cinema and radio. Frank Zappa has quite openly carried on the tradition
(see Chapter 18, "Failure", in his autobiography, THE REAL FRANK ZAPPA BOOK,
Now, each of them later betrayed their brothers and revealed their secret in
their respectively idiosyncratic ways.
Pound, since the others had passed on and he was the last one left standing,
allowed himself to be the most blatant in his expose of the secret - just
shoving it in everybody's face while wearing the most Stoic face of defeat
himself... until somebody noticed the wink. Is yours truly that "somebody"?
Well, I am pressed to acknowledge that McLuhan had a chapter in
UNDERSTANDING MEDIA (1964) titled "Challenge and Collapse: The Nemesis of
in other words, all of you writers, poets, artists, and hackers out there:
catch up to the best the 20th Century has to offer... A LIGHT FROM ELEUSIS.
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