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Sender: Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
From: Everett Lee Lady <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2000 23:31:09 -1000
Reply-To: Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Parts/Attachments: text/plain (166 lines)
>From:  kevinkKiely <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject:      His nibs
>To:    [log in to unmask]
>Date:  Tue, 18 Apr 2000 11:13:28 -1000
>
>Dear Everett Lee Lady of the sincere syntax
 
Oh my!  With a little work, one could make a church out of that:
Our Lady of the Sincere Syntax.
 
>yes, there is a surfeit of poundian ape-ism on the list?
 
That wasn't quite my point.  I wasn't referring to the obvious aping of
EP's mannerisms by a few people on the list, but rather to the other
contributors who, while vigorously condemning Pound's attitudes, are at
the same time caught up in exactly the same sort of obsessions, except in
mirror-image fashion.
 
It's actually a little like some of one's more tiresome relatives.  No
matter what the subject of conversation, they are always trying to
bring it around to X and Y (to John Kasper and Eustace Mullins, for
instance?)
 
>              Your criticisms are
>valid to this reader. Perhaps he is over bloated by some listomaniacs, but
>not to take from the real poems among his voluminous output (in this humble
>opinion). Mary Pound de Rachewiltz is far less in awe of papa Pound than
>many (having met her). However (again with humility) Pound has, 'deeps in
>him'.
>And the list is useful, maybe like-minded souls can converse here? Not that
>all listers are like-minded or should be....
 
I do agree with you that the list is useful (and sometimes fun!)
 
And there are some very worthy things among Pound's works.  Some of them
worthy in different ways from others.
 
But it baffles me that some people who have decided to make a career of
studying Pound have so little conception of who he actually was.
 
It's a phenomenon that continues to interest me.  Here one has this brash
young rebel, very bright, who breaks all the rules and says some very
astonishing things and creates some very astonishing works.  And people
say, "Yes, he's very bright and very interesting, and there's certainly a
lot of truth in many of the things he says.  But he's very impetuous,
after all, and a lot of what he says is not very well thought-out
and won't stand up to careful examination."
 
And then one day, almost in a single instant, the balance tips and now
he's an old master, and every thing he has ever done or said, no matter
how casually, is considered worthy of deep study.  Over and over
again one sees examples of this.  Jean Cocteau, Martin Scorsese, Salvador
Dali (not to mention Picasso!), Gertrude Stein.
 
EP was an extremely bright young guy who entered the University of
Pennsylvania at the age of 16 (as I recall).  He learned enough Latin to
be able to read it reasonably well with a dictionary, learned enough
Greek to read it laboriously with a dictionary, and had a one year
course in Provencal.  He was easily bored, and once he learned a little
bit about a subject he considered himself an expert at it.  Since most
of his audience knew even less of the languages and the arcane topics
in question than he did, he succeeded in convincing most people that he
was erudite, which he most certainly was not.  He was essentially a
bright young graduate student.
 
He was always big-hearted, but came across to many (especially in his
college years) as being somewhat of a fool and was easy to take advantage
of.  In defense (as I see it), he developed a brash egotistical
overconfident attitude that eventually would take a lot of people in.
 
His enormously energetic overconfidence was, in fact, his biggest virtue.
(That, plus an incredibly good ear for poetry.)  He never stopped to ask
himself, "Now stop; am I really good enough to undertake something like
this?"
 
Instead he set about translating things from languages that he didn't
know at all well.  (Or, in the case of Chinese, that he didn't know at
all.)  The fact that he was tone-deaf didn't stop him from setting
himself up as a music critic and writing an opera.  The fact that he
had no training in art didn't prevent him from publishing art
criticism.  The fact that he had written only a little poetry, most of
it essentially self-published, didn't prevent him from finding a way to
present himself to Yeats as a fellow poet.
 
One thing which he had definitely no talent for was story-telling.  But
this didn't prevent him from setting out to write an epic.  (And since
what he was writing was clearly not an epic, he eventually had to justify
himself by redefining the word.)
 
As a translator, he would get out his dictionaries and his cribs and
start trying to make sense out of a work in a language he didn't know
very well.  Certainly he worked very hard at getting his translations
right, but he couldn't make up for the fact that there were things he
couldn't pick up because he just didn't have enough experience with the
language.  But he would *see* things.  Without being able to completely
work out the way the words in front of him fit together, he would see
something that sparked his imagination, and he would be sure that his
imaginative insight was in fact the true meaning of the text.
 
And readers would see that his translations were beautiful poems.  And
since they were so beautiful, and since almost none of his readers could
read the original languages in any case, people were convinced that they
were true.
 
And, after all, weren't they even better than true?  How many people are
really willing to claim that the translations of Arthur Waley are more
valuable than the poems in CATHAY, or even that they give a better sense
of what Chinese poetry is like?
 
On one level, Pound was a very innovative translator who broke new ground
and changed our whole conception of translation.  And at the same time,
he was an immature translator who hadn't mastered the craft and resorted
to cheap tricks rather than grappling with the real difficulties, and
produced things that were parodies of translation.
 
With Pound, I think that there were always these two different levels
going on.  We were talking here recently about Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, and
although I am scarcely qualified to discuss that poem intelligently, I
think one has to be a little dense not to notice that even while the poem
was a groundbreaking innovation that changed poetry, at the same time
much of it is simply a jejune exercise in cheap cynicism.
 
Pound read one book on Chinese history and considered himself an expert
on the subject and took that one book and transformed it into a series
of cantos.  One doesn't really get any sense at all of Chinese history
from reading these cantos.  And yet...   And yet....  There's something
there that at moments is somehow strangely profound, that one has to
call, for want of a better word, beautiful.
 
In reading the Cantos one has somewhat the same experience that I
believe Pound had when learning a subject.  One doesn't get any
coherent logical sense of the subject, but one gets these occasional
little flashes of something really striking.  The "luminous moment,"
wasn't that Pound's usual term?  Much more fascinating than an
intelligible explanation of the subject would have been.  If the Cantos
had been written in a way that actually made sense, no one would find
much value in them.  (Aside from the various "beauty spots," as EP
eventually liked to call them.)
 
If Pound has just been a little more capable of analytic thinking, a
little more systematic in this study of things....  Then what he would
have given us would have had no value at all!
 
I'm not saying that we shouldn't appreciate Pound's accomplishments.  But
stop taking him so damned seriously.  Appreciate him for what he was: a
very gifted dilettante (except in the craft of creating the poetic line,
where he was truly a master), who had the virtue/misfortune of believing
that he was an expert on any subject as soon as he learned a little bit
about it.
 
If he had been wise enough to realize that his knowledge was completely
inadequate to be translating Chinese and Provencal and, for that matter,
Latin, our world would be lacking a whole lot of very beautiful poetry.
If he had been wise enough to realize that he didn't know nearly enough
about economics and Fascism to be pontificating on them, he wouldn't have
spent most of the end of his life in a bughouse and, most likely, would
eventually have become an honored faculty member at some university
(where he would have been seen as a very prestitious crank).
 
Yes, his daughter Mary came to understand that EP was not a demi-god.
She and Olga Rudge and perhaps James Laughlin and a few others who knew
him well eventually came to see EP for what he had always been
throughout his life:  a big precocious overgrown child.
 
--Lee Lady  Http://www2.Hawaii.Edu/~lady