The Ever-Enigmatic Ezra Pound: From Foreign Languages to Fascism

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Does anyone know how hard it is to get a hold of Ezra Pound’s Cantos? I mean, they don’t even have the damn thing on eBook and they have everything on eBook these days. Since I have boycotted Amazon for their unacceptable treatment of Hachette, the less popular titles I’m after have started to seem less attainable. (While Amazon is a nasty monopoly who is literally squeezing money out of the fragile publishing industry, they have an unparalleled selection.) But as a principled book buyer, I went to Strand, talked to a human, ordered the book, waited two days (agony), and picked it up. I sort of felt like Ezra Pound was playing hard to get.

I liked Ezra Pound ever since I read this quote: “Use either no ornament or good ornament.” I’m entirely guilty of the occasional mediocre ornament, but this simple, straightforward statement on writing made me feel an immediate kinship with him. Then I started reading his biography…

Ezra Pound was a fascist. He supported Hitler and Mussolini, wrote for fascist publications, and was prosecuted as a traitor of the United States of America. How could I possibly like a poet like that!?

But that raises the question, do you have approve of the artist to like the art?

The recent Wood Allen Controversy has made many avid fans answer this question. After his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow came forward with an open letter accusing Allen of sexual abuse, fans and colleagues had to decide if this mattered. Are Allen’s films now ruined because he’s a bad person? People don’t argue if Allen’s films are good. Everyone knows they are. But does his personal life change the way we feel about them?

I decided I could live with Ezra Pound’s political past, separate the poems from the poet. The poems are good. Undeniably good, but they’re also pretentious and alienating. Pound alludes to obscure figures in classical mythology and switches without warning into Italian and Greek. The reader gets the feeling that he’s got something to prove. I wish my hard-to-get copy was footnoted, but even without fully understanding the content of Pound’s poems I am still drawn to them. I sit in my room, reading the poems aloud, feeling delight at the lines that are just perfect. Below is my favorite Canto thus far.

 

Canto V

Great bulk, huge mass, thesaurus;

Ecbatan, the clock ticks and fades out

The bride awaiting the god’s tough; Ecbatan

City of patterned streets; again the vision:

Down in the viae stradae, toga’d the crowd, and arme’d,

Rushing on the populous business,

And from parapet looked down

And North was Egypt

The celestial Nile, blue deep

Cutting low barren land,

Old men and camels

Working the water-wheels;

Iamblichus’ light,

The souls ascending

Sparks like a partridge covey,

Like the “ciocco”, brand struck in the game.

“Et omniformis”: Air, fire, the pale soft light.

Topaz I manage, and three sorts of blue;

But on the barb of time.

The fire? Always, and the vision always,

Ear dull, perhaps, with the vision, flitting

And fading at will.     Weaving with points of gold,

Gold-yellow, saffron…     The roman shoe, Aurunculeia’s

And come shuffling feet, and cries “Da nuces!

“Nuces!” praise, and Hymenaeus “brings the girl to her man”

Or “here Suxtus had seen her.”

Titter of sound about me, always

And from “Hesperus…”

Hush of the older song: “Fades light from sea-crest,

“And in Lydia walks with pair’d women

“Peerless among the pairs, that ones in Sardis

“In satieties…

Fades the light from the sea, and many things

“Are set abroad and brought to mind of thee”

And the vinestocks lie untended, new leaves come one the shoots,

North wind nips on the bough, and seas in heart

Toss up chill crests,

And the vine stocks lie untended

And many things are set abroad and brought to mind

Of thee, Atthis, unfruitful.

The talks ran long into the night.

And from Mauleon, fresh with a new earned grade,

In maze of approaching rain-steps, Poicebot—

The air was full of women,

And Savairic Mauleon

Gave him his land and knight’s fee, and he wed the woman.

Came lust of travel on him, of romerya;

And out of England a knight with slow-lifting eyelids

Lei fassa furar a del, put glamour upon her…

And left her an eight months gone

“Came lust of women upon him,”

Poicebot, now on north road from Spain

(Sea-change, a grey in the water)

And in small house by town’s edge

Found a woman, changed and familiar face;

Hard night, and parting at morning.

 

And Pieire won the singing, Pieire de Maensac,

Song or land on the throw, and was dreitz hom

And had De Tierci’s wife and with the war they made:

Troy in Auvergnat

While Menelaus piled up the curch at port

He kept Tyndarida.   Dauphin stood with de Maensac.

 

John Borgia is bathed at last.           (Clock-tick pierces the vision)

Tiber, dark with the cloak, wet cat gleaming in patches.

Click of the hooves, through garbage,

Clutching the greasy stone. “And the clock floated.”

Slander is up betimes.

But Varchi of Florence,

Steeped in a different year, and pondering Brutus,

Then Σιγα μαλ ανΘις σεντεραν!

“Dog-eye!!”” (to Alessandro)

“Whether for love of Florence,” Varchi leaves it,

Saying  “I saw the man, came up with him at Venice,

“I, one wanting the facts,

“And no means labor… Or for a privy spite?”

Our Benedetto leaves it,

O empia? For Lorenzaccio had thought of stroke in the open

But uncertain (for the Duke went never unguarded)

“And would have thrown him from the wall

“Yet feared this might not end him,” or lest Alessandro

Know not by whom death came, O se credesse

“If when the foot slipped, when death came upon him,

“Lest cousin Duke Alessandro think he had fallen alone,

“No friend to aid him falling.”

Caina attende.

The lake of ice there below me.

And all of this, runs Varchi, dreamed out beforehand

In Perugia, caught in the star-maze by Del Carmine,

Cast on a natal paper, set with an exegesis, told,

All told to Alessandro, told thrice over,

Who held his death for a doom.

In abuleia.      But Don Lorenzino

Whether for love of Florence…but

“O se morisse, credesse caduto da sé”

Σιγα σιγα

Schiavoni, caught on the wood-barge,

Gives out the afterbirth, Giovanni Borgia,

Trails out no more at nights, where Barabello

Prods the Pope’s elephant, and gets no crown, where Mozarello

Takes the Calabrian roadway, and for ending

Is smothered beneath a mule,

a poet’s ending,

Down a stale well-hole, oh a poet’s ending.           “Sanazarro

“Alone out of all the court was faithful to him”

For the gossip of Naples’ trouble drifts to North,

Fracastor (lightning was midwife) Cotta, and Ser D’Alviano,

Al poco giorno ed al gran cerchio d’ombra,

Talk the talks out with Navighero,

Burner of yearly Martials

(The slavelet is nourned in vain)

And the next comer says “Were nine wounds,

“Four men, white hourse. Held on the saddle before him…”

Hooves clink and slick on the cobbles.

Schiavoni…cloak… “Sink the damn thing!”

Splash wakes that chap on the wood-barge.

Tiber catching the nap, the moonlit velvet,

A wet cat gleaming in patches.

“Se pia,” Varchi,

“O empia, ma risoluto

“E terribile deliberazione.”

Both sayings rule in the wine,

Ma se morisse!

The Solitude of Self: Thinking About Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Vivian Gornick

ImageVivian Gornick succeeds in writing a biographical account of Elizabeth Cady Stanton that captures her very essence as a woman and an activist. Gornick argues that Stanton’s radical position “among radicals” makes her the most forward thinking feminist thinker of the nineteenth century, one whose ideas gave birth to the present ideals of feminism. However the ambitiousness of her goals for women did not always lead to admiration by her peers. Indeed her decision to fight for suffrage in the late eighteen forties caused her fellow activist and friend Lucretia Mott to initially exclaim, “O Lizzie, thou wilt make us ridiculous.” (41) In her own time, Elizabeth was seen as erratic and impractical, sometimes even racist and insensitive. Gornick notes, “She hardly ever spoke before she thought, but she always spoke without consultation or strategic consideration.” (46) It is this lack of “strategic consideration” replaced with pure passion that led her to say things like, “for the negro can be raised to the dignity of a voter if he possess himself of $250; the lunatic can vote in his moments of sanity; and the idiot too, if he be a male one…” (51) Though her contemporaries judged her harshly, it was her unbridled enthusiasm for women’s rights and individualist spirit that make her such an essential figure for present-day American feminists. Indeed Gornick goes as far as to say, “We are beginning where she left off.” (16)

In her first chapter, “1840 to Begin With,” Gornick begins with Stanton’s stepping down from her position of president of the National Woman Suffrage Association with her “The Solitude of Self” speech. She explains that Stanton felt distant from her beloved cause because of the “kind of single issue, nuts-and-bolts politics she had come to deplore.” (4) For Stanton, pragmatism was less important than principle, thus she felt isolated in this practical, lifeless environment. The book begins with a perceived failure or surrender, yet then continues to Gornick’s own personal journey in feminism, recounting experiences of sexism, “I remembered my young husband and me talking for hours about what we would do with the future, both clearly taking it for granted that his life was to be our life.” (12) Gornick argues that contemporary American feminists share the ideals of the once perceived radical Stanton. “Reading Elizabeth Stanton,” Gornick remarks, “made me feel on my skin the shock of realizing how slowly (how grudgingly!) politics in the modern world has actually moved…” (16) Though Stanton was born nearly one hundred years before Gornick, their politics are incredibly similar.  The fact that some people today may even see Gornick as a radical in the twenty-first century, demonstrates how much of an extremist Stanton must have seemed to be.

In her chapter “Radical Among Radicals,” Gornick highlights how even in a movement seen as radical, Stanton’s goals were more ambitious than the rest. Ironically in one way Stanton was a “true woman.” She was a diligent mother of seven, and looked like a modest grandmother from a fairly early age. However she was certainly neither submissive nor pious. She detested religion as she felt it was the institution that most prevented women from advancing. She regarded religion as an “old and worn-out theology full of bigotry and prejudice.” (121) This was not true of some of her peers; Susan B. Anthony was a very pious Quaker. Stanton’s speaking out against Christianity in that period of time was to court public hatred. Stanton spoke openly in favor of divorce causing scandal for the National Woman Suffrage Association. The New York Observer wrote about Stanton, “no true woman could listen to what had been said without turning scarlet, yet words that would turn the world into one vast brothel had been read unblushingly by a person in woman’s attire, named in the programme as Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” (67) Though her radicalism may have been a perceived danger to her cause, she never agreed to compromise her own beliefs. Without this strength or stubbornness, it is unclear is modern feminist would be what it is today. Stanton pushed boundaries that no one else was willing to, and therefore remains incredibly pertinent and influential today.

The final chapter “From There to Here” focuses on the far-reaching consequences of Stanton’s politics for modern feminists and an explanation of why feminism is American. She argues the Emersonian ideal of self-reliance is a distinctly American phenomenon, “That famous American loneliness, with its fierce credo of self-reliance, has time and time again become a source of collective dissident strength. It allows us to stay the course of alienation when a protracted action is required to fulfill the (broken) promise of inclusiveness into which the country was born.” (131) Citizens of countries like Israel who are built on the bedrock of family are unable to see themselves as pure individuals the way Americans do.  In Stanton’s “The Solitude of Self Speech” she speaks of the isolation and loneliness that perhaps gave her the bravery to speak as openly as she did. Her ability to fight for her own beliefs without concern for the immediate consequences for the National Woman Suffrage Association make it clear that she perhaps had “the long view” in mind.  Stanton’s individualist tactics allowed her to become the most influential female activist for woman’s rights in the 19th century: a model and an inspiration.

The Vengeful Villain and the Guilt Ridden Tyrant: A Comparison between Shakespeare’s Richard III and Pushkin’s Boris Gudunov

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Boris, the protagonist of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov and Richard of Shakespeare’s Richard III are vastly different characters despite their similar aspirations.  Both wish to occupy a throne that is not rightfully theirs and both succeed by killing those people who are obstacles to that goal.  Although parallels can be drawn from their actions, their characters greatly differ in their emotional state.  While Boris is racked with guilt and haunted by visions of his victims, Richard is cool and calculated and feels justified in his evil acts.  These character traits are particularly visible in their soliloquies.

In Boris Godunov’s soliloquy, he complains how although he is Tsar, he is still unhappy. “This is the sixth year of my peaceful reign. But my heart has had no happiness.” (Line 2-3) He is not satisfied with his reign, because he is plagued by guilt.  His conscience will not let him rest.  He is despondent and says, “Nothing can assuage our sorrows in this world; nothing, nothing…except perhaps our conscience. When healthy, it triumphs over evil.” (Line 39-42) He is completely unable to be satisfied with his position that he sacrificed so much for.  He is haunted by his past evils, especially the murder of the young Dimitry, “Bloody little boys before your eyes…” (Line 50)  He concludes that, “He’s pitiful whose conscience is not clean.” (Line 52) In can be inferred that Boris finds the atrocities committed not worth the position he has gained.  He now realizes that a clean conscience is more valuable.

In contrast with Boris’ guilt, Richard feels his evil deeds are completely justified. He feels he is entitled to a bit of revenge because of his deformity.  “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, /deformed, unfinished, sent before my time/ into this breathing world scarce made half made up.” (Line (19-21) He feels that because he was deformed, his killings allow for a wicked sort of justice.  He chooses wickedness, in a calculated decision.  “I am determined to play a villain.” (Line 30)  He knows his actions are wrong and evil, however he feels no remorse whatsoever.  In his mind, the evil he is responsible for is justified because he was forced to bear his deformity.  He is well aware that he is evil, “And if King Edward be as true and just/ As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,” (Line 36-37) yet he feels no remorse.  He takes odd pleasure in his knowledge that he is evil and cunning, not good.  He is hardly haunted by his guilt as Boris is.

Although Boris and Richard are similar in that they usurp the throne by killing innocent people, their feelings about these actions are vastly different.  Boris feels guilt and regret at his actions and therefore cannot enjoy his position. Richard in contrast feels his actions were justified.  Because of his disfigurement, he feels he has the right to be evil.  He is comfortable with his role as the villain while Boris struggles with it.  Richard revels in his poisoned character and Boris is destroyed by his.  Although there are certainly parallels between the two characters, their emotional state is vastly different.

Sexual Politics by Kate Millet

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In high my high school yearbook a select few students are given a superlative; most likely to skip class, best smile, class clown etc. I won most likely to be president along with my friend Keith Pence (a boy and a girl won each). The day we found out, one of the ugliest guys in our class approached me and said through his crooked teeth, “Well you’d have to be VP.” When I asked him why, he responded as though it was obvious. “Because you’re a girl.”

Now if this ogre had given me a valid reason why I’d be a lack-luster president I might have backed down. You’re too cranky, or selfish would have been sufficient, but the fact that he used my gender as a handicap hit me the wrong way. After pushing him in the hallway, I proceeded to try and run him down in the school parking lot with my Toyota Rav4 (not my proudest hour). Here’s the thing. As a woman in American society, I haven’t felt that things are going to be easy for me. Employers are wary of hiring me because I may be pregnant in a few years. Could I do the job better than the next mediocre male who walks through the door? Probably. But my gender has held me back in success, and it isn’t for lack of intelligence or effort.

Again in high school, I was held to yet another double standard. After a heated debate in my government class about whether women should be allowed to fight in the military, I had heard just about enough. A kid who I had known since elementary school had revealed particularly sexist tendencies, pontificating about the physical weakness of women. Thinking I’d show him weakness, I slapped him across the face twice. Of course my government teacher saw and the next thing I knew I was sitting in the dean’s office.

“You’re going to have to call a parent.”

“Okay…can a choose which parent?”

“Well…yeah…”

“Okay, great.”

I told my dad what had happened. “I hit someone in class.”

“Boy or girl?”

“Boy.”

“He deserve it?”

“Yep.”

“You hit him hard?”

“Yep.”

“We don’t have to tell your mom about this.”

Feeling relieved with my dad’s reaction I sat comfortably back in the deans office chair. The female dean said to me, “You know, I know how you feel. This high school is a bit of a boy’s club. You know if you were a boy, you would be getting detention for this, but since you’re a girl, we’ll let you off with a warning.”

Seriously?

The whole reason I was in that office was for trying to defend my gender, and here again I am treated differently. I told her that I wanted the detention. I served it, and frankly I consider that blot on my record a battle scar in the war of gender rights.

Sexism is imbedded so deeply in our culture that it is hard to find the exact origin. Kate Millet in Sexual Politics explores this phenomenon in several disciplines including psychology, anthropology, sociology, and finally literary influences. Though there is no clear solution for the problem of sexism, understanding the basis of out culture’s understanding of gender is essential in moving forward. I highly recommend this book to both males and females to better understand the gender politics of current society.

A World of Difference: An Anthology of Short Stories from Five Continents Edited by Lynda Prescott

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Dear Readers,

I profusely apologize for my month long absence. What with finals and travel I was lacking blogging time. Having just returned from a year in the U.K., I would like to devote this post to the affect of cultural nationality in writing.  The Anthology A World Of Difference along with my year long expat experience has made me realize the enormous influence one’s nationality has on the art they produce.

A World of Difference is an Anthology of short stories that focuses on cultural encounters and differences. Writers featured hail from South Africa to Kentucky, from Cuba to Cork. The diversity of the geographical locations and cultures is echoed in the writing of each. After leaving my homeland for a year, the reason behind this variety has become obvious.  I had to leave America to realize how deep that part of my identity was ingrained.

As individuals, our identities are incredibly complex. Our gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic background, interests, and heritage all play a role in defining our place in society. A rich gay Swedish democratic atheist male interested in fashion living in New York has very little in common with a poor straight Irish Catholic female interested in shooting living in Arkansas, and yet both of these individuals have been brought up in the same nation that is at one divided and united. They have been raised with American values and though they may seem to share little, that national identity is much more powerful than one realizes.

I wouldn’t say I was especially patriotic before I left. Yes, I worshiped at the alter of the great Bruce Springsteen, I voteed, I rooted for the US in the Olympics, and relished the story of the Revolutionary War, yet I didn’t get teary during the pledge of allegiance, I didn’t read the US news everyday, and I toyed with the idea of leaving the US for a period longer than a year. That was until I lived abroad this year. Don’t get me wrong; I adored my time at St. Andrews. I met some of the best friends I will every make, but my time apart from America made me appreciate all of the wonderful things about our nation that I took for granted. America is the nation I grew up in, the one in which I formed my values, and whether I realized it or not, my nationality was a huge part of my identity.

The same is true for other nations. Each culture has it’s own valuable, flavor that is inimitable anywhere else. Your home nation is always a part of you no matter how far you go from it. That was obvious in A World of Difference. Each writer as an individual was clearly defined by his or her home nation. And so readers, think about your national identity. How does it define you and your art? I assure you, it does.

xx,

Critiqueen

Meeting Alan Bissett

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Alan Bissett is a Scottish author and playwright (and voted the 46th hottest man in Scotland). When he entered the classroom for his lecture for the literary society, he did so with the swagger and confidence of an actor. He is unapologetically Scottish, sporting a tartan tie to match his thick Falkirk accent. Though at first glance he doesn’t appear particularly “hot” the minute he begins reading it becomes clear why he won his title.  His eyes are constantly wrinkled in a smile and his demeanor is nothing short of adorable. He first reads from his novel Death of a Lady’s Man about a male schoolteacher.  He opens the book to the correct page but does not glance at it for the remainder of the lecture. Turns out he memorized the whole section he was going to read and performed it like a play. “Some authors would consider it vulgar what I’m doing, acting out my prose, but I find it’s a whole lot less borin’. You can’t expect a bunch of people to come and listen to ye when you’re dull.”  Could I understand everything he said? No. But the performance aspect kept me entirely engaged.

Alan Bissett has written several plays including The Red Hourglass, a play consisting of several monologues performed by Spiders. Alan played all of these characters including a southern belle black widow, a Scottish house spider, a Woody Allenish brown recluse from New York City, and a swaggering South American tarantula. As if he wasn’t versatile enough, he also wrote a play dealing with gender and class issues, the Moira Monologues.  Bissett is a self-proclaimed feminist and a political activist.

The next thing he read was a piece about Scottish Independence. Bissett in addition to his literary pursuits is also a big participant in the movement for an independent Scotland. As an American, I’ll be honest I know very little about the topic. Living in this country has exposed me to Scottish and British culture together and they could not be more different.

I bought his book Death of a Lady’s Man and he gave me a discount so my respect and adoration redoubled. Moral of the story, I love meeting and chatting with a genuine Scottish writer, and yes, one of Scotland’s sexiest men.

Earth Works: Selected Essays by Scott Russell Sanders

When I decided to go the discussion of the writer’s craft by Scott Russell Sanders (dragging my decidedly conservative best friend with me) it was because I had read and loved his essay “Under the Influence.”  This essay painfully and realistically describes his own experiences with an alcoholic father.  The essay was masterfully crafted, simultaneously heartwarming and tragic. When I came to the card table with the shiny orange stacks his new, overpriced, first edition book, I bought it without a pause for the main purpose of getting it signed.  After hearing his talk I knew that I had bought, not a book of personal essays about his family, (though “Under the Influence” is featured) but a book of environmental preaching.

I did get the book signed, obviously.  As it sat on my shelf, my third signed first edition in my collection, I stared at it warily. To read or not to read. That was the question.  Of course I read it. As any carnal lover of books knows, a book’s purpose is to be read, regardless of its autographed or first edition status. They are nothing but shells unless their pages are perused. Sander’s writing, though brilliant in its craft, did have the tendency to put me off, especially when he went off on environmental tangents. Don’t get me wrong, I love the environment as much as the next girl (though not as much as my good friend Charlotte Gorman), but I hate, hate people preaching. Several of his essays adopt an accusatory tone, which as a reader, I find very unattractive. Passion is lovely, but molding that passion into a cohesive thought provoking suggestion (as opposed to a command or reprimand) takes artistry.  Luckily, there were just as many essays with a tone of true inquiry, showing a man who is using the essay in its original sense of the word, “to try, or “to attempt.” Sanders tries and attempts to answer questions that truly bother him: Why is there inequality between men and women, what has happened to my relationship to my son, why do I write, is there a God? It is these essays, rather than the soapbox ones that led me to be an admirer of Sander’s writing.