A Calculus of Ezra Pound: Vocations of the American Sign
That the beauty of Ezra Pound's late Cantos can appear - on the same page - with the rankest anti-Semitism continues to be a problem worth serious discussion, as well as a problem in the understanding of modernism.
Philip Kuberski locates the central tension between Pound's poetry and his politics in the contrast between the poet's technical innovations - his commitment to modernist writing - and his antimodernist conception of reading and esthetics. Few twentieth-century poets, Kuberski says, have been "as dedicated to a reconciliation of metaphysical values and the materiality of human languages." Focusing on this juncture of form and meaning, he asserts that Pound's work presents "a dramatic, perhaps tragic, illustration of the costs involved in moving from a theocentric or logocentric understanding of art to a truly modern or postmodern understanding of it."
Kuberski also considers the ways in which Pound's career reflects an extreme version of tensions in American culture. Both Pound's poetry and his fascism can be derived from elements of American Romanticism, he claims, citing Emerson's exposition of "natural" language, Whitman's sense of the poet as Adamic Superman, and Poe's exploration of nonalphabetic scripts.
In his title and his terminology, Kuberski employs the metaphor of stones, a calculating device, to chart Pound's overt concerns with a stone-like foundation for human knowledge, for origin, and for civilization.
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In many ways, an exccellent and erudite analysis; however -- like many commentators -- Mr. Kuberski fails to note that Pound's descent into the fascist abyss prefigures, and is emblematic of, America's postwar descent in the same direction. The central conundrum is the fascist solution to the paradox of prosperity in a capitalist state: continuous war and never-ending preparation for the next war are the easiest and "best," though perhaps not the only, ways to use up enough of the productive capacity of modern industry to keep the factories running in order to keep human beings employed. One can hardly expect a fascist state to choose against war any more than one can expect capitalists to choose against greed. Hoping that "public opinion" in the first case and "market forces" in the second will mitigate the worst excesses of the current system seems the same kind of puerile fantasy that led Pound toward anti-Semitism. -- Christian Gehman