- Pound and Eliot
Reviewing the last crop of criticism published in the 20th century puts us in a retrospective mood. The major work this year on both Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot can be construed as a backward glance, seeming not only to take stock of our poets but of the dark and troubled century of which they were so integral a part. The infusion of the political everywhere, in the poets, their poetry, and our criticism, is striking, though no longer surprising; the politicization of the aesthetic now seems more the thing than Walter Benjamin's more familiar formula, "the aestheticization of the political." In such a mood, postmodern theory seems almost traditional, and the revolutionary hopes of modernism both belated and premature; the true nature of the republic of letters as lived by these poets and as pondered by critics seems as urgent and as intractable a critical goal as ever.
a. General Studies
The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, ed. Ira B. Nadel, is well named. It is clearly and carefully put together, with 15 essays by leading Pound scholars on such topics as "Pound and the Making of Modernism"; "The Early Poetry"; five essays on The Cantos, early, middle and late, including the poem's influence and its textual problems; on Pound as critic and translator; on his relation to music and the visual arts; on his politics, economics, and anti-Semitism; and on his relation to women and gender. Space precludes our talking about all of them, but taken together they indicate the focus of Pound scholarship at the end of the 20th century.
Briefly put, Ezra Pound this year seems a very American modernist, neopagan in religion, a populist in politics. He is still an Imagist in [End Page 157] literature, still a worshipper of beauty, still a reformer of culture (as Hugh Witemeyer puts it), and equivocally mad. The view of Pound advanced by Wendy Stallard Flory in 1989, which reacted against the then reigning perception of Pound as International Modernist, seems to prevail. And Pound's Americanism is not just limited to his populism, for which Tim Redman argues strongly, but is there in his "pragmatism," a key term for Ian Bell. Bell stresses "the American nature of Pound's modernity" and calls "efficiency, pragmatism and technique . . . hallmarks of Pound's style." Peter Nicholls in his examination of Pound's effect on the American poets who have followed him agrees. "Ever the pragmatist," he writes in "Beyond The Cantos: Pound and American Poetry" (pp. 139–60), "Pound . . . hammered away at the secure lines of demarcation and professionalization in academic culture, redefining knowledge as everyday practice and possibility." Moreover, Ronald Bush's "Late Cantos LXXII–CXVII" (pp. 109–38) shows Pound as a precursor of the confessional school ("my wrecks lie about me"); and Pound unwittingly abetted the New Criticism because of the Bollingen controversy, as several essays show. When one thinks of how Pound could be, and has been, construed otherwise, this agreement on Pound's Americanness signals something of a shift.
Another "American" aspect of The Companion, which has more to do with us than with Pound, though it is no less interesting for that, is its willingness to psychologize him. We are much more intimate with the poet now, and it shows. Tim Redman speaks of Pound's "severe depression" in his later years, not of a tragic silence, and in this vein Ronald Bush makes it clear that the crisis over Marcella Spann left Pound suicidal. He finds these feelings encoded in the Na Khi sections of the very late poems. The Ezra, Dorothy, Olga ménage, which made Pound's artistic life possible, also did harm. Their enforced intimacy in Olga's house in the hills above Rapallo during the last years of the war, together with the bombardment and destruction of Pound's sacred places, brought an incipient crisis in the poet nearer to the surface. "From then on," Bush writes, "Pound's state of mind, strained by his domestic relations, swung between phases of defiant denial and passivity bordering on the sense of an afterlife."