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^Psychiatrists, Paranoia, and the Mind of Ezra Pound Andrew J. Kappel Ezra Pound is probably the only major modern poet whose work has not been subjected to psychoanalytic interpretation. Indeed, only recently have critics begun to identify the most obvious autobiographical dimensions of his work.1 This critical tendency to consider the poetry aside from the poet is due less to any fastidiousness about the poet's right to privacy than to the sense that his work is peculiarly resistant to biographical and psychoanalytical approaches. Pound himself put up the resistance, and did so deliberately. By about 1920 he had decided sharply against a self-expressive poetic for his work. The decision was made between 1915 and 1920 while he was engaged in his vexed effort to begin The Cantos. It took him so long to get started because he had first conceived of the epic self-expressively, as an explicit record of his struggles. In provisional drafts of the earliest cantos he addressed his readers directly and discussed the difficulties that the epic project, the modern world, the cluttered past, and many lesser things posed for him. Ronald Bush's authoritative study The Genesis of Ezra Pound's Cantos chronicles through revised drafts of early cantos the progressive objectifying of the epic task and manner.2 Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), the sequence of poems with which Pound ended his London period, amounts to a formal announcement of the decision to abandon subjective, self-expressive interests, and to replace them with objective interests in the world outside the poet. The selfinvolved aesthete Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, a connoisseur of "selected perceptions" who reveled in the "glow of porcelain" and "made no immediate application / Of this to relation of the state / To the individual ," but was content merely to feel that "the month was more temperate / Because this beauty had been," is abandoned amid flamingoes Andrew J. Kappel 71 on the deserted Pacific isle of his own "consciousness disjunct," while Pound, freed of this aspect of himself, sets off toward the world.3 When the finalized versions of the early cantos appeared in book form in 1925, the chatty, ever-present poet, so full of himself in the first drafts, was no longer with us. He had disappeared behind his subjects, which were newly presented for their own sakes, not as the occasions of the poet's experiences. With the exception of the anomalous Pisan Cantos (1948), from 1925 forward Pound largely excluded himself from his poem and instead focused its attention directly upon a continuous series of formal "subjects"—Renaissance condottieri, Byzantine numismatics, John Adams's dealings with Talleyrand, Scotus Erigena's poetic allusions to Greek literature, and so on—few of which could easily be made to serve as episodes in a poet's psychobiography. He wanted his readers to focus their attention directly upon the subjects about which he wrote. The Thames bankers' collective effort to undermine French currency during the later Napoleonic era, as far as he was concerned, was a matter of far greater import than the question of whether or not he himself suffered from dementia praecox, as his defensive interest in the beleaguered, egomaniacal French emperor might suggest to someone interested in his psychobiography. The straightforward interest that critics have taken in Pound's "subjects" and their lack of attention to any psychoanalytic interpretation of those subjects would have pleased Pound as being consistent with his belief that his subjects were far more important than he was. The scrupulous reticence of his critics, however profitable it has been to an understanding of Pound's "subjects," has otherwise had unfortunate consequences. It has allowed his reputation as a madman to flourish. Not to face doubts of Pound's sanity has confirmed suspicions of his insanity. In that way the reticence has jeopardized its own ambitions, for the unmonitored idea of Pound's insanity undermines any confidence we might have in his ability to do his precious "subjects" justice. Thus, it is not the case that a consideration of the matter of his insanity can only harm his reputation. Just the opposite is true. And it is surprising that the matter has not been taken up already...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 70-85
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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