- Pound and Eliot
Pound scholarship was thin in 2009. No major essay collections were published and with Paideuma's appearances ever more fitful, ever less devoted to Pound, criticism is more widely scattered. One event is a superb group biography of the imagists, The Verse Revolutionaries by Helen Carr, a British book that has received almost no notice in the United States but deserves to be widely read and studied. For readers and scholars of T. S. Eliot's work 2009 was an unequivocally good year, producing a spate of first-rate journal articles and chapters in edited volumes, and also a fine monograph on Eliot's formative year in Paris. Overall, the year's work tends to be historical, comparative, or both, with perhaps the most intense interest centering on the role of influence in both directions—"on" and "of." But such a generalization is finally inadequate to these contributions. A better sense of the range of sophisticated methodologies and complex problems that continue to revitalize Eliot studies is on display in the omnibus volume that in its totality represents the greatest single contribution of the year to the field, David Chinitz's A Companion to T. S. Eliot.
The Pound section of the chapter is contributed by Alec Marsh, the Eliot section by Matthew Hofer.
i. Ezra Pound
Haoming Liu's ambitious, demanding, and intensely interesting "Pharmaka and Volgar' Eloquio: Speech and Ideogrammic Writing [End Page 153] in Ezra Pound's Canto XCVIII" (Asia Major 22: 179-214) shows that this late poem "actually focuses on the issue of writing and its relation to speech" rather than the dualistic morality and Confucianism most apparent at first reading. To prove this, Liu must "gather all the 'Luminous Details' as if they were Osiris' disjecta membra, and we must then put them back in place by reading them anagrammatically." These pieces include Egyptian and Greek references (Ra-Set, Osiris, Thoth; the Phaedrus, Plotinus and the phantastikon) through which with help from Derrida and Plato the reader can "uncover one of the two major latent themes of the canto, namely writing as a pharmakon," or medicine. A second theme, less clearly stated by Liu, is that Chinese ideogrammic writing possesses, "in essence, life"—a claim made by Ernest Fenollosa but brought to a new intensity by Pound as he comes in cantos 98 and 99 to appreciate "the oral aspect of the Chinese language" by his presentation of "the salt commissioner" Wang Youpou and his Literal Paraphrase of . . . the Sacred Edict, a Confucian text written in the "vulgar tongue" and not high literary Chinese. Liu's daunting task in this richly footnoted essay is to review the history of signs, not only in Western terms via Plato, Plotinus, Hegel, and Derrida, which always includes the problem of hieroglyphics and later Chinese, but also in Chinese terms through thinking about the ideogram, specifically the ideogram's tendency to overblot rather than transparently reveal—in a word, to become calligraphy. Liu pulls off this ambitious program by writing clearly and concisely, never descending into mere jargon or knowing blather, the curse of today's academic criticism.
Liu notices Pound's anti-Platonic bias: Plato worries constantly about the deficient status of representations, while Pound "always places the medium and mediation over the origin." In fact paradisal light is a crystal medium—indeed, its source is its medium—a paradox that Liu explicates via Cavalcanti, Plotinus' phantastikon, and the character hsien (xian) that Pound translates as "the silk cords of the sunlight." A substantial medium equivalent to the light in Paradiso 14, this light "does not dis-unify" and therefore transcends analysis. Unlike the written word, which reproduces speech, the ideogram does not transcribe a voice but something else; it "externalizes memory." To brutally simplify Liu's elegant argument, Pound believes that the ideogram "is the externalized phantastikon" capable of presenting and preserving the images otherwise locked in that active and creative complex of memory and imagination. [End Page 154]
How, then, does speech and the vernacular of the salt commissioner become important? Wang is "the mediator of the sovereign word"; he embodies Sagetrieb; he repeats the...