- Ezra Pound's Psychiatric Salon
With the resurgence of fascism in Italy, American poet Ezra Pound is again making headlines. Interred in ignominy since his 1972 death in the Venetian island cemetery of San Michele along with Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, and Joseph Brodsky, Pound's name is now invoked alongside D'Annunzio, Mazzini, and Mussolini as inspiration for a political movement that bears his name: CasaPound Italia. In terms of growing popularity, CasaPound joins other formerly fringe fascist groups inching toward the mainstream such as Fronte Sociale Nazionale and Forza Nuova, whose numbers have seen large increases in the past four years. Lega Nord (the League, recently rebranded as Lega), headed by the far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leads the country. The tide of immigration—Italy's Mediterranean shores have been a hoped-for entry point to the EU for refugees particularly from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East—wanes, while animus toward international banks, multinational corporations, and globalist elites waxes. European Union cosmopolitanism, the ideal and then reality for the past six decades, now struggles amidst nationalist revivals fueled by economic frustration and contempt for foreigners.
CasaPound founder Gianluca Iannone planted the seeds for the Pound revival during his time as front man for a punk rock group in the 1990s. For Iannone, Pound's central focus on housing as the bedrock of freedom, seemed especially relevant at a time when evictions were becoming epidemic. Both the musician and poet believed that interest on mortgages benefited bankers and weakened republics. That is why Iannone chose as the party's symbol a turtle, who always has a home on his back. Iannone established CasaPound's headquarters in 2003 by squatting inside a government-owned building, which now also serves as a community center and home for eighteen families. Although the original site in Rome remains under threat of eviction, the party has since opened more than one hundred other such establishments throughout the country, replete with clubs, gyms, tattoo parlors, barbershops, and other small businesses. As they seek homes for Italians, CasaPound activists threaten to expel non-natives, mouthing fascist propaganda and deploying savvy social media stunts. On the [End Page 422] left side of his neck, Iannone sports a tattoo that reads, me ne frego ("I don't care") a slogan and popular song refrain of Mussolini's Black Shirts. What is the political appeal of Pound, an American born in Hailey, Idaho, who spent twelve years in a mental hospital and whose most durable impact lay in the field of modernist poetry?
After moving to London then living briefly in Paris, Ezra Pound made Italy his home, moving in 1924 to Rapallo, a coastal town on the Tigullian Gulf. From this location, the poet, radicalized by the loss of friends in the Great War and then the global Great Depression, pivoted away from literature to investigate the causes of war and poverty. Applying the same techniques used in his poetry—imagism, allusions, collage, rather than a historian's analysis of specifics, context, and causation—Pound erroneously identified as culprits an alleged international web of Jewish financiers. His solution was to return economic arrangements to Jefferson's yeoman farmer ideal and do away with money-lending, monopoly, debt interest, and above all bankers. Throughout the 1930s, he railed against Rothschilds and Roosevelt, Democrats and dupes to anyone who would listen.
An American situated amidst the rising tide of fascism, Pound became enamored of dynamic leaders dedicated to tough, and, to his view, reasonable decisions, and transmitted their ideas to his homeland, issuing a constant barrage of opinions (which E.E. Cummings nicknamed "Ezra Shrapnel") across the ocean. Pound dreamed of fostering a cultural Risorgimento in the West with an economic system that fostered plenty for the many rather than the few, and creativity instead of cravenness. Unlike communism, which vaulted the collective, fascism, Pound averred, protected individual rights (while trampling on the rights of others). During the gathering storm of war in 1939, Pound even made a...