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3 The Common Pedagogy of the Uncommon Building Aesthetic Community from the Ezuniversity to Black Mountain College and Beyond Hélène Aji In 1924, when Ezra Pound moved to Rapallo in Italy and settled there on the balmy Mediterranean Riviera, he was not so much thinking about the palm trees and the sea as about the possibility of creating a literary and artistic community. It was not his first attempt at founding what he called the Ezuniversity, a group of poets and artists committed to avantgarde experiment that would surround him and to some extent validate his own attempts. The previous instances had taken place as early as his University of Pennsylvania years, with the likes of William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle (his “H.D. Imagiste”), and later in London as a counterpoint to the Bloomsbury group that crystallized around the figures of Wyndham Lewis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. In Rapallo, some Ez-students were present in the flesh (music composer George Antheil, for instance), others participated in absentia, from the United States where they remained (William Carlos Williams, whom Pound desperately tried to draw to Italy but to no avail). The war and Ezra Pound’s catastrophic political choices put a temporary end to this experiment in • Aesthetic Community from the Ezuniversity to Black Mountain College and Beyond · 69 Poundian pedagogy and its systematic resort to community as a way of transmitting his intertwined political and poetic agendas. The entire project informs the whole work of Ezra Pound, and it will be part of this chapter’s aim to explore the methodology unfolding in such essays as ABC of Reading, The Spirit of Romance, Guide to Kulchur, or even the less acceptable but perhaps more creative Jefferson and/or Mussolini. When after the war some of the contents of this didactic work seemed to have been irredeemably thwarted, the poets still gathered around Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeths, in the penitentiary psychiatric hospital , to listen to the rare dicta of an almost aphasic poet. Among them, despite the political divergence between Pound’s ideology and his own democratic commitment, Charles Olson perceives the necessity of linking poetic innovation with community experience—and of energizing individual audacity with collective enterprise. If there were to be a revolution in the arts, to the extent of the revolution Ezra Pound had dreamt of but failed to achieve, it would be in terms of common experiments of the uncommon—the collective attempt to venture into the field of radical originality. Throughout the years, the linkage between pedagogy and community building becomes stronger and stronger, as the poets and artists come to the realization that lone attempts and radical marginalization prevent the rise of effective change in both theory and practice. The creation of learning conditions or structures represent possible ways of generating groups, collective enterprises, and aesthetic community. Some, like Ezra Pound, actually exploit several of these possible routes to community: anthology making, editing little magazines meant to channel and convey the diversity of attempts, as well as pedagogical projects that imply the gathering of poets and artists around leading figures [“guides” or “masters ”], Pound’s famous “inventors” who are to be found both diachronically among the poets and artists of the past, the members of a self-made tradition, and synchronically in the “psychopomps” of modernity. This chapter reflects on how these pedagogical strategies of building aesthetic community negotiate complex relations with politics, the dilemmas of democracy and intellectualism in the American context: from the totalitarian stance of one Ezra Pound to the anarchistic non-decisions of Black Mountain artists, it is interesting to consider how the very practice of art 70 · Hélène Aji becomes the arena in which to redefine the position of the individual in community. My chapter will thus look at the experiment of Black Mountain College in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the way the very utopian philosophy underpinning the foundation of the college in the 1930s allowed it to become the ideal place for communal radical experimentation under the aegis of Olson. It will more closely examine the later interaction between John Cage and Jackson Mac Low as exempla of the aesthetic community envisioned at Black Mountain. Two books document this experiment specifically: Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community, published in 1972, which concentrates on the prewar years and mostly dismisses what is now seen as the lasting influence of Black Mountain as anecdotal summer camps; and The...


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