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We Are All Pound Now the cantos and the shape of the economy 1 In Ezra Pound’s 1944 pamphlet “An Introduction to the Economic Nature of the United States,” he explains that he did not set out to write “an economic history of the U.S. or any other country.” Instead, he intended “to write an epic poem which begins ‘In the Dark Forest[,]’ crosses the Purgatory of human error, and ends in the light, and ‘fra i maestri di color che sanno.’” For this reason, he explains, he has “had to understand the NATURE of error” (Selected Prose 167).1 The phrasing implies that Pound is less interested in individual errors than in what constitutes an error—­ that is, he wants to uncover the general structure of error, not catalog its specific articulations. And, indeed, “Economic Nature” identifies just one mistake, namely the US government’s adoption of a ­metallic-­backed currency instead of the fiat money commonly used by the colonies in the ­ pre-­ Revolutionary period. This essay appeared on the heels of the Chinese and Adams cantos (Cantos 52–71, 1940), a section of the Cantos that deals extensively, if not exclusively, with economic history (of the United States as well as China and Italy). This pamphlet might therefore appear as a justification for the long digressions on banking and monetary theory at the center of the Cantos, explaining that they are designed to illustrate “the NATURE of error.” While this description does apply to Cantos 1–41, which use primary historical documents to examine repeated historical problems, it cannot account for the post-1937 cantos, where the problem of money completely overtakes the poem. Of course, Pound’s obsession with money is not unique in American discourse. The dominant economic question of the late nineteenth cen- 22 chapter one tury was the problem of the gold standard, the consequences of free silver , and the potential of fiat money.2 There is little doubt that Pound, as a young man, was exposed to these debates. Hugh Kenner argues that Homer Pound’s work at the Philadelphia mint was foundational to young Ezra’s thinking about money: “as a small boy [he] watched his father . . . assaying gold with an incredibly delicate balance. . . . Gold was romance, was beauty : beauty to adorn Aphrodite, its meaning corrupted by a tangle of fiscal ideas” (Pound Era 412–13).3 As Pound grew up, money stayed at the center of economic debates. The interwar economic crisis motivated a number of new monetary theories, including C. H. Douglas’s social credit and Silvio Gessel’s stamp scrip, both of which Pound supported.4 So, while it’s not at all surprising that Pound was interested in money, what is surprising—­ and what this chapter aims to show—­ is that his attention to money has the same basic structure as contemporary economic theory. The Cantos is not, as Pound intended, a history of human error; instead, it is the prehistory of the present. The chapter at hand cannot hope to encompass the Cantos as a whole. When any critic takes on this work, she not only must face the sheer size of it ­ (seven-­ hundred seventy pages, without any of the critical apparatus necessary to track down references, quotations, and translations) but must also account for the fact that it was composed over a ­ forty-­ year period , during which Pound’s ideas and life changed radically.5 When the­ “Ur-­ Cantos” were published in Poetry in the summer of 1917, Pound still lived in London, reeling from the immense personal loss he suffered as a result of World War I. By the time Thrones (the last completed installment of the Cantos) came out in 1959, the poet had left England for Italy, where he joined the fascist party and publicly supported Mussolini (and condemned Franklin Roosevelt) on Italian radio. After being incarcerated in a Pisan concentration camp on treason charges, he was committed to St. Elizabeth’s hospital with a schizophrenia diagnosis—­ a diagnosis, it is worth noting, that many critics believe was manufactured to help the poet avoid the death penalty—­ and was finally released, returning to Italy to live out the last fourteen years of his life.6 Simply recounting the historical events Pound lived through—­ let alone those he attempted to influence—­ is lengthy work, which has, fortunately, been almost completed. I limit my discussion to the pre–Pisan Cantos because I believe that is where we can most clearly we...


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