Thinking quite a lot about racism in Modernism. That leads, quite quickly, to thinking about Ezra Pound. These two films (below) are interesting in that regard. Michael Rosen makes a good point (somewhere else – not here) that it is a mistake for anyone to have thought that radical poetics from this period were matched by progressive politics. Perhaps you’d like to quote MacSweeney at me as a rebuke to this, but we’re considering the early part of the twentieth century.
Something that comes across in the film is just how badly Pound read his own work. It will entertain you. If you’ve heard the recordings of Yeats read, you’ll recognise the high and unnatural tone that Pound is going for. It’s unlistenable, if you ask me. You might think you’ve witnessed terrible readings of poetry, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. Many people (men, always) considered Pound the ‘real’ poet of Modernism well into the middle of the 1900s. Perhaps he was just a good editor of others – and we need people like that. But we need them to be better people. I must confess, I did go back to The Cantos having watched this. I am not in any hurry to hear him read it again. Honestly: he makes TS Eliot sound like a light entertainer in comparison. One of the critics makes the point that Pound didn’t even broadcast any of his diatribes during the second world war on a bandwidth that the American soldiers (for example) could hear; perhaps if he did he would have scared them all witless with his sound and fury.
If you have an interest if Blast, or any of the other Modernist writers (male, sadly: this documentary doesn’t mention many of the female writers from the time, even those that I know had dealings with Pound) you’ll find it interesting; in its way it is a dusty period piece of its own. The particularly vile parts of the Cantos are laid bare, though. To hear the word ‘usura’ spat so venomously is the hissing of evil. At least one of these readings comes from a BBC recording late in Pound’s life; that’s impossible to put down to insanity. And think about it. We make a mistake when we point at Pound as some kind of villain on the stage and assume that all the other actors are good. We get Pounds when society as a whole functions on antisemitism for centuries. Renaissance and Jacobean tragedy (one of Eliot’s favourites) was quick to point out that you get rid of one monster, only to have another one take its place. I think of the play Sejanus (it haunts me…). There is always a Pound. Always a Colston. But that’s because they bloom out of a soil that has created them. Society tends to absolve itself. Pound did recant some of the things on usury, supposedly (see his dinner with Ginsberg and some of his work itself)… but… I don’t know… what do you think?
This is also good. A reminder that Christopher Hitchens wrote quite so well.