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Ezra Pound (Literary Lives) (1981)
Let's face it, few of us are likely to hack our way through the thickets (some of them rendered in Chinese) of Ezra Pound's Cantos. Even in college, in a course on modern literature, we didn't actually read the Cantos, instead we read Hugh Kenner's book, The Pound Era. Still, one would like to understand what made Pound such an important figure in the history of literature and Peter Ackroyd's slender and copiously illustrated biography accomplishes the task quite painlessly.
Besides helping us to understand what Pound was trying to achieve in his own poetry--which seems to have been an attempt to capture all of reality within the confines of the poetic form--Mr. Ackroyd shows how profoundly Pound influenced other Modernists, in particular T. S. Eliot and James Joyce. I'd not previously been aware of the degree to which Pound helped sculpt The Waste Land, to the point that Mr. Ackroyd gives him credit as its virtual co-author :
The transformation of The Waste Land effected
by Pound is, although not total, nevertheless remarkable. What had
been a longer,
Where Joyce was concerned, Pound appears to have been one of his earliest proselytizers, publishing Portrait of the Artist in serial form in his magazine, The Egoist, and Ulysses in the magazine, The Little Review. He also reviewed Joyce's work in every publication he could, extolling his virtues to anyone who would listen. Yet, Pound also had the brutal honesty to assess Finnegan's Wake with the dismissal that it so richly deserved :
Nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization.
Unfortunately for Pound, the harshness of that critique reveals a willingness to speak his mind and a forcefulness of opinion which were to get him in considerable trouble when they combined with other personality traits to turn him into a Fascist propagandist.
Mr. Ackroyd convincingly locates the appeal of fascism to Pound in the poet's passion for organization and order, his belief in a cultural elite, and his adherence to the odd economic theory of Social Credit, expounded by a Major C. H. Douglas :
Its doctrine states, quite simply, that once money
has lost its natural basis in people's needs and aspirations--when, in
His belief in a social hierarchy is a classic enough conservative position, likewise his fear of cultural decline. And the rest of Pound's ideas were probably harmless in themselves, even if some were bizarre; but it is this last notion, that the problems one perceives in the world are necessarily a product of some kind of conspiracy, that represents the dangerous spark that all too often ignites hatreds like anti-Semitism. True conservatism requires the recognition that disorder and decline are natural phenomena, resulting from the debased desires of the masses. Those who are unable to accept this reality and instead try to blame shadowy conspirators are dangerously deluded.
Sadly, Pound fell prey to just such delusions and ended up making radio broadcasts for Mussolini during WWII. The result of these pro-fascist, anti-American, anti-Semitic soliloquies was a 1943 indictment for treason and eventual arrest and, following a finding of insanity, confinement to St. Elizabeth's mental hospital in Washington, DC. He was kept there until the charge of treason was dismissed on April 18, 1958. Upon his release, Pound moved back to Italy where he lapsed into a depressive silence and spent his final years in and out of clinics, futilely trying to find some way to recapture his creative powers.
If in the end it is not possible for us to feel too much sympathy for a man who betrayed his wife--with a mistress named Olga Rudge by whom he had a daughter and who eventually became his constant companion--and his country, and who spewed venomous hatred of Jews, perhaps it is still possible to acknowledge his achievements, or at least his aspirations, as an artist. Here's how Mr. Ackroyd summarizes Pound's own literary legacy :
Pound attempted to recreate the whole world in the
image of himself and his poetry--despite the divisive tendencies of the
Maybe in this sense we can see writ small in him the larger tragedy of the 20th Century, of men trying to prove themselves equal to the Creator, but failing horribly, and finding it necessary to lash out against others to explain the failure.
-INTERVIEW: Stealing is the Secret of Success: His huge biographies of Dickens, Blake and the city of London have been bestsellers, but Peter Ackroyd is more coy when it comes to the details of his own life. Undeterred, Peter Ross talks to him about tap-dancing, transvestism and communing with the dead (Peter Ross, 8/08/04, Sunday Herald)
-REVIEW: of The Clerkenwell Tales by Peter Ackroyd (Sebastian Smee, The Spectator)
Book-related and General Links:
-PETER ACKROYD (1949-) (Guardian Unlimited)
-BIBLIOGRAPHY : Peter Ackroyd (october 5, 1949 - ) (Bradley Shoop)
-EXCERPT : from London: the biography by Peter Ackroyd : The sea!
-ESSAY : Arts are in fine form : 'In the past two decades English culture has undergone a renaissance, in a spirit not unlike that of the late 14th and 16th centuries' (PETER ACKROYD, 1/02/02, Times of London)
-REVIEW : of Marcel Proust By Edmund White (Peter Ackroyd, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : The Perreaus and Mrs Rudd : Forgery and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century London By Donna T Andrews & Randall McGowen (Peter Ackroyd, Times of London)
-PROFILE : Following the Ghost of Dickens (LAURA LEIVICK, December 22, 1991, NY times)
-PROFILE : Writing bestsellers while on a bender : On books and booze (John Sutherland, October 9, 2000, The Guardian)
-ESSAY : PETER ACKROYD, POSTMODERNIST PLAY AND CHATTERTON (Brian Finney)
-REVIEW : Lincoln Kirstein, The Eyes of Ez (NY Review of Books)
Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts edited with an introduction by Harriet Zinnes
Ezra Pound and His World by Peter Ackroyd
-REVIEW : of T. S. Eliot by Peter Ackroyd (John Gross, NY Times)
-REVIEW : of T S Eliot by Peter Ackroyd (Frank Kermode, The Guardian)
-REVIEW : of BLAKE By Peter Ackroyd (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Chatterton, by Peter Ackroyd (Emma Tennant, The Guardian)
-REVIEW : of Milton in America (Tony Tanner, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Milton in America (Canadian Federation of University Women)
-REVIEW : of The Life of Thomas More By Peter Ackroyd (Andrew Sullivan, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Life of Thomas More (Francis Gilbert, Guardian)
-REVIEW : of THE PLATO PAPERS A Prophecy. By Peter Ackroyd (John Sutherland, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : 'Therefore I Print' (John Updike, NY Review of Books)
William Blake an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 29-June 24, 2001
William Blake Catalog of the exhibition by Robin Hamlyn and Michael Phillips, with introductory essay by Peter Ackroyd
-REVIEW : of London : An Autobiography by Peter Ackroyd (Patrick McGrath, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of London : An Autobiography by Peter Ackroyd (Iain Sinclair, The Guardian)
-REVIEW : of London (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian)
-REVIEW : of London (Stephen Moss, The Guardian)
-REVIEW : of London (Peter Preston, The Observer)
-REVIEW : of London: The Biography By Peter Ackroyd (RICHARD C. WALLS, Boston Phoenix)
-REVIEW : of 'London: The Biography' by Peter Ackroyd (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
-REVIEW : of The Collection By Peter Ackroyd (Jeanette Winterson, Times of London)
-REVIEW : of THE COLLECTION Journalism, Essays, Short Stories, Lectures By Peter Ackroyd (John Button, Sydney Morning Herald)
Recommended books by Ezra Pound :
EZRA POUND (1885-1972) :