Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ezra Pound and Speculations on Monomania and Madness

I've been trying to read certain of the essays of Ezra Pound.  I find it's not an easy task.

Pound was, by all accounts, a monumental figure in literature during the 20th Century.  He was extraordinarily generous to many authors and poets of the time.  He was clearly able and erudite, and this should be evident to any person who reads his work.

Reading his essays, though, (at least those I've read so far) I can't help but get the impression that something is very wrong with the author.  I wonder if anyone shares this same impression, or if I'm merely so used to reading certain things, in certain ways, that I miss some essential point or pattern.

Pound was, of course, hospitalized for mental disease, and it may be that the essays I'm reading were for the most part written during that period.  If that's not the case, though, I wonder if his manner of writing is peculiar to those who are monomaniacs, as it seems he was.

I'll refer to his essay on the letters exchanged by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as an example.  The essay celebrates them as indicative of the fact that America was, at least at one time, civilized, or at least was home to two civilized men (Pound seems to think America lost whatever civilization it possessed shortly after their deaths).  So he begins the essay, and then something happens.  Various other persons are referred to, from Henry Adams to Romulus Augustulus to Flaubert to Thomas Aquinas.  They are either cited with approval, as it were, or disapproval, as are certain institutions.  Banks, as institutions, don't meet with approval.  Sometimes, but not often, Jefferson and Adams are quoted, though it's not clear if their correspondance with each other is the source of the quotations.  Sometimes, it is clear that it is not the source.  When quoted, they refer to money and interest on money, except at the very end of the essay, where it is noted (approvingly) that John Adams, I think it was, wrote that they should not die without explaining themselves to each other. 

It is a very rambling work, and I finish it feeling that the author intended to say something about Adams, Jefferson and civilization, but just what he intended to say about them is unclear.

Pound was very concerned with usury, and it keeps popping up oddly in the essays I've been looking at, and not merely in those which are actually about usury and economics.  He thinks it is a very bad thing.  He seemed to feel that it is the cause of most, if not all, of the world's problems, and was the primary cause of both world wars.  He said as much on the radio in Italy during WWII, and made anti-semitic statements apparently feeling that the Jews, if they did not create usury, practiced it more than others.

This concern seems to have been an overwhelming one, which he held for most of his life.  When one becomes obsessed, does the object of the obsession become of such significance that it is always there, somehow always relevant to what we are thinking, doing and writing that must be mentioned, regardless of its relevance?  And, is this a peculiarity of brilliant people, or particular kinds of brilliant people?  One thinks of Bobby Fisher, and others--geniuses who are consumed by a very narrow and precise concern, unable to break away from it entirely, anywhere or anytime.  Is this a necessary function of genius?

1 comment:

  1. "Pound was very concerned with usury.. He seemed to feel that it is the cause of most, if not all, of the world's problems.."

    Jct: Usury creates a death-gamble among participants in the mort-gage where, like musical chairs, not all can win enough life-support tickets to survive. I once heard that in answer to "what do you think of usury?" came the answer "what do you think of murder." For those of us who understand how usury kills the poor by deprivation of life-support tickets, his horror of usury is mirrored by mine.