Overweening Generalist

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Conspiracy Theories and Ezra Pound

Yesterday a fellow blogger-colleague related in his blog a conspiracy involving Ezra Pound that was new to me. (It's HERE. See July 20th) I'm a big Pound freak, and everyone knows about his, as he dolefully told Allen Ginsberg, Michael Reck, and Peter Russell in a Venice restaurant in 1967, "stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-semitism."

What's most interesting to me regarding Mad Ol' Ez and "conspiracy" thought is the knotted matrices of his ideas about monetary reform, how banks operate, and economic thought in general. It is in this mire that many of you might find yourself astonished to agree with such a Mad Genius as Pound. (Sans the whacked-out antisemitism, I hope!)  But entire books have been written on this, and I don't want to go into it here, now.

I will add that the term "conspiracy" with regard to the entirety of Pound's ideas about economics becomes rather tangled, to put it mildly.

No, I'd rather talk about some minor Pound conspiracies. For example, he seemed to think that publishers colluded to keep vital works - books and articles - from staying in print. Why? Possibly some consortium of bankers didn't like what was being said about something such as "usury" in a book.

Pound also asserted that when a literary critic recommended his readers read some other critic's work, that something conspiratorial or underhanded was going on. I personally find this hilarious, and in some cases, probably true.

Regarding the publisher and the critic conspiracies: I think it pays to ask oneself, "Is it a conspiracy, or are there socially-created structures in place that compel actors within those structures to do things that look, from the outside, like conspiracy, while from the inside, it's more like 'getting ahead of the competition.'"?

There are other ways to look at it, obviously.

There's a really weird idea Pound had that I don't think can be considered a conspiracy at all, unless you really stretch it. I find it rather colorful, though, and perhaps mystically odd and garish: Pound seemed to believe that semen stemmed from the brain and was therefore the source for fertility was in the brain. This will remind some readers of their studies of tantra. As a metaphor, it translates easily. As literal physiology it seems delightfully odd to us postmodernists. When I first read about it - if memory serves it was in Pound's work on Provencal love poets in an early work, The Spirit of Romance (some Poundian will correct me, please?), it reminded me of sports figures who believed they should abstain from ejaculating the night before the game/big fight, in order to keep their vital currents at their optimum: damned up, the vital currents overflowing and ready for release...in the big game.

This idea seems ancient to mankind. The cultural anthropologist Weston LaBarre says this idea goes back to Paleolithic times and was probably a world-wide belief that led to head-hunting, capturing another guy's manly essence. (See the index to Robert Edgerton's Sick Societies)

Aleister Crowley's contemporary, magician-poet and exceedingly odd character named Austin Osman Spare also believed in the brain-semen idea, and he is a big influence on contemporary avant-garde artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, who also believes in the mystical powers of semen, although I do not think Genesis thinks it originates in the brain, or brainstem. At least I don't think so. He seems too fond of science, but then you never know.

For a deliriously fun, short history of semen as life-force, see Mary Roach's book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, pp.144-145.
To my mind, by far the most interesting conspiracy theory about Pound is one I simply deem a "conspiracy"for rhetorical purposes, although it's talked about openly in many books as a literary technique. Pound was candid about wanting to start a revolution in poetry, and I believe his technique of using the ideogrammic method was instrumental in this "conspiracy." And he was successful in his revolution, as I argued in this article. I think this method can still be used to subvert "normal" thought-patterns in readers, and only a bit of study will allow you to use the method too. Reading Pound's numerous writings on this will help, and his use of Ernest Fenollosa's notebooks in the short pamphlet The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry will pay big dividends. Or spend an afternoon wrestling with one of Pound's Cantos. That's the real deal, right there...

I have used this technique in a very minor way a few times in this blogspot. The technique constitutes a sort of "hidden logic" that operates in the reader's mind as (s)he tries to make sense of everything, and it seems genetically related to the montage in film, the collage in art, the literary critic Kenneth Burke's "perception by incongruity," Remy de Gourmont's "dissociation of ideas," and a few other techniques that exploded onto the early 20th century scene. It is not the "dialectic," although I admit they seem like related techniques; the ideogrammic method does seem to relate to the gestalt psychology of perception even more than dialectic, but the Method has an intent. Watching the films of D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein could possibly make all of this very easy to understand, if one is bent towards digging the visual juxtapositioning of images.

Don't say I ain't never did nothin' fer ya!


Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I find it interesting how such tender compassion sits side by side with lunatic hate in the Rock Drill and Thrones Cantos.

I've taught the Cantos three times, the last time five years ago. I haven't really looked at it much since then, although I've taught a few isolated Cantos. For pleasure I find myself reading Zukofsky.

I do wonder what Bob Wilson would have made of our current economic mise en scene.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated images interested the Surrealists. Do you know if Pound had any influence on them?


Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Pound saw his friend Picabia as a major influence on the Surrealists.

michael said...

Odd: see the mass of anecdotes about Breton as autocrat. Ez admired DADA, and Picabia was for Ez a great Dadaist, Picabia probably influenced by Duchamp and Satie. Better minds than mine consider Picabia as part of surrrrealism...common tactic here: reductio ad absurdum, which RAW sez was a main rhetorical device for Illuminatus!...

Ez seems to have considered Gorgias as a Dadaist: see Kulchur, p.120 and 129; see same book, p.134 for Ez and Wyndham Lewis's BLAST as dada and Picabia, "localization of sensibility"...

RAW seemed to imply surrealist expressions were marked by the carrying of a surplus of Shannon-like info, its from bits.

Pulling back from the microscope and looking around the room: the nonrational methods of changing other people's minds seems woefully underappreciated by the "people" themselves, and 'tis a pity, if only for what Chomsky terms "intellectual self-defense."

Cain and Todd Benson said...

I did a portrait of the great Ezra Pound which I would like to use to express my thoughts. http://www.flickr.com/photos/cainandtoddbenson/6301900345/in/photostream

michael said...

That's - seriously - the best artwork of Pound I've ever seen. What I mean is: I like it more than anything I've seen. Brilliant! I love it!