Marjorie Perloff & Pound
From: Marjorie Perloff (perloff@LELAND.STANFORD.EDU)
Subject: Re: Pound & Fascism
To: Multiple recipients of list POETICS

Even as so many members of this list are excoriating Pound, we have, right now, a fascist in our midst named Pat Buchanan who has managed to get 30% of the Republican Primary vote even though (or perhaps because of) he makes open statements that are antisemitic, homophobic, and racist. Just the other day on TV (maybe CNN) a farmer in Georgia was being interviewed as to who he was planning to vote for. He said, "I think I'll vote for Pat Buchanan because he feels the way I do about the niggers." This on CNN. This is the world we live in--a world where many could hardly believe Furman said the "N word" and yet Buchanan gets away with this every day.
So I think if you want to fight Fascism you have to begin at home.

But as for Pound, I think many of the postings here have been quite off the mark. Reading Walter Benn Michaels' OUR AMERICA, about racial attitudes and nativism in the 20s, I was reminded what a horrible anti-semimite dear old Ernest Hemingway was, with that charming portrait of Robert Cohen in SUN ALSO RISES. It has recently been shown how anti-semitic HD was, in her notebooks for TRIBUTE TO FREUD. In fact, anti-Semitism and racism were as Michaels's shows, part and parcel of 20s postWWI culture. Very few writers escaped it. We have to try to understand why and not say let's get rid of Ezra Pound, who also happens to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th C.

I still believe--and I speak here as a refugee from Hitler whose family fled the morning of the Anschluss (March 12, 1938) of Austria--that Pound's "fascism"--most of it completely nonsensical, juvenile, and failing to understand how government works--was not nearly as dangerous as Heidegger's willed, conscious, perfectly "reasoned" Fascism. to read what Heidegger did at his own university in order to get rid of colleagues who might have Jewish blood boggles the mind. And then there's Paul de Man. As Eliot Weinberger wrote in SULFUR some years ago, Pound's iniquities are not on the same scale because who the hell listened to Pound's message?? Whereas Heidegger/de Man influenced generations of students.

Jerry McGann has an essay in CRITICAL INQUIRY (a few years back) where he makes an eloquent case for the Cantos as the tragic poem of the 20th C in that it sums up so many of the terrible ideologies, anxieties, prejudices around. To call it tragic may go too far, but Jerry is right. And without the Cantos, I maintain there would have been no Black Mt, no Objectivism,no Ethnopoetics (Rothenberg) and performance poetry like Mac Low's, and so on down the line. So to say, as some people have on this list, let's just get rid of Pound, is ridiculous.

And if you only read people whose ideology you approve of, who shall 'scape whipping? What about a Stalinist like Neruda? Is he to be totally excused for supporting his Dictator? Shall we not read Wyndham Lewis, a worse fascist than Pound but also an incredible writer? Let's see, who's left? What about the homophobic, antisemitic passages in Baraka? And so on.

It all comes back to the vexed question about the relation of poetry to politics and that's a question that should be hotly discussed in a larger theoretical way than it is today. Robert Duncan has wonderful comments on the issue in his correspondence (not yet published) with Denise Levertov. But whatever the relationship, it can't be Love my Politics, love my poetry.

Marjorie Perloff