Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ezra Pound's Periplum, II: Getting It Right

Pound in the Criterion, July 1933:

"It is perhaps only now that all these disagreeable phenomena can be traced to maladministration of credit. Artists are the race's antennae. The effects of social evil show first in the arts. Most social evils are at root economic. I, personally, know of no social evil that cannot be cured, or very largely cured, economically.

"The lack of printed and exchangeable slips of paper corresponding to extant goods is at the root of bad taste, it is at the root not of bad musical composition, but at the root of the non performance of the best music, ancient, modern and contemporary; it is at the root of the difficulty in printing good books when written.

"The fear of change is very possibly a contributing cause. I don't mean an honest and perspicacious fear of change, but a love of lolling and a cerebral fixation. But with a decent fiscal system the few hundred people who want work of first intensity could at any rate have it, whether it were supposed to leaven the mass or not."

The easiest corollary between a pair of thoughts is usually syntactic. Operative structures, grammatical or otherwise, processing diverse things in similar manners, might mislead the mind to assume that the diverse things are thus similar. Such might be the easiest way to contain a dyadic argument like Pound's, when one, or I, or you might conclude something like: The degeneration of art is linked to a failed economic system because--well, because they is.

My purpose here today is to look carefully at that 'because,' and try to take it as a start rather than finish. Elsewhere, in 'The Serious Artist,' Pound is more specific about the corollary:

"I have said that the arts give us the best data for determining what sort of creature man is. As our treatment of man must be determined by our knowledge or conception of what man is, the arts provide data for ethics."

The ethics of poetics are bound in the latter's interpretive ethos. The sense is that bad art is not only bad, but fundamentally immoral. Such correlation between equity and poetry is the core of Aristotelean theories of judgment--as in the Nichomachean Ethics: We must not adhere strictly to the letter of the law, but account in judgment for the character of the agent and the nature or intention of the act.

It is hardly coincidental that Pound begins the essay which contains the previous quote by suggesting that he is reluctantly merely rewriting Sidney's "Defense of Poesy," in the year of grace 1913. In Sidney's defense Poetry affords imaginative spectrum necessary to 'pierce and possess the sight of the soul' and thus attain 'judicial comprehending.'

I.e. Judgment must recognize the particular reality, as Cicero terms, of voluntas beyond the scriptum. And poetics, likewise an examination of cause through character and intention, is such ethical apparatus.

From Canto CXVI, last Canto:

Neptunus is subsumed by mind in metaphor; the representational, the dolphins, describe the character of Neptune's mind, although they do not determine it. His metonymic absorption here is a kind of auxiliary impersonation. Like Pound in his Personae, Neptunus is reckoned through the poetic character of the leaping, marine mammals. Pound's personae are explicitly instruments of reckoning. Pound's most primordial persona, the Seafarer:

May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
Journey's jargon...

The acknowledgment and adjudication of song's truth occurs through an examination of the humanity residual in a fictive construct of person--accounting, as previously stated, for its character and nature of agency. The lineaments shared by poetics and equitable justice, which Pound invariably links to economic justice, are an affective instrument in the proper application of judicious systems of thought.

Good poetry is good polity, in this rubric. Good political decision, likewise, is proper application of the equitable imagination which has so much of poetry in its decision-making process. We must interpret as we read. And it is the poet's moral duty to present accurate representations of human character and act. Only by such messy representation is the abstract codification of law, of fact, given the meaning of justice, the fuller sense of interpretive equity and humanity in the act of decision.

Worth noting that the Neptunalia was a two-day festival in Rome, in honor of Neptune, during which committees of citizens could vote on civil or criminal matters.

Neptunus Fountain, Queretaro, Mexico, c. 1910

Peripheral to all this, but related, is the Odyssean figure in the Cantos. I have previously detailed the import of the periplum, or navigatorial sense of history, but glossed the central role of Odysseus to its construction in the Cantos; Odysseus, who in the Odyssey is described as polytropon, or many-faced. This democratic manifestation of personae upon personae, epic polytropology, itself textualizes equity, or at least does for the forum in which the equitable imagination can be voiced.