Move or be moved: Insight to Ezra Pound

Communication and Media scholar Jakub Guziur’s latest book is entitled, ‘Ezra Pound in Contemporary (Post) Culture: Images of the Modernist in Artistic Media’. The book consists of a set of essays related to deconstructing images of Pound in the media from the 1950s to the present day. Dr. Nesbitt, Dean of the School of Communication and Media, spoke to doc. Guziur about the significance of Pound’s work, and controversy surrounding his character.

Who is Ezra Pound, and why should we know about him?

Pound was an influential modernist poet and essay writer. It was him and a couple of his friends ‒ most notably T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis ‒ who at the beginning of the 20th century defined modernist literature and artistic culture. Since “modernism is our antiquity,” as an art historian T.J. Clark famously noted, getting to know Pound means learning about where we have come from, at least culturally.  

How did you come to study Pound’s work? As the Czech Republic’s unofficial expert on the work of Bob Dylan, my first guess would be through him…

Exactly. As a teenager I was listening to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited over and over again. The album’s final track “Desolation Row” has a puzzling line about “Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower.” Later on when I came across some articles on modernist literature, I wanted to find out if Dylan was merely namedropping or if there actually was something behind it. What I discovered was more complex and fascinating than any popular song… Anyway, Dylan’s song introduced the persona of Ezra Pound into American popular culture, where it started to live a rather strange life of its own.   

A recent headline of an op-ed in the Guardian read, “Ezra Pound wrote the world’s single greatest poem, but is it wrong to love a fascist?” Obviously, he is a fairly controversial person…

Pound was an avant-garde artist and as such he used controversies to gain attention. His provocations, unusual clothing and aggressive arguments should be seen as part of his rhetorical strategy. On the other hand, he was scholarly and deeply believed in the power of art to promote personal, social and cultural change. Pound was a fascist in the sense that he blindly supported Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and opposed American involvement in World War II. Unlike the fascists, he was a strong individualist who defended individual rights and celebrated cultural plurality. Some years ago, I would have said that nobody is interested in Pound because he was a fascist, but since then a number of neo-fascist organizations have appeared which refer to Pound as their “forefather”; the Italian one even named itself after Pound…  

‘Separating the art from the artist’ seems to apply in this case…

I do not think it is possible, especially in Pound’s case, as his life and opinions are reflected in his work. We tend to see important historical personalities either as heroes or villains. We should perhaps better respect their individuality, since people always act in a specific personal, historical and cultural context. Condemning Pound for being a fascist is as useless as claiming that he was not one. Finding out what he actually believed in and why may help us better understand not only his work but also complexity of the period he lived in.  

What is the significance of Pound’s work? It seems to cross boundaries…

Pound was versatile; apart from poetry, literary and art criticism he also wrote about economics and culture. He translated from several languages, composed music, and built his own furniture. As a writer he has shown new poetic possibilities and as an original thinker he has inspired scholars working in various fields. We are having this conversation at the Department of Communication Media, so it seems appropriate to mention that Marshall McLuhan always credited Pound, Eliot and Joyce with the idea that “the medium is the message.” McLuhan corresponded with Pound and even visited him to consult an outline of his groundbreaking study The Gutenberg Galaxy.    

There seems to be a revival of interest in his work in recent times. Do you have this feeling? If so, why do you think there is?

First of all, his poetic work remains fresh and inspiring, which is probably due to the fact that Pound based his poetics on the presentation of clear-cut images. Pound was exploring cultural change brought about by modernity; modernism, modernity and their complex relationship have been of a great interest for sociologists, cultural and media studies scholars for years. Some critics nowadays think that the social, cultural and political situation in which Pound worked resembles our own. For example, after the recent global financial crisis, which shook public trust in political authorities, many have called for applying different economic models, which would be more socially sensible and responsible. During his time, Pound was searching for alternatives, and so are we. I believe that we can learn much from his work, and I hope we can also learn from his errors and mistakes. 

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