• Reading the Cantos: Pound's Dejection Over the Loss of an Ideal Readership

    Benjamin Smith (see profile)
    Ezra Pound, Poetry
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    MLA Conference
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    Conf. Loc.:
    Chicago, IL
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    History is written by the victors, but it can also be rewritten. Ezra Pound knew this; we, his readers, are learning it anew. Recent Pound criticism has pushed back against traditional readings de-emphasizing or downplaying his poetry's political content. Despite its idiosyncrasies, The Cantos is now frequently understood as an authoritarian text, with an aesthetic cultivated in proximity to Fascist understandings of culture. Only in the final volume, Drafts & Fragments, does this aesthetic begin to fracture. By focusing on Canto CXVI and its depiction of Pound, Mussolini, and The Cantos as a whole, this paper attempts to sketch the breakdown of Pound's authoritarian aesthetic, and, in doing so, pinpoint the mismatch between Pound's imagined and actual readership. The canto conflates the poet and the dictator; the poem and good government, and in doing so transforms its readers into stewards for a vision of Poundian Paradise. To an extent, Pound's readers on the extreme right understand this, with some organizations going so far as to model their political programs on his. Poundians have had difficulty responding to these developments, examining the transformations in the aesthetics of the late cantos provide a means of doing so. By elaborating on the final developments in Pound's aesthetic, critics will be able to form a more complete understanding of Pound's poetic contribution.
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    2 years ago
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