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Was Ezra Pound a Fascist or Just Insane?


#1

In The Nation, Evan Kindley has a review-essay of The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound by Daniel Swift. After his ignominious return to the US in the wake of WWII, Ezra Pound was institutionalized at a federally funded mental hospital. As Kindley explains, Swift’s book examines how many of Pound’s poetic admirers, in his own day and today, have used his apparent mental illness to excuse his virulent fascism and anti-Semitism. Read an excerpt from the piece below, or the full text here.

The insanity defense may have saved Pound’s life, but it has created permanent difficulties for assessing his literary achievement and, for that matter, reckoning with his politics. The simplest courses are to denounce Pound’s work in total (easy enough to do, particularly for critics who were already hostile or indifferent to modernism) or to bracket its ideological content, suspending judgment and even, in many cases, understanding. (This, too, can be seen as a by-product of Cornell’s insanity defense: If Pound’s racism is merely a symptom of his madness, why bother to track its logic or try to comprehend its appeal?)

While a great deal of excellent scholarship has been published on Pound’s fascism, there is still a tendency among those who study him to minimize or ignore his politics. Of his visit to the 2013 Ezra Pound International Conference (EPIC) in Dublin, Swift reports: “I hear ‘versifier’ used as a term of abuse, and an hour-long elucidation of three lines of a fragment. I hear an awful lot of gossip about long-dead literary editors. I hear no mention of fascism or anti-Semitism.”

Image of Ezra Pound via the Poetry Foundation.


#2

It seems likely he was both a fascist and mentally ill. The two tend to go together.


#3

For what it’s worth, a vignette Raymond Foye shared with me regarding the issue of Pound’s anti-Semitism…

Near the end of Pound’s life, Allen Ginsberg recorded conversations with the older poet–when Ginsberg asked Pound about anti-Semitism, Pound replied with some regret that his anti-Semitism was an old “Suburban prejudice”, growing up in Idaho…


#4

The title of this piece trivializes the question, as do many conversations of Pound’s involvement with Italian Fascism in the 30s and 40s, as well as his affiliation with a far right domestic terrorist like Kasper in the 50s, by lumping many distinct things together with the catchall term of revilement “fascist.” It’s unquestionable that Pound was both a vocal supporter of both Mussolini and the corporate state. He was unquestionably antisemitic. He also maintained correspondence with dodgy characters like Kasper and Eustace Mullins. He may also have suffered from mental illness. But each of these questions needs to be treated individually if one is actually interested in understanding how these things fit together. It’s striking that the e-flux conversation on “Democratizing the Control of Money and Credit” is posted in such close proximity to mention of Kindley’s Nation piece, which makes virtually no effort even to describe Pound’s economic ideas in any detail. Public control of the credit supply is at the core of Pound’s support for the corporate state, and of the conspiratorial thinking into which he descended. I am not defending either Pound or his economic ideas, but if the conversation is about understanding rather than just smug denunciations, it would seem worthwhile to look at what he actually thought about economics.