Thursday, September 28, 2006

culinary choices

That last post a bit of experimenting in the off the top of the head vein, & heaven knows there’s often very little on the top of this head – but interesting responses: From Norman Finkelstein:
Not to be picky in regard to your perceptive contrast, Mark, but I think Pound said a ball of light in the reader's hands. You must have been thinking of that other great American poet, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Good God Almighty, Norman, but you’re right. (But who’d you rather be dancing to, EP or JLL? No contest there…) From Jessica Smith:
there are lots of "minor literature" modes that seem useful for understanding zuk--domesticity, family, heritage, craft--this is what i like about zuk and what i much prefer to read over pound's self-indulgent expansiveness. i don't think it's a matter of who's the better poet but of who one prefers aesthetically or politically.
I’m totally with you, Jessica. The odd thing is that while I started out that last post musing over Marjorie’s “ranking” of the two poets & overtly disclaimed the “horse race” mentality myself, the rhetoric of my musing seemed to fall right into that rank(ing) category. Ie, I found myself letting what some might consider EP’s “strengths” trump a rather wanly stated description of LZ. For the record: I prefer Phillips to Bacon, Picabia to Picasso – without claiming the former as in some sense “superior” to the latter. What I suppose Adorno would call a “culinary” choice.

Ben Friedlander does a nice job of showing what’s most distasteful in some of the things Poundians value most highly:
There's a lot more sex, drama, rage, and exultation in Bukowski too, and more grime, blood, or jizz than you'll find even in Pound. Not to make a negative example of poor Buk--he deserves his celebrity, if only for what he did for John Fante. But I don't see how the lack of these qualities proves anything about Zukofsky.
I don’t think Ben & I are the only readers of Pound who get regularly impatient with what one might call his “phallic” side, his endless celebration of all those “balls of light” and “rock-drills.” Ben continues:
For my part, I feel about Pound as I do about Emerson: endlessly fascinating prose, endlessly tedious verse. Like Emerson also in that he inspired such vastly different projects as Zukofsky's and Olson's. (And before anyone--OK, Marjorie--says that Zukofsky and Olson are hardly equal to Dickinson and Whitman, well, they come closer than Pound does to Emerson.)
Looking back over EP – not encyclopedically, nor in detail – I sympathize. The man could write wonderful prose: and not just forceful, browbeating, bare-knuckled “manly” prose, but at times wonderfully sensitive and complex, even self-consciously tentative, thinking in language. But then I turn to The Cantos, & for every passage of intriguingly knotty juxtaposition & mind-bending register-jumping, there’s one of those damned “epiphanies,” where panthers are lolling around in trees eating grapes or naiads are pirouetting thru groves like the hippos in Fantasia – Pound’s paradises, paraphrasing Bob Perelman, look suspiciously like Maxfield Parrish paintings on turn-of-the-century dorm walls.

Even the “lyrical” moments in EP, so celebrated by a thousand bald & bearded professors (shut up, Norman), after a while start to sound like recycled Swinburne & early Yeats. Gimme LZ at his most gristly. (Ron Johnson once told me, when we were talking about the “music” of poetry, that Swinburne was like eating Turkish delight: “But Zuk, that’s like gnawing a marrow-bone.”)
***
(Thanks much Ben; I'm not nearly as dyspeptic as it sometimes seems!)

3 comments:

Jessica Smith said...

"But then I turn to The Cantos, & for every passage of intriguingly knotty juxtaposition & mind-bending register-jumping, there’s one of those damned “epiphanies,” where panthers are lolling around in trees eating grapes or naiads are pirouetting thru groves like the hippos in Fantasia – Pound’s paradises, paraphrasing Bob Perelman, look suspiciously like Maxfield Parrish paintings on turn-of-the-century dorm walls."

This made me laugh. And not a snooty academic snicker, but a good ol guffaw.

alex davis said...

"But then I turn to The Cantos, & for every passage of intriguingly knotty juxtaposition & mind-bending register-jumping, there’s one of those damned 'epiphanies,' where panthers are lolling around in trees eating grapes or naiads are pirouetting thru groves like the hippos in Fantasia – Pound’s paradises, paraphrasing Bob Perelman, look suspiciously like Maxfield Parrish paintings on turn-of-the-century dorm walls."

Nicely put, Mark, but don't those epiphanies belong with such different visions as that of Machen's _Great God Pan_ and Grahame's _Wind in the Willows_? Pound's pantheism is rooted in such late Victorian/Edwardian nature-worship.

Henry Gould said...

Just to play devil's advocate for a moment - & while I think all the points made here have merit -

it helps to hear Pound recite sections of the Cantos aloud. The "purple passages" are blended into a very imperial-purplish whole - an exotic and weird "epic" impression. To pick & choose the "tasty" bits has its distortive tendencies - just as the same technique isolated the Paolo & Francesca passages in Dante & made him a mirror of 19th-cent. critics' romanticism.

I think we're meant to take the paradisal & infernal & historical passages in relation to each other, as parts of a whole. & it's important to try to sense WHERE Pound is situating the poem's narrating voice. It's not the voice of a writer or compositor : it's meant to be an anonymous (Odyssean) voice of experience. The slangy, harsh passages shade & flavor the "enchanted" passages, & vice versa. You're not meant to linger over the pre-Raphaelite gushes of the early parts of the poem : most of that gets refined away in the more stringent later cantos.

I'm not a died-in-the-wool Poundian either, by the way.