Ezra Pound | Critical Essay by Salah el Moncef

This literature criticism consists of approximately 27 pages of analysis & critique of Ezra Pound.
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Critical Essay by Salah el Moncef

SOURCE: "Gold, Representation, and the Reversible Dynamic of Symptomatic Return in Ezra Pound," in Boundary 2, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1995, pp. 117-42.

In the following essay, Moncef examines Pound's disdain for gold as a symbol of evil. According to Moncef "the malevolent aspect of gold exists in its own right throughout Pound's works; however, within this negative imaginary dimension of gold, there also lies its positive function as a master-signifier of discursive and economic author-ity."

Gold and silver have been established by a general agreement as the means of purchasing all goods, and as a pledge of their value, because these metals are rare, and useless for any other purpose: of what consequence was it to us, then, that they should become more common, and that to mark the value of any commodity, we should have two or three signs in place of one?… [A]miable simplicity, so dear to our holy Prophet, constantly recalls me to the artlessness of the olden time, and the peace which reigned in the hearts of our first fathers.

       —Montesquieu, The Persian Letters, Letter 106

So much has been written about Pound's obsessive deprecation of gold that one can hardly avoid approaching the subject without confronting a sort of Manichean division whereby gold is relegated to an almost exclusively "evil" function in his works. Even if we limit ourselves to the vague parameters of "good" and "evil," however, a close inquiry into the symbolic (that is, discursive) implications of gold in Pound's writings reveals its highly ambivalent function of a condensed signifier that points to a complex interplay of both "good" and "malevolent connotations." As Peter Nicholls rightly argues, when viewed against the background of a debilitating overproduction of monetary signifiers, gold undoubtedly emerges in Pound's writing as a malevolent master-signifier, the obsessive index of a "psychological" fear of the dislocation of "the genuinely creative signifying system." I shall argue that this anxiety ultimately reflects the poet's fear of symbolic castration through dislocution and his relegation to the status of a dead author. Considering the recurrence of Pound's explicitly negative statements about gold and money, it is tempting to take his words at face value and see in his obsession with the destabilization of monetary and discursive referentiality a desire to reject gold as the cause of the destabilization—which would be a typically Poundian strategy.

One way to deal with the facile one-sidedness of this temptation is to articulate Pound's fear for the "genuinely creative signifying system" as a motive inseparable from his fear for the monetary signifying system. The analogous relation between a literary medium of representation based on nonreferentiality and the dissemination of meaning in what Pound defines as an "abstract" monetary discourse has been investigated by Jean-Joseph Goux, who posits the principle of nonreferential money as the paradigm of a literary discourse "devoid of … evocative capacity":

The token, as a word or a currency devoid of all evocative capacity, is therefore, in turn, the symbol of formalized reason…. Thus all exchange [monetary, discursive] is done through a mediating substitute, or a substitute of a substitute, indefinite deferral…. Nowhere presence. Always deferral.

In Pound's works, a similar occurrence of gold as the master-signifier of a morbid overproduction of dead, non-"evocative" monetary signs (the Hell Cantos) and its elusive otherness vis-à-vis the poet ("Canto 1") argue for its qualification as the symptomatic signifier of a subject fearing a fundamental loss of symbolic mastery at the hands of an all-powerful agency.

For this reason, one might argue that Pound's conscious pronouncements on the relation between usurious gold and the dislocation of the order of monetary and discursive representation is the simple sum of a binary education in a paranoid construct. From a Manichean perspective, the obsession with "usurocratic" gold in particular and the "toxicology of money" in general is the subjective symptom of a suppressed fear of physical dislocation and discursive dislocution: the literal and the symbolic castration of the authorial self. In "Canto 74," for instance, this symptomatic return of Pound's subjective fear of physical and symbolic castration emerges transformed into the social symptom of a usury-sapped, impotent "culture [that] lies shattered in fragments," a culture whose incomprehensible economic structure "has become a closed book to the aesthetes." My adoption of the term symptom in relation to Pound's dislocation-dislocution anxiety owes much to the Freudian dynamic of symptomatic return, the "substitutive process" whereby a repressed "instinctual impulse" returns in a "displaced" way: in Pound's case, castration anxiety returns in the form of an obsession with the deconstructive influence of usurocracy on the order of discursive and monetary representation.

Having examined this dimension of gold, however, the same disturbing question remains: all negative aspects of the question considered, does Pound write binarily about gold as an exclusively "good" or "evil" agency; or does the latter emerge throughout his career (and often against his authorial intentions) as an ambiguously "good" and "evil" signifier that can invest itself with a baffling form of reversibility, an alternate power of attractiveness and repulsiveness that the poet's conscious comprehension fails to corner? Even if, admitting to a shift in his outlook on the question, we argue that Pound's conception of gold becomes predominantly negative at a certain point in his career, we are still likely to miss the extremely ambivalent and far-reaching meaning of this signifier's double function as a telling index of the ideological dynamic at work in his poetic, cultural, economic, and political agendas. As I shall try to demonstrate, the very assumption of gold as the signifier of reversibility answers the first part of the question by ruling it out as simplistic.

If we stop ascribing to gold an exclusively negative capacity of subversiveness, its symptomatic emergence in Pound's imagination starts occupying the double role of an agency that is debilitating not simply through sheer inert malevolence but through a mortifying power of subjection. As. I have suggested above, the malevolent aspect of gold exists in its own right throughout Pound's works; however, within this negative imaginary dimension of gold, there also lies its positive function as the master-signifier of discursive and economic author-ity. This function of gold as a condensed signifier becomes emblematic of the poet's and society's impotence only insofar as its supplementing power is withheld from the "right" poet or the "right" politician who suffers from its demonic otherness—that is, its alienation and its misappropriation by the subverters of concrete monetary and discursive representation: the agents of abstract usurocracy. This reversibility of the function of gold (its protean capacity to shift, according to who possesses it, from the signifier of monetary and discursive power to the demonic emblem of impotence) partly explains Pound's ambivalence toward the monopolizers of wealth in general. Hence the fundamental impossibility of simplistically polarizing the function of gold as "good" or "evil," and the necessity of viewing it as a condensed signifier and a strong motive force behind Pound's economics and poetics: one of his key metaphors for rationalizing the systemic contradictions of the order of monetary and discursive representation.

At this level of conflation between subjective and systemic rationalization, the integration of the marginal usurpers of gold in the Poundian demonological scene becomes a conditional necessity in Pound's views on monetary and discursive representation in particular, and in his cultural and political outlook in general. Those usurpers, the aliens of the Western economic and cultural scene, are naturally the usurers who, through a strange effect of displacement, are transferred beyond the purely economic sphere and made to function as the morbid other of the true poet, the "perverters of language," whose presence saps the poet's voice, condemning it to the symbolic castration of dislocution. If we assume, as Pound does, that the hoarding of gold and then the dissemination of its imaginary value along a chain of signifiers without objectal signifieds implies the loss of all meaning, then it seems quite plausible to posit it as the paradigm of an initially referential discourse that gets sucked into what is, in Pound's poetics, the equivalent of a spatial black hole. By this black hole I mean, of course, the "muzziness" of nonreferential chaos, the discursive element that absorbs the "soft" poet unable to "cut in hard substance." It is a measure of the complexity of gold as a condensed signifier that it has come to occupy this conflationary point where a seemingly subjective symptom ends up reflecting a broader literary, cultural, and economic symptom. Subsequently, what might be initially discerned as Pound's subjective symptom emerges, in the final analysis, as a manifestation of the foundational symptom of the social order and its systems of symbolic representation. Because of this isomorphic conflation of the subjective and the social realms, gold, as an elusive signifier floating in the others' sphere (the usurers), can be viewed as the symptomatic signifier of both a culture's and a poet's subjection to the order of symbolic representation under its various guises.

Having established gold as the signifier of subjection, however, we should not overlook its role as an ideologically overdetermined agency that can stitch the seamy tissue of the monetary discourse that Pound criticizes at the level of its incidental margin rather than at the level of its foundational core. This mutation in the function of gold occurs when the state puts the fragmented economic fabric under the aegis of its normative design and reappropriates gold and the monetary order for their "true" function. Subsequently, from the Hell Cantos to the [Chinese] Dynastic Cantos, gold shifts from the signifier of "soft" amorphousness and perversion to the politically functional signifier of the state's unifying authority. When he envisions this reappropriation, Pound argues (consciously or unconsciously) in a strictly ideological way: namely, by repressing the fact that it is the system of monetary representation itself that is based on a fundamental slippage impossible to halt even through the supplementation of state mediation; by repressing the fact that any order of monetary representation (state-supplemented or "usurocratic") must posit as its raison d'être an endless combinatory drift of abstract monetary signifiers with no objectal signifieds. To frame the reappropriation of gold in Poundian terms is simply to state that the sole mediation of the right state suffices to restore the transparency of a referential equivalence between monetary sign and economic thing. The same applies to the appropriation of the order of signification by the concrete word of the author-itative poet who "compose[s] to the feel of the thing"—the poet who can capture the objectal thingness of the world in the word. At this level, we clearly recognize the conflation between Pound's artistic agenda and his politico-economic views. In effect, when, in anticipation of his later economic views, he announces, as early as 1912, his "scientific answers" to the social justification of literature, he envisions the coining of a "self-sustaining" objectal word in no need of further discursive supplementation as the only instrument of the poet's social credit:

[L]anguage, the medium of thought's preservation, is constantly wearing out. It has been the function of poets to new-mint the speech, to supply the vigorous terms for prose … poets may be "kept on" as conservators of the public speech, or prose, perhaps, becoming more and more an art, may become … self-sustaining.

Needless to say, the only way to keep language from "wearing out" into the amorphous muzziness of usurious hell is to cut it in the "hard substance" of concrete referentially. Thus, Pound seems to imply, only when reconsidered from the perspective of objectal concreteness will the newly acquired author-ity of the poet, like the renewed signification of the stamped gold coin, be taken at face value.

Later, in a 1919 text, the two functions (monetary and discursive) are more explicitly paired; their dialectical interplay, however, is cast in such a way as to shed a totally different light on Pound's association of the reappropriation of gold with the reappropriation of discursive author-ity:

The genius can pay in nugged and in lump gold; it is not necessary that he bring up his knowledge into the mint of consciousness, stamp it into either the coin of conscientiously analyzed form-detail knowledge or into the paper money of words, before he transmit it [Pound's emphasis] … the sudden coagulation of bits of knowledge collected here and there during the years, need not be re-sorted and arranged into coin. This sort of lump-payment is not mediumistic [my emphasis]; it is mastery.

Passages such as this one reveal the bedrock of Pound's contradiction, a contradiction that, let me say again, cannot be limited to a phase in his career but represent a motif that recurs throughout his works. On the one hand, his synthetic monetary-discursive metaphor implies that "lump" gold and the word of the true poet can be creditable only when they do not bear the stamp of a system of representation—that is, when they appear in their full embodiment of prediscursive thingness. On the other hand, throughout his career, he asserts ad nauseam that the only way of guaranteeing a stable monetary and discursive order is to trust their "new-minting" to the regulating mediation of the state and the poet—sole preservers of a monetary and a poetic discourse "which represent … something alive." If we follow this self-contradictory assertion from its premise to its logical conclusion, the assumptions we can make about it can only be imaginary. For what Pound seems to imply by his non-"mediumistic" gold is no less than the death of any medium of monetary and discursive representation, be it state-/poet-endorsed or usurocratic. Thus, as in the passage from "Art Notes," the contradictory split between the presymbolic anarchy of the monetary signified called non-"mediumistic" gold and the normative mediation of the order of signifiers provides a nodal Manichean metaphor for Pound's aporic quest. This aporic quest is embodied in a contradictory war waged against monetary and poetic discourse with its own impotent weapons: as with any monetary signifier that attempts to point to its signified in its premonetary thingness, a sign-thing is a fundamental logical contradiction in that the very presence of the one implies the irredeemable cancellation of the other.

In the more moderate passages where he discusses money exclusively, Pound is aware of the impossibility of a monetary order based on unmediated thingness. In order to close the gap opened by such an impossibility, he resorts to a process of rationalization whereby usurocratic deconstruction is made to represent the subversive force obscuring the referential relation between money and its specular double: the realm of things. During such moments, his political and cultural thought appears with its fundamental ideological contradictions. That is when he starts arguing simultaneously that gold is a monetary element whose evil lies solely in its misappropriation (its "false representation") and in its "inherent" liability to end itself to abstract manipulation:

The durability of metal gives it certain advantages not possessed by potatoes or tomatoes … in addition to this potentiality for unjust manipulation inherent in metallic money … man has invented a document provided with coupons to serve as a more visible representation of usury…. No! it is not money that is the root of the evil. The root is greed, the lust for monopoly…. All that is needed is a kind of money that cannot be kept waiting in the safe.

A similar indicator of Pound's contradictory diagnosis of a monetary order that is inherently speculative and potentially redeemable lies in his assertion, shortly before his discussion of inflation and stamp scrip, that silver money can actually serve as "a ticket for the orderly distribution of WHAT IS AVAILABLE. It may even be an incentive to grow or fabricate more grain or goods that is, to attain abundance." Although he deposits money as an inherently speculative economic factor, the emphasis on the fact that ultimately the false representation of usurious monopolizers is only a marginal phenomenon whose expansion has reached the core of a culture and an economy "shattered in fragments." In this context, I intend the term core as a structural component that Pound sees at work in the fabric of Western society, for, his contradiction aside, what he seems to discern in the false representation of money by the betrayers of language ultimately not a phenomenon intrinsic to the structure of monetary representation. Through this emphasis on the ultimate productive function of money, he manages to repress the inherently speculative an disseminatory nature of monetary discourse by ascribing its excessive malfunctions a displaced and incidental phenomenon: the subversive manipulations of usurocaratic cell that has worked its way from the margins of the socioeconomic fabric to its central core. It is against the background of this complex repression of a disseminatory quality inherent in the monetary as well as the discursive order that gold emerges as a reversible signifier. The first dimension of its reversibility is its liability to become a symptomatic signifier pointing to the death of the monetary and discursive thing through a cancellation of referential totality ("fragmentation"). The second dimension of its reversibility lies in its imaginary figuration as a signifier of potential empowerment through reappropriation of the non-"mediumistic" objectal other of money and language. In both cases, Pound's works emerge as the line of osmosis between the symptom of an individual and the symptom of a society meshed in an involuted ideological process whose obsessive aim is a desperate attempt to rationalize the unreasons of reason.

Which brings me to the oft-discussed question of the historicity of Pound's works—the irreducible relation between his poetics, his economics, and his totalitarian politics. By focusing on the symbolics of Pound's socioeconomic and poetic obsessions, the following discussion primarily attempts to sound the profound discursive irrationality of his totalitarian politics. In this sense, my interpretation of the symptomatics of Pound's work intends to reveal not so much the historical context of his political affiliation as the conceptual and symbolic limits of that affiliation, the inescapable bedrock of contradiction and ambivalence upon which his ideologically determined rationalizations repeatedly run aground. This does not mean, however, that we should conceive Pound's political, economic, and poetic re-expression of his anxiety in a static way. Paradoxically enough, Pound's fixation on the need to oppose author-itative order to disintegration, his obsession with the historically determined concept of the "conspiratorial Jew" as a principle of socio-economic rationalization, and so on are discursive loci that are crucial for revealing both the symbolic condensation of his socio-economic discourse and the baffling openness of his poetics to almost all types of totalitarian theories and practices. Thus, we can argue that the symbolic condensation of Pound's monetary and discursive obsessions is perhaps the key element in explaining his often incoherent synthesis of totalitarian principles as disparate as European feudalism, American populism, and Italian fascism. In the final analysis, the most telling symptom of the symbolic condensation of Pound's discourses—a condensation that the expresses politically through a disorienting capacity for ideological ventriloquism—is perhaps that ultimate Poundian paradox; the unrelenting, and yet constantly wavering, belief in the Poem pregnant with the aggregate echoes of an author-itative order to come.


The obsessive nature of Pound's desire to recover the non-"mediumistic" objectal double of language already manifests itself in as early a poem as "Near Perigord." In it, the rhetoric of desire that gives birth to Maent as a poetic persona and a historical object reveals Pound's concern with precise discursive representation as a token of the author-ity of the poetic word. It is true that, for Pound as well as for Bertrans, Maent is only a factitious fantasy object that "has no existence, no form outside the tyranny" of the poetic construct. Stating Maent's existence uniquely in terms of her subjection to the poetic frame, however, is an incomplete assessment of her role in Bertrans's and in Pound's poems as well as a considerable understatement of the "tyranny" of which she is capable. For is not her subjection to the tyranny of a factitious construct also, and by the same token, a sign of her rebellion against the possessive desire that she manages to elude even while it claims to capture her in words? In other words, because of Maent's unwillingness to manifest herself physically to the poet, Bertrans's poem stands as the imaginary supplement that, by, hopelessly trying to bridge the gap of her absence through substitutive intercourse, points to its own referential impotence. As is indicated by the conclusion of "Perigord," the construct that tries to synthesize fact and fiction retrospectively in a master-artifact, the poet and the historian eventually have to admit that a "shifting change" is the outcome of any discursive attempt (factitious or factual) to rationalize Maent's absence into presence. And if Pound "fails to detect the seam between fact and fiction" in Bertrans's poem, it is precisely because he finds himself unwittingly occupying that seam in exactly the same way Bertrans did!

Placed against Pound's concern with the referential authority of poetic discourse, we see, then, how crucial the Bertrans-Maent substitutive relation is for him. For even when we momentarily disregard the quotations from Bertrans's poem, we realize that it is through a similar dialectical interplay of presence and absence that Maent is initially posited as the condensed matrix of historical and discursive truth animating "Perigord"'s rhetoric of desire. What we find in the excerpts from Bertrans's poem only serves as further corroboration of Maent's key role. In effect, through Bertrans, we learn that all the supplementary parts he erects against Maent's absence—"'The voice at Montfort, Lady Agnes' hair, / Bel Miral's stature, the viscountess' throat'"—put "'all together, are not worthy of'" the real thing as a whole. Thus, against Bertrans's incremental drift of imaginary substitutes (including his poem), Maent emerges in her double function as the longed-for specular double of discourse, a source of desire that teases the grasp of the poet-lover (Bertrans) and the poet-historian (Pound) who try to capture, respectively, the real thing of amorous fantasy and historical imagination through the poetic word. Through her double existence in Bertrans's and in Pound's poem, Maent can therefore be viewed as the nodal signifier of discursive author-ity—the transcendent sphere where "somewhere, in the Other, it knows" the truth.

Another more significant dimension of Maent's double function concerns her position as a reversible signifier both for Bertrans and for Pound. For although she may be the real thing of Bertrans's writerly desire, and the matrix of historical truth for Pound, she ultimately turns into the matrix of truth as a vacant otherness that sucks, and suckers, the poet's power of expression through her teasing elusiveness. Pound expresses this totally different dimension of Maent in his final realization that her factitious existence as a steady referential whole in any poem is only an other substitutive supplement: a gaping black hole that absorbs the poet's energy through its vampishness. This vampishness of Maent, the presumed referent of poetic representation, ultimately degenerates into discursive vampirism, a "disease of proliferation" that can suck the poet's creative vitality unto death.

It is the final metamorphosis of the vampish Maent into an alien vampiric other that qualifies her as a reversible signifier: that which marks the poet's initial belief in the truth of discursive thingness as well as the symptomatic return of his fear of (symbolic) castration. In the latter case, Maent's poetic persona can be viewed as the master-index of the powerless moment when the poet can speak himself to death without being able to capture the living object of his imaginary representation, the moment when "truth stammers" despite all the poetic supplements deployed.

              So to this last estrangement, Tairiran!
              There shut up in his castle, Tairiran's,
      Gone—ah, gone—untouched, unreachable!
      She who could never live save through one person,
      And all the rest of her a shifting change,
      A broken bundle of mirrors …!

Given Maent's eventual emergence as the symptomatic signifier that represents fragmentation in poetic as well as in historical discourse, Pound realizes that the only person who can have intercourse with her as an unmediated, living whole is, after all, Tairiran; as to both poets, they can only evoke her as a dead object of fantasy condemned by the very substitutive constructs of their poetry to live as a reflection in fragmented imaginary mirrors. This debilitating otherness of Maent and the incapacity of the poet's imaginary attempt to relate to her as a living whole in his poetic mirror become all the more telling of Pound's concern with the dialectical interplay between discursive author-ity and impotence as we learn that "Perigord" is initially set against an intertextual background of (symbolic) castration. In this respect, it is important to know that Dante, the master that Pound uses to supplement his poem, sees in Bertrans's decapitation a vicarious mutilation of his own voice; hence, probably, the opening of Dante's Canto with the ominous six lines indicating the powerlessness of the poetic word in particular and of language in general. The intertextual resonances of "Perigord," then, create a double play of reflection: at one level, we have Dante, the poetic master, who starts his Canto with an acknowledgment of discursive powerlessness, contemplating another mutilated master; at a second level, we have Pound, a young poet aspiring to mastery, contemplating the powerlessness of both predecessors.

The same dialectical interplay between discursive author-ity and the impotent poetic voice informs "Canto 1," the Canto in which Pound the cultural crusader merges indistinctly with the figure of Odysseus, the literary epitome of the drifting adventurer, as the central subject or the Bildungsgedicht. Here, the discursive author-ity in which I am most interested concerns the intricate symbolic overtones surrounding Odysseus's/Pound's desired appropriation of the golden wand and its capacity to endow the holder with access to the underworld. Far from being a clearly positive or negative symbolic factor, the function of the golden wand is ambivalent in the sense that it operates as a reversible signifier marking a division within the (poetic) subject between a proleptic access to discursive author-ity and a denial thereof. But before proceeding to the analogical relation between the (poetic) subject aspiring to discursive mastery and the reversibility surrounding the precarious appropriation of the golden wand, I would like first to turn to one of Pound's remarks on the relation between literary discourse and life as a biological process. In a plea for the importance of literature, he argues that

the function of literature as a generated prize-worthy force is precisely that it does incite humanity to continue living…. They ["lovers of order"] regard it as dangerous…. They try to tame it down. They try to make a bog, a marasmus, a great putridity in place of a sane and active ebullience. (my emphasis)

With the same degree of precariousness (the potential movement of the poetic word between the (pro)creative drive of phallic generation and the "boggy" stillness of anal degeneration), a similar dialectical interplay between access to the life-generating power of the poetic word and the stillness of symbolic castration operates as the central motif of "Canto 1." Again, this interplay finds its locus of conscious return in one condensed signifier loaded with a reversible function: the phallic golden wand of Tiresias. In this Canto, the persona of Odysseus/Pound in the underworld emerges as that of the vicarious redeemer of the "impotent dead," invoking the authority of "Pluto the strong," god of gold and precious stones, and waiting to hear the pronouncement of Tiresias, holder of the golden wand. For it is Tiresias, seer and representative of the author-itative word, who holds the power of access to the underworld through his possession of the phallic signifier. Thus, from the outset, phallic author-ity is systematically associated with discursive author-ity. And it is to a paternal figure of author-ity that Odysseus/Pound turns, hoping to obtain the golden key to the word and the underworld. Through its function as the signifier of (discursive) potency, the golden wand stands in antithetical relation to the general lethargy of the impotent dead. Subsequently, it appears as a power-endowing source, enabling the holder to occupy the key role of redeemer of the underworld rough his author-itative function as recorder of the hell dwellers' misfortunes. Those hell dwellers are the people "with a name to come"—that is, a name hibernating in the underworld and waiting to be resurrected through the poet's desired function of naming. "I bid remember me," says the impotent Elpenor, asking for a prospective resurrection of his body through an inscription of his name, "A man of no fortune, and with a name to come. / And set my oar up …" (Pound's emphasis).

Access to the underworld and the resurrection of dead names through the golden wand refer us to the golden bough of Hermes, another prophet of the word and a "begetter" of discursive author-ity. Insofar as he aspires to the prospective moment of (re)generating the dead names through remembrance, inscription, and naming (the author's function), Odysseus/Pound, like Hermes, waits with deference for Tiresias's word. If we consider Hermetic virtues as a whole—that is, in their (pro)creative biological/symbolic function as the "male origin of life"—then the bough of Hermes is the signifier antithetical to the (pro)creative stasis of the dwellers of the uterine underworld who cannot inscribe their names.

For the aims of this essay, I will focus on the symbolic function of the sailor/poet in relation to the (pro)creative Hermetic word, especially insofar as it foreshadows a proleptic moment of appropriation. For it is obvious that Odysseus's/ Pound's deference to Tiresias's refusal ("I stepped back") is the placatory gesture of an effaced "noman" aspiring to future possession of the signifier of discursive author-ity. Its most significant implication, however, is that it is at the same time a sign of deferral, indicating that the sailor/poet is still like the impotent dead: a "name to come" condemned through paternal decree to drift "over dark seas" before acceding to the author-ity of the seer with the golden wand.

With its central image of the sailor/poet aspiring to the signifier of discursive and (pro)creative power held by an other, this first Canto lays the foundation of the poet's identity as an initially dispossessed and selfless vacancy in the process of being impregnated with the voices of author-ity—the Odyssean "noman," who defines himself as a receptacle pregnant with other voices. In this sense, the pronouncement "by no man these verses" can be viewed as emblematic of the poem's obsessive strategy of endless supplementation through the presence of other author-itative men. In this qualification of the poetic persona as a mediator delivering other men's voices, we already see an anticipation of the derivative "ego scriptor" of the Pisan Cantos emerging "from the wreckage of Europe" and trying to represent, through the agency of retrospective naming, the deeds of great men reduced to figures "with a name to come"—that is, a name awaiting rebirth through the discursive intercession of a Hermetic poet destined to represent all the dead names of the Western scene.

When viewed as a masked affirmation of the ego scriptor, however, it is precisely this selfless vacancy of the dispossessed poet that grants him natural author-ity. In an earlier text, we already discern an inceptive form of this ambivalent function of the poet as a selfless reflector of "many men's" voices:

The so-called major poets have most of them given their own [Pound's emphasis] gift but the peculiar term "major" is rather a gift to them from Chronos. I mean that they have been born upon the stroke of their hour and that it has been given them to heap together and arrange and harmonize the results of many men's labor. This very faculty for amalgamation is a part of their genius and it is, in a way, a sort of unselfishness. (my emphasis)

This view of the poet as a "modest," "unselfish" (shall we read "selfless"?) entity is important only insofar as it acquires a double relevance. First, it qualifies the naturally "gifted" poet as the representative of all significant poetic voices, thus making his poetry the ultimate "amalgamation" of author-itative poetic expression. Second, when applied beyond the poetic sphere, Pound's definition of the poetic voice as an amalgamating matrix empowers the latter to represent, thanks to the poet's natural genius for "harmonization," the various figures of political and cultural author-ity. It is probably in the light of this ambivalent interplay between selfless effacement and the poet's natural "gift" of multiple representation that we should read the pronouncement "There be thy mirror in men."

A strong indicator of Pound's conception of himself as a selfless receptacle filled with other men's author-ity and "labor" appears in his attempt to reaffirm the role of his Poem as the source of rebirth of the poet-son through the word. Needless to say, it is important to remember the political affiliation underlying this ambivalent filiality: more than ever, the poet-son of the Pisan Cantos reiterates his role as the specular double of Mussolini, the man in whose mutilation the name of the father (sole guarantor of the stability of the order of monetary and discursive representation) finds its literal dislocation. The (re)generation of the order of discursive representation in, and through, the poet (the specular double of the dead father) is a major motif in "Cantos 74" and "80." In effect, in both Cantos, the ego scriptor of "Canto 76," the "lone ant," the synecdochical part of the "broken ant-hill" of dead names, looks forward to a rebirth of "the wreckage of Europe" through the word spoken in the name of the dead father(s).

In "Cantos 74" and "80," the motif of the rebirth of the figure(s) of authority in the word of the poet is played out against an intricate amalgamation of pagan myths of the son as specular double of the father and the Christian myth of the incarnation of God the Father in the son's word. This relation to the father(s), symbolized through the filial image of "DIGONOS" (the "twice-born"), allows the ego scriptor to function as a specular double symbolically reborn, through the discursive agency of the poem, out of the dead name(s) of the father(s):

      … Odysseus
             the name of my family.
      but a precise definition
         transmitted thus Sigismundo
         thus Duccio, thus Zuan Bellin, or trastevere with La Sposa
      Sponsa Cristi in mosaic till our time / deification of emperors.

Paradoxically, it is only insofar as he accepts the Odyssean image of a noman that the poet can accede to his symbolic role as the ego scriptor destined to incarnate the dead name(s) of the father(s) through the "verbum perfectum." In other words, facing the crippling author-ity of other men's names, the poet can only affirm his symbolic/second birth through his author-ial death; hence the necessity of giving poetic credit to his Poem through the endless drift of other author-itative names and voices integrated in order to supplement the ego scriptor's voice. Because he perceives it as an "amalgamating" necessity, supplementation in Pound becomes a poetic form of rationalization—that is, a justification through poetic method of the specular relation of desire that defines the poet in relation to other authoritative men. Thus, in a way that is strongly illustrative of his amalgamating practice, Pound posits this specular relation as a premise to be applied with the rigor of an aphoristic statement: "There be thy mirror in men."

It is probably from the paradoxical perspective of a self-negating affirmation of the ego scriptor (simultaneously a male specular double and a female receptacle) that we should read Pound's emphatic assertion of his "nomanhood" in relation to Ouan Jin, the "man of letters" and the negative Poundian alter ego who tries to usurp the father's function of creating the world through the word:

     "I am noman, my name is noman"
     but Wanjina is, shall we say, Ouan Jin
     or the man with an education
     and whose mouth was removed by his father because he made too many things
     Ouan Jin spoke and thereby created the named
                        thereby making

In stark Manichean opposition to the excessive discursive "clutter" of the son, Pound then introduces immediately the biblical word of the creation. The latter, as we know from the earlier Hell Cantos and A Visiting Card, was betrayed through a usurious clutter of abstraction whose monetary and discursive "falsification" has caused the power of (pro)creative referential discourse to degenerate into the "satanic transubstantiation" of the word. The latter, with its metaphoric suggestion of a relapse into anal amorphous ness, represents the ultimate "falsification" of the natural generation of wealth through a chaotic overproduction of nonreferential signs. (If, at this point, I refer to a process of causality in relation to this Manichean polarity in Pound's vision, it is not so much to delineate a clear-cut opposition as to point out a process of ideological rationalization whereby the systemic failures inherent in monetary and poetic discourse are ascribed to a factor judged external and incidental to the order of monetary and poetic discourse.) The first passages of A Visiting Card, in which the nonreferential amorphousness and fragmentation of the order of words is not only justified by but also yoked to the monetary falsification of usury, provide a good instance of Pound's ideological rationalization according to the vague terms of concrete good and abstract evil:

We find two forces in history: one that divides, shatters, and kills, and one that contemplates the unity of the mystery.

"The arrow hath not two points."

There is the force that falsifies, the force that destroys every clearly delineated symbol, dragging man into a maze of abstract arguments, destroying not one but every religion. (my emphasis)

The resurrection of the "arrow" with one point, the seminal word-as-God-incarnate reerected as an antidote against the abstract forces that disseminate, "shatter," and "kill," is the event that Pound seems to celebrate in the Christian intimations of a reincarnation and a regeneration of the name of the Father through the word of the Son. Like those who emerge out of "the gates of death" after having "swum in a sea of air strip / through an aeon of nothingness," the poet turns to Christ's affirmation of His and God's rebirth and proliferation in the seminal word. The imagery of rebirth out of the chaos of death ("nothingness") is further sustained by an apposition of the dark "souterrain" (an agrarian metaphor for the underworld?) and the grain ready to sprout:

         if calm be after tempest
      that the ants seem to wobble
          as the sun catches their shadows
      with a smoky torch through the unending
              labyrinth of the souterrain
      or remembering Carleton let him celebrate Christ in the grain
      and if the corn cat be beaten
        Demeter has lain in my furrow.

More than just a homage to a secular figure of agricultural productivity (Carleton), the celebration of "Christ in the grain" has deeper symbolic connotations related to the biblical motif of the (pro)creative seminal word, the specular bind between the name of the Father and the word of the Son. In effect, using a similar agrarian image of proliferation after death, Jesus-as-God-incarnate posits His physical death as the necessary condition of a resurrection of the name of the Father through the filial word (John 12:24, 28).

Through the appropriation of the biblical interplay between the death of God-in-Jesus and His resurrection in the seminal word, Pound's affirmation of other men's rebirth by means of the (pro)creative agency of the Poem comes to stand for the matrix (the "furrow," the line) pregnant with the dead names' life to come. It is probably in this sense that "the [poetic] forma, the concept rises from death"—a dictum that refers us back to Pound's early-phrased desire to see the true poet new-mint language. For it is through such a regeneration of the dead order of representation that the perennial word of the hard poet, like the hard gold coin of the true leader, can be made to transcend its death by usurious disincarnation and dissemination: "The bust outlasts the throne / The coin Tiberius." Naturally, by confining it to the bearing of other men's names, Pound qualifies the (pro)creative poetic word as partaking of an exclusively homoerotic process. By virtue of its exclusiveness, this positing of a phallocentric order of representation as the antidote against the uterine stasis of death is not devoid of ambiguity. As we have seen in "Canto 1," the initial positing of the life-giving word of the Hermetic poet as an affirmation of the redemptive virile ego scriptor is always already a reversible function in the sense that, ultimately, it reveals the ambivalent position of the poet as both a potential holder of the seminal phallic word and a vacant noman. For even while aspiring to appropriation of the name of the father in "Canto 80," the ego scriptor still has to assert himself defensively—that is, as the matrix of the deferential noman, the furrow pregnant with the seed of names hibernating in the underworld of the Western scene. In a strangely infectious way, this reversible function if the ego scriptor (a specular double of other men and a female matrix) eventually marks the reversibility of the Poem itself: its status as an androgynous signifying body oscillating between its ideal of formalized being and its nightmare of fragmented nothingness, between the chaos of uterine vacancy and the (pro)creative plenitude of semantic presence.


As I have tried to demonstrate, the death stasis of the order of representation and its representatives appears in the Cantos as the symptom of a fragmented culture whose dislocation is rendered in the paroxysmal climax of the Pisan Cantos but whose liability to a collapse through a dislocution of the voices of author-ity already finds its inception in "Canto 1." With Pound's vision of the "amalgamating" function of the poet's voice in mind, we can see the cultural dimension of his invocation of the names of the impotent dead and the powerless figures of "Cantos 1, 76," and "80." If the poem fails to redeem the broken anthill of the Western scene by reviving its author-itative voices, however, we already know Pound's justification of this failure as well as the outcome of the justification. The outcome is, first, a repression of the inherently dislocutionary nature of discourse and the disseminatory nature of the monetary order; and, second, a symptomatic return of this repression in the deconstructive powers of usurious monetary misrepresentation—the betrayers of language.

In the Hell Cantos, usury is represented as a dissembling signifying force that eludes concrete, as well as meaningful, representation—a disseminating agency threatening creative and procreative power:

      with usura
      hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
      harpes et luz
      or where virgin receiveth message
      with usura
      no picture is made to endure nor to live with
      but is made to sell and sell quickly
      with usura, sin against nature,
      is thy bread as dry as paper,
      It slayeth the young man's courting
      It hath brought palsy to bed, lyeth
      between the young bride and her bridegroom.

The usurious overproduction of dead monetary signifiers, the false representation of wealth, can turn "natural" (referential) art into an "unnatural," infinitely reproducible and marketable surface—a "picture." Likewise, instead of producing the real thing called bread, usury transforms the latter into a sign falsely represented on, and by, paper. This complete subversion of the natural thingness of the order of monetary and discursive representation, symbolized by the castration (the "palsy") of the male procreative capacity, eventually culminates in the images that refer to the misappropriation of gold and precious stones by usura and the discursive consequences of such a misappropriation. If, as Rabaté argues, we posit gold as being initially the signifier that "connotes the work of the poet writing with care," then it does not seem unwarranted to argue, against Rabaté's diachronic framing, that even in the later "Canto 45," for instance, the absence of gold from the weaver's work can be taken as a metaphoric expression of the usurpation of natural meaning from the poet's discourse:

     It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
     It gnaweth the thread in the loom
     None learneth to weave gold in her pattern
     Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisie is unbroidered
     Emerald findeth no Memling.

Pound's metaphoric equation of the misappropriation of gold with the monetary and discursive misrepresentations of the usurocratic "perverters of language" appears more emphatically in the Hell Cantos' association of the monetary overproduction of nonreferential signifiers with the "perversion" of anal sterility. It is true that in the Hell Cantos, as well as in "Canto 45," the signifiers of wealth (gold, jewels, money) seem the loathsome tokens of unnatural (noncreative) perversion—nameless, amorphous objects sucked in by the "mud" of chaotic anality. As the early and late Cantos how, however, it is this very regression of gold, the "natural" signifier of monetary and discursive referentiality, to the "ooze" and "lost contours" of anal amorphousness that necessitates the reestablishment of its author-iative status as the master-signifier of hard money and the hard word. Ultimately, and despite their attempts to defile jewels in the mud of hell chaos, the dwellers of Pound's hell end up "howling to find them unstained."

It is, then, in view of Pound's desire to restitute the true function of a disappropriated gold that the latter should be regarded as a reversible signifier in his works: it can shift from the usurious sphere of anal amorphousness and death to the (pro)creative sphere of the true political author-ity, which, as announced in Gold and Work, concerns itself with the referential dimension of money in concrete economic terms of vital creation of goods. In this sense, the later Cantos—with their scenes of reappropriation of gold by figures of authority—represent Pound's ideological belief that the monetary-discursive hell of the Western world is not a phenomenon inherent in discourse and in capital but an incidental occurrence redeemable through the Utopian centralization of the monetary order—a belief already expressed in A Visiting Card: "State or imperial money has always been an assertion of sovereignty. Sovereignty carries with it the right to coin or print money." Hence the constant emphasis (in "Canto 87," for instance) on a strict state control of issue rather than the nature of capital itself: "attention to outlet, no attention to source, / That is: the problem of issue. / Who issues it? How?" The master-metaphor for such a state of affairs (which is ultimately an affair of the state) is the libidinal tapping of perverse usurious excess. Hence the "order" and the "norm" of the Dynastic Cantos, which rise against the "semitic" fragmentation, the "grades and gradations" of a social body aspiring to "corporate" homo-geneity: "CHI KING ostendit incitatque. Vir autem rectus / et libidinis expers ita domine servat."

It is in view of an "attention to outlet" and the author-ity that issues and controls gold that such figures as William Jennings Bryan and Thomas Hart Benton (other paternal figures) are "Willing to see a currency of hard money," a "currency of intrinsic value" antithetically opposed to the usurocratic overproduction of "unconvertable [sic] paper." From this perspective of the recuperation of gold by the right figures of author-ity, it seems reasonable to suggest that for Bryan, as well as for the hard poet who posits himself against the anal overproduction of the soft poet, the only standard that should be erected as the index of monetary and discursive referentiality is hard gold. It is through a desire to reaffirm what is out of circulation, what needs to be new-minted, that Bryan rebels against the disseminatory power that has dispossessed him of his gold:

     Young Bryan
     Wanted gold, coins not then in circulation,
     Asked for the state of his account. The teller took up packages of bills and
     asked in what size notes he wd/ have it.
     "I want money." said Mr. Randolph.
     The teller, beginning to understand him, said: Silver?

For both the figure of author-ity and the poet lost in the usurocratic ooze of disseminatory overproduction and misrepresentation, value on paper is still not the real thing of monetary and discursive representation. In this respect, perhaps the most important aspect of Pound's works stems from his obsessive belief that the mission of both figures lies in a search for the real thing outside the confines of formalized monetary and discursive representation (the bank, the soft word). It is a measure of the importance of such works that they should survive as the traces of a reversible struggle between a bondage to the chains of monetary and discursive signification and the aporic utopia of their identity as the incarnation of thingness beyond (or rather before) discourse.

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