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‘The Drama is Wholly Subjective’: Pound and Science

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Abstract

I have argued that Pound is richly symptomatic in his confrontation of the crisis of modernism’s inherited dislocation, as represented by the parallel tendencies of Symbolism and Naturalism. This literary crisis can itself be read as a reflection of a larger dislocation, registered at different levels in various discourses, and associated with a particular stage of crisis in the development of industrial capitalism, on the eve of the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the birth of the mixed economy and Welfare State. One should not forget the radical state of political, social and economic confrontation existing in Britain during Pound’s early years there.1 For an author, the crisis expresses itself as a rupture in his relation with his audience; the problem is located as a search for a productive role for the artist, and hence for a suitable language. It is thus technically located, for such a poet as Pound, in the application to his poetic vision of a practical ‘hygiene’ of ‘prose’ values, and, most especially, in a revision of the technique of metaphor as the locus of the dis juncture of the subjective and objective. We have also observed how Pound is influential in proposing a modernist resolution: an attempt to regain an audience by a posture and a technique which would offer a new synthesis of the poet’s specialised subjectivism with the ‘objectivity’ or ‘concreteness’ of ‘prose’. The project is contained initially in the literary values of Imagisme as a critical movement, its public existence as a historical movement, in Pound’s particular technique of the Image, and the theorisation of the ‘Serious Artist’ — subsequently to be extended fairly continuously through Vorticism and the theory of the Chinese script, towards its practical fulfilment in The Cantos.

Keywords

Scientific Discourse Scientific Language Industrial Capitalism Chinese Script Scientific Reference 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    As in the crisis of scientific materialism I describe below, industrial capitalism was finding itself confronted with its own consequences at this time: increasingly dramatic cycles of boom and unemployment, major financial crises, conspicuous urban poverty alongside technological development, and diminishing returns at the margins of colonisation. The major change, in English terms, began with the Liberal Party victory of 1906 and Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ of 1909, which precipitated a major constitutional crisis, provoked by the radical rebellion of the Tories. The story is masterfully told in George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England: 1910–1914 (1935; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1961). We find here ‘not a record of personalities but of events; and not of great events but of little ones, which, working with the pointless industry of termites, slowly undermined England’s parliamentary structure until, but for the providential intervention of a world war, it would certainly have collapsed’ (pp. 71–2). Apart from the problems caused by the Tory rebellion, the consensus was under attack from Militant Suffrage, Ireland, and massive industrial agitation, mainly in the mines, docks, shipping fleets and transport system. If the First World War represents a major crisis in industrial capitalism and a new stage of imperialism in the wake of nineteenth-century expansion, it did not, of course, resolve more than the immediate crisis which caused it. It did, however, give rise to a number of modernist proposals which sought to restore forms of order through models for the synthesis of those forces responsible for confrontation. These ‘solutions’, too — such as the pseudo-organicism of fascism or the welfare economics associated with Keynesianism and the New Deal — only postponed, for shorter or longer periods, the disorderly effects of the contradictions they concealed.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Walter Baumann, ‘Old World Tricks in a New World Poem’, Paideuma, 10.2 (Fall 1981).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Bell, Critic as Scientist, p. 1; see also the same author’s ‘The Phantasmagoria of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’, Paideuma, 5.3 (Winter 1976), and ‘Mauberley’s Barrier of Style’.Google Scholar
  4. Ezra Pound: The London Years, 1908–1920, ed. Philip Grover (New York: AMS Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    Yvor Winters, The Function of Criticism (1957), quoted and debated in Davie, Pound: Poet as Sculptor, p. 217.Google Scholar
  6. 27.
    Davie, Pound (London: Font ana Modern Masters, 1975) pp. 63–4.Google Scholar
  7. 32.
    Gaston Bachelard, Le Rationalisme appliqué (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1975) p. 153. The following account has been considerably influenced by Bachelard’s theory of science, which I consider to offer the most sophisticated answer to empirio-criticism in providing a coherent dialectical materialist epistemology. At the same time I should like to acknowledge a debt to Baudoin Jourdant, of the University of Strasbourg, whose seminars at the University of York in 1974 were of invaluable assistance in this area.Google Scholar
  8. 33.
    Martin A. Kayman, ‘Ezra Pound: A Model for his Use of “Science” ‘, in Ezra Pound: Tactics for Reading, ed. Ian F. A. Bell (London: Vision Press, 1982) pp. 79–102. The theory of acceptability is related to Jean-Pierre Faye’s use of the concept in Langages totalitaires (Paris: Hermann, 1972) and La Critique du langage et son économie (Paris: éditions Galilée, 1973) pp. 45–63. As one might gather from the title of his major work, Faye uses the concept to considerable effect in dealing with the specific languages of fascism and nazism.Google Scholar
  9. 34.
    Max Nänny, Ezra Pound: Poetics for an Electric Age (Berne: Franke Verlag, 1973). Nänny argues, for example, that ‘Pound, following the subliminal mandate of the electric age with its instant speed of information movement, replaced the slow and serial logic of literacy and print by the intuitive mosaic of instantaneous communication’ (p. 89).Google Scholar
  10. 43.
    Trevor I. Williams, The Biographical Dictionary of Science (London, 1969), entry for James Clerk Maxwell.Google Scholar
  11. 44.
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  12. 45.
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  13. 46.
    Lenin provides a fairly full survey of the range of reactions in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1908, rev. 1920; Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970). A good example of the vitalist argument is found in the works of Edward Carpenter, who is throughout an interesting contrast to Pound — see, for example, his ‘The Science of the Future’, in Civilisation, its Causes and Cures (London: Methuen, 1912). T. E. Hulme also uses an attack on the contradictions of science to justify his Bergsonian intuitivism — see Speculations, ed. Herbert Read (London: Kegan Paul, 1924), the posthumous edition of Hulme’s more important writings.Google Scholar
  14. 48.
    Gustave LeBon, The Evolution of Forces, éd. F. Legge (London: Kegan Paul, 1908) p. 350.Google Scholar
  15. 49.
    J. Arthur Thomson, An Introduction to Science (London: Williams & Norgate, 1911) p. 191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 53.
    Sir William Barrett, On the Threshold of the Unseen (London: Kegan Paul, 1917) p. 107. Barrett tells us in the Preface that he wrote the book before the outbreak of war, but decided to hold it over for the time being, which explains the later publishing date. See also his Psychical Research, whose contemporary seriousness is reflected in the fact that it also warranted a volume in the Home University Library series (London: Williams & Norgate, 1911).Google Scholar
  17. 54.
    William James, ‘What Psychical Research has Accomplished’ (1896).Google Scholar
  18. William James, ‘What Psychical Research has Accomplished’ (1896), in William James on Psychical Research, ed. Gardner Murphy and Robert O. Ballou (New York: Viking, 1973) p. 47. See also his ‘Frederic Myers’ Service to Psychology’ (1901), in same collection.Google Scholar
  19. 55.
    Thomas Szasz, Introduction to Ernst Mach, The Analysis of Sensation (1897; New York: Dover, 1959) p. ix.Google Scholar
  20. 56.
    John Losee, A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1972) p. 169.Google Scholar
  21. 57.
    Karl Pearson, The Grammar of Science (London: Walter Scott, 1892) pp. 103–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 58.
    Ernst Mach, Popular Scientific Lectures (1894–8; La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1943) p. 199.Google Scholar
  23. 82.
    Bernard Hart, Psychopathology, its Development and its Place in Medicine (London: Cambridge University Press, 1927) pp. 22–3.Google Scholar
  24. 87.
    Bernard Hart, in Subconscious Phenomena, ed. Hugo Mberg (New York and London: Rebman, 1912) pp. 116–18.Google Scholar
  25. 89.
    Bernard Hart, The Psychology of Insanity (London: Cambridge University Press, 1912) p. 62. It is to be noted that the scientists in the Society for Psychical Research were also careful to maintain and exploit this relation: see, for example, William Barrett’s rejection of the physical analogy of ‘brain waves’ as anything more than a useful metaphorical manner of accounting for the none the less scientifically sustainable hypothesis of telepathy (Psychical Research, pp. 107–8).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 94.
    CWC, p. 12. Cf. Henry Adams: ‘Ernst Mach — admitted but two processes in nature — change of place and interconversion of forms. Matter was Motion — Motion was Matter — the thing moved’ — The Education of Henry Adams (London: Constable, 1918) p. 453.Google Scholar

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© Martin A. Kayman 1986

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