Poetics of Loss in the Cantos of Ezra Pound: From Modernism to Fascism

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This book examines how the modernist poetics exemplified in Ezra Pound’s epic poem The Cantos are unavoidably bound-in with the ideological forces underpinning his advocacy of fascism. By highlighting Pound’s reliance upon a poetics of loss, the book’s close-readings of The Cantos trace his poetic development from modernism to fascism. It starts with Pound’s assertion – from the end of The Cantos – ‘That I lost my center / fighting the world.’ To counter such a modernist sense of lost culture and ruined history, however, The Cantos relies, paradoxically, on modernist strategies of poetic fragmentation and dissociation. Because Pound’s poem thus confirms the very loss it seeks to eradicate, the book argues that his developing poetic language throughout the poem tends increasingly towards fascism. In following this development, the book provides extended analyses of sections of the poem often overlooked by critics – The China Cantos and The Adams Cantos – as well as new and challenging readings of sections of the poem, such as the The Malatesta Cantos and The Pisan Cantos – that are more familiar to readers of Pound. Overall, it argues that Pound’s reactionary urge to redefine a lost culture, coupled with his sense of the textual annihilation of a validating poetic center, is the cultural ground upon which his ideal of the fascist republic rests.


“[The author’s] Pound is one whose intended pitkin proved, inevitably, to be not a site for the meeting of two worlds but rather the great unpassable abyss, scored by Pound's own pen, between present and past; the sign that language divides us always from that which it signifies. And in his increasingly desperate attempt to close that divide, Dr. Selby's Pound leant ever more heavily on his pen, developing an increasingly authoritarian style that fatefully bespoke his growing faith in totalitarian politics. Pound thus becomes not just a writer with fascist beliefs but a writer whose very poetry is the deep inscription of fascism ... It is precisely in that sensitive refusal to collapse poetry into politics or politics into poetry, while still insisting that in Pound's case they are intrinsically inseparable, that the strengths and originality of Dr. Selby's study are rooted. His is a postmodernist reading of Pound that never mistakes textual politics for brutal power politics but that has no illusions, either, about the political innocence of a literary text ... Not only does this study make new landfalls, it also opens up new horizons and thus encourages new scholarly expeditions ...” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Professor M. Wynn Thomas, University of Wales, Swansea

“In identifying a ‘poetics of loss’ in The Cantos, Dr. Selby addresses and explains the most persistent difficulty we have in reading Pound’s massive poem: its extreme fragmentation – the fragments he sees as a kind of archaeological trace, always suggestive, always puzzling and never complete ... Pound’s effort to re-assemble their ideal pavement is what led him disastrously to the supposed coherence of Mussolini’s fascism. It is this contradiction which the author elucidates with a clarity of style and exposition that is exceptional in Pound studies. He presents an argument, not a survey, but nonetheless his book will prove an excellent reading companion ...” – Jeffrey Wainwright, Professor of English, The Manchester Metropolitan University

“ ... Dr. Selby’s analysis of Pound’s poetics of loss, and the ways in which the poet’s reassertion of lost certainties presages his endorsement of totalitarian ideologies, is intelligent and tightly argued, and his readings of the Cantos are wonderfully nuanced and sensitive ... this book will be a valuable contribution to Pound studies, and I am pleased to give it my full support.” – Susan Castillo, John Nichol Professor of American Literature, University of Glasgow

Table of Contents

Preface by M. Wynn Thomas
1. ‘Fragments against Ruin’: The Malatesta Cantos
2. Chinese Whispers: Historical Exempla in The China Cantos
3. Revolutionary Figures in ‘Canto 31’
4. ‘Arriba Adams’: The Limited Circulation of Law and History in The Adams Cantos
5. ‘To Dream The Republic’: The Pisan Cantos and the ideal city

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