Guide to kulchur

by Ezra Pound

Hardcover, 1952




[Norfolk, Conn.] New Directions [1952]

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LibraryThing member stillatim

Much of Pound's prose should be considered indispensable if you want to become a decent person. 'An ABC of Reading,' and the essays gathered in 'Literary Essays of Ezra Pound' are brilliant, and some of his social criticism works too, although you might want to take small bites of his 'Selected Prose' rather than swallowing it whole; start with the stuff from before the 1930's, and you'll be quite enlightened I think.

But 'Guide to Kulchur' is more or less straight decadence. If you already know what Pound thought about economics, poetry, music, architecture, politics and philosophy, you'll be able to grab a few interesting sentences. But it's infuriating and often deathly dull, which is quite an achievement considering how fiery he is. Pound's ideogrammic method - a throwing together of apparently different items - is meant to communicate knowledge more clearly than is sometimes possible with linear prose. The emphasis here, for Pound, was always on *clarity*. But GTK is not clear. At times it reads less like an honest attempt to say something, and more like a 370 page long name-drop: Brancusi, Picabia, Gaudier, Cocteau, Mussolini... yeah, I met 'em all. And anyone I didn't meet, not worth meeting.

The ideogram here is not clear, and we know from Pound's earlier works that it could have been: the effect of monetary policy on art or kulchur is ridiculous in GTK; in earlier essays it's quite convincing. The relation between language and politics is completely opaque in GTK, in earlier essays it's fascinating. The exposition of Confucian thought is incomprehensible here, in earlier essays, or Pound's translations, eccentrically brilliant.

One thing we might be thankful for: the absurdity of GTK and the writings which followed it might have helped convince the powers that be that Pound was, indeed, insane while living in Italy, and thus have saved his life. According to the laws of the time, he certainly deserved to be executed as a traitor. But nobody could read this guff and believe that old Billyum was serious. That's a major failing for a serious man.
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