The Biased View of Ezra Pound the Poet, and the Use of Language as Control*

“On January 20 Pound and Kavka met for what the doctor later remembered as “‘an emotionally charged session.”‘  On that day Pound turned upon the doctor and asked him about his own patients and his background.  Kavka replied that his family was Polish, but the question-where are you from?-is always more trouble than this.  It is an allegation: you are not from here.  It is also a judgment: you do not belong here.  Kavka later suggested that this was simply defiance, as if Pound were questioning the doctor’s right to analyze him, but beneath it all we might also hear some racial code.  What pound is really saying is: are you Jewish?

Kavka was Jewish.  His parents were first-generation immigrants from Poland; they had eight children, and Kavka was the first to be born in America; St. Elizabeths was his first posting as a psychiatric resident.  He was twenty-four and just beginning his career.  Perhaps Kavka said none of this, but at some point in their weeks of interviews Pound gave the doctor a nickname.  Throughout his life Pound bestowed new names upon the people and places around him.  Sometimes they were kind and sometimes mocking, but they were his way of redefining the world, and he called the doctor ‘Kafferty.’  This is a generic outsider name, a composite of Irishman, Jew and old fashioned racist slang-Rafferty, Kaffir-and a free-floating anti-immigrant slur (p. 68).”

In another interview, before January 29, Pound launched into song. “Pound sang what he called the ‘Yiddisher Charleston Band,’ which was a bawdy and bad-taste chant he had written twenty years before and named after a satirical old klezmer song about Jews prospering in American society.

Gentle Jheezus, sleek and wild,

Found disciples tall an hairy

Flirting with his red hot Mary

it begins, and in passing takes in ‘ole king Bolo’s big black qween/Whose bum was big as a soup tureen’ and ‘Calvin Coolidge dh’ pvwezident.’  The song-composed as a game with T.S. Eliot, thirty years before-a generation out of date, and a cartoon of bigotry.  Its prejudices must have felt antique even in 1946, and it is hard at this remove to grasp quite what Pound could have meant by this: to shock the doctor, to make him laugh, to test him?  The next day Kavka told Olson that he regretted not having recording this astonishing performance” (p.69).

When Pound was incarcerated at Howard Hall in St. Elizabeth’s, after his indictment as to speaking sedition towards the U.S. government, when he met with Dr. Kavka, he put on a sterling performance for him; his focus appears to be on himself as the actor, thus dragging along narcissism and grandiosity, at every turn.  He spoke in rapid speeds, sometimes posing what he had said in a different language-accent than English, and with the appropriate aplomb & mimicry.  “Pound was apparently “‘uninhibited in the choice of words, often using the most profane language and vilification (p.67).'”  He played many personas, as the “defiant poet” (p. 67).  “He is a man versed in all the ways of speaking-in profanities, in accents-and all of his speaking is a work of art” (p. 68).

The notion of using language as a weapon of control isn’t new to us.  All the great dictators and tyrants of history have known this and used it to control and manipulate the human populations they sought to keep in control by language & media.  This is one of the reasons, almost in any form today, the teaching of the English language, the oral expression, and the verbal use of language to pattern and corral people into their own agendas, is highly emphasized, but listening as a part of communication is much, much less conveyed and taught. We need a revolution in listening.  Listening offers more emollients for healing.

Listening doesn’t have the main elements of control that speaking, giving orders, explaining a vision, asking for sacrifices, learning the rules, and explaining the purpose of their immediate need of domination over others-all of these elements may be used to manipulate, coerce and control citizenry.  Isn’t this what Pound did through his anti-American broadcasts in Italy during WWII?  The answer is yes, clearly, that was his agenda, even though he may have stated that it was all his: ‘works of art.’

This is also why certain groups use “silencing” (an imposed judgment that withdraws language away from the offender), as a punishment for infractions, and this took place in one Pvt. Pelosi’s life at West Point.  He was accused of cheating on an exam, but claimed he was innocent.  He was found guilty of the infraction-he was sentenced to a “silencing” to last until the end of the semester.  Pelosi reported that the “silencing” was extremely difficult, most notably on his psychological side.  If one of our greatest human needs is belonging then silencing gutted the fulfillment of this basic need, and has deeper ramifications.  

On the contrary, “silencing” shifts the offender to the outside, punitively placed as marginalized within a community, and the outcomes may be powerful, even traumatic, in different people’s minds.

The poet, Ezra Pound, is a highly-charged model, allowing us to learn: in that using language, in whatever ill-founded, biased, and ignorant manner it’s used, clearly it’s not ethical communication.  There are two modes of this type of communication: 1). Monological; and 2).  Dialogical.  

The dialogical form is a shared, give-and-take, democratic, open, and mutually reciprocal type of communication;  the monological form is self-explanatory: it’s a one-way, more rigid, closed, more formulistic and rule-based, a ME to YOU kind of communication style.  The speaker (encoder) is the primary authority, the “one up” player, while the receiver (decoder) is usually the “one down” player.  Relationships in the business world are often shaped & structured this way.

* Excerpted from Daniel Swift.  (2017).  The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam January 22, 2018

 

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