Saturday 24 May 2003

Calibrating art in moral terms

It is always useful to have one’s cherished beliefs or preconceptions challenged. Last year, AKMA wrote that “the murderous violence that makes someone else’s life pay the price of my envy or moral outrage or thirst for justice, arrogates to human judgment (however apparently well-justified) the prerogative that belongs to God alone”. I challenged AKMA’s conviction in these terms:

The contradiction, as it appears to me, is that the surviving Jews in Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and the other death camps were not liberated by pacifists. Those few Jews left alive were set free by courageous men and women who had fought their way across Europe against determined German resistance—men and women who, whether they were motivated by moral outrage, a thirst for justice, the instinct for self-preservation, or a sense of loyalty to their comrades, took part in a sustained campaign of murderous and coercive violence that resulted in the defeat of the Nazis.

I was brought up short by Joseph Epstein’s review of Karl Shapiro’s Selected Poems (link via Arts & Letters Daily), which includes the following paragraph:

But I don’t want to make Karl Shapiro seem a cheerful or relentlessly upbeat poet. (“Optimists,” noted Paul Valéry, “write badly.”) He could also be angry, satirical, and smart about his contrarian nature. The prose poem “I Am an Atheist Who Says His Prayers” resounds with this last quality: I am an anarchist and full professor at that… . / Physically a coward, I take on all intellectuals, established poets, popes, rabbis, chiefs of staff. His sympathies tended to be wide, as a poet’s should be; and his poem “Conscientious Objector,” written by a man who in combat himself won several Bronze Stars, is better because subtler than E.E. Cummings’s famous conscientious objector poem “I Sing of Olaf.”

Epstein includes the last stanza of Shapiro’s poem, which deserves quoting in full:

The gates clanged and they walked you into jail
More tense than felons but relieved to find
The hostile world shut out, the flags that dripped
From every mother’s windowpane, obscene
The bloodlust sweating from the public heart,
The dog authority slavering at your throat.
A sense of quiet, of pulling down the blind
Possessed you. Punishment you felt was clean.

The decks, the catwalks, and the narrow light
Composed a ship. This was a mutinous crew
Troubling the captains for plain decencies,
A Mayflower brim with pilgrims headed out
To establish new theocracies to west.
A Noah’s ark coasting the topmost seas
Ten miles above the sodomites and fish.
These inmates loved the only living doves.

Like all men hunted from the world you made
A good community, voyaging the storm
To no safe Plymouth or green Ararat;
Troubled or calm, the men with Bibles prayed.
The gaunt politicals construed our hate.
The opposite of all armies, you were best
Opposing uniformity and yourselves;
Prison and personality were your fate.

You suffered not so physically but knew
Maltreatment, hunger, ennui of the mind.
Well might the soldier kissing the hot beach
Erupting in his face damn all your kind.
Yet you who saved neither yourselves nor us
Are equally with those who shed the blood
The heroes of our cause. Your conscience is
What we come back to in the armistice.

Epstein’s judgement of Shapiro’s poem as “better because subtler” seems overly generous to Cummings, whose I Sing of Olaf is overwrought and obvious beyond belief. Instead of taking the easy path of characterizing soldiers—officers, NCOs, and enlisted men alike—as mindless bullies, Shapiro acknowledges the hostility that a soldier enduring the agony of combat might feel towards the pacifist or conscientious objector. Then, in a sharp and persuasive reversal, argues that those who took a principled decision not to fight are just as much heroes as those who did. Their conscience, “what we [came] back to in the armistice”, is what prevented Shapiro and his comrades from behaving like the brutes in Cummings’ poem.

The other challenge to my belief system—Shapiro’s principled refusal to support Pound’s nomination for the Bollingen prize—turns out to be even more troubling. Epstein explains:

W.H. Auden said that the right time to be born if one were to be a major poet was between 1870 and 1890, and the remark contains the wistfulness of one—Auden was born in 1907—who feels he came along too late. Something of this spirit also weighs on Shapiro’s middle and later poems. Poetry had already lost its audience. To write poetry in America, said Henri Coulette (an American poet despite his Frenchified name), is “like making love to someone sound asleep.” Unlike Auden and Coulette, though, Shapiro had an argument for why things went wrong.

He must have had the first inkling of what it is when, as one of the Fellows of American literature who comprised the jury for the Bollingen Poetry Prize of 1949, he voted against giving the prize to Ezra Pound and found himself alone with one other juror (Katherine Garrison Chapin, who was also Mrs. Francis Biddle) in doing so. In a symposium in Partisan Review on the subject of giving an award to Pound, who was then resident in St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital in Washington, D.C., Shapiro wrote: “I voted against Pound in the balloting for the Bollingen Prize. My first and more crucial reason was that I am a Jew and cannot honor anti-Semites. My second reason is as I stated in a report which circulated among the fellows: ‘I voted against Pound in the belief that the poet’s political and moral philosophy ultimately vitiates his poetry and lowers its standards as literary work.’ This statement I would place against the official statement of the Fellows, which seems to me evasive, historically untrue, and illogical.”

The other members of the panel of jurors were W.H. Auden, Conrad Aiken, T.S. Eliot, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Louise Bogan, Robert Penn Warren, Willard Thorpe, Paul Green, Katherine Anne Porter, Theodore Spencer, and Leonie Adams, all of whom took the line that, whatever Pound’s politics, his contributions to poetry outweighed them. Shapiro must have felt the loneliness of his decision—I think it was the correct one—and it not only marked him as a man distinctly not traveling with the gang, but must have encouraged the iconoclastic strain that already ran strong in him.

Following my belief in the divisibility between artist and artwork, I too would have voted for Pound. I’ve already written about:

an inverse correlation between the work of art and the character or behavior of the artist who had made it. The art I admired most had frequently been created by men and women whose conduct or personality I found repulsive whereas the most decent and engaging artists made work I regarded as dull, trite, or derivative.

I empathize with Shapiro’s stance and yet, at the same time, am greatly discomforted by the idea of judging an artist’s work partly or entirely on the basis of their questionable or merely unfashionable moral, racial, religious, or political beliefs. Were I Jewish, would I think and feel differently? Probably. Though one can cite, as a counter argument to Shapiro, the Skokie vs. ACLU case in which ACLU attorney David Goldberger, himself a Jew, defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to hold a march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, a location chosen deliberately because one in six of its inhabitants was “a survivor—or was directly related to a survivor—of the Holocaust.”

The ACLU lost 30,000 members because it chose to defend the free speech of Nazis. Yet what is the point of belonging to an organization that will defend some civil liberties but not others? And what is the point of bestowing prizes for art or literature on the basis of the artist’s character, behaviour, or beliefs? Even if a “poet’s political and moral philosophy ultimately vitiates his poetry and lowers its standards as literary work”, might not the work still be superior to that of his colleagues whose political and moral philosophy conform to contemporary standards?

Perhaps the problem lies in determining whether the Bollingen prize was awarded to Pound the poet, Pound the man, or to The Pisan Cantos. Israel Lewis suggests that Pound the man was being honored by stealth:

The selection of Ezra Pound as the first recipient was politically as well as artistically motivated. Archibald MacLeish tells of a meeting in June of 1948 (he was not in attendance) including James Laughlin, Julien Cornell, T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, W.H. Auden, Allen Tate, and Dudley Fitts, at which an idea was conceived “of a new national prize for poetry to be awarded by the Library of Congress through a jury of notables who would select Pound as first recipient, thus dramatizing his situation, and putting the government, and particularly the Department of Justice in an awkward, if not untenable, position”.

Contradicting MacLeish’s assertion, the Fellows of the Library of Congress defended the award by stating that it was bestowed upon The Pisan Cantos not Pound:

To permit other considerations than that of poetic achievement to sway the decision would destroy the significance of the award and would in principle deny the validity of that objective perception of value on which any civilized society must rest.

Lewis notes that Irving Howe, writing in the Partisan Review, argued that it was impossible to celebrate Pound the poet without celebrating Pound the man:

Irving Howe saw the issue as a matter of conscience: to honor Pound with a literary award was to honor him as a man, and therefore a moral act. “To honor him is to regard him as a man with whom one can have decent, normal, even affectionately respectable human and intellectual relations; it means to extend a hand of public fraternity.” Of course, Howe admits, this position has difficulties: there can be clashes between aesthetic and human values; when they occur life must take precedence over literature.

I’m at a loss over this since, if “life must take precedence over literature”, the judgement will surely be muddied by personal and political considerations, as it was in the case of Pound. Even as I’m haunted by Sebald’s Austerlitz, his life hollowed out by the loss of his parents in the death camps; and even though the Bollingen prize was awarded to a Fascist sympathizer and an anti-Semite for a work containing (in Karl Shapiro’s words) “vicious and ugly ideas”, I still can’t help but think that by calibrating the worth of an artistic work on the basis of the artist’s beliefs or behavior (or, as in the case of Pound, both) inevitably we run the risk of privileging a kind of state-sponsored art which is both aesthetically and morally repugnant.

Arno Brecker's Nazi sculptures, The Party and The Army
Arno Breker: The Party and The Army
(statues at the entrance of Hitler’s Reich Chancellery)

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Comments

While in principle I agree that the work must be judged on its own merit, I often find myself unable to maintain that principled view.

For instance, somehow I found it impossible to listen to Cat Steven's early, idealistic songs quite the same way after he suggested that Salam Rushdie might well deserve to die for blasphemy. In the end, I decided that his songs (or at least how I felt about them) belonged to me, not him.

On the other hand, if you believe that the artist is a "seer" providing unique insights into life, how do you separate that from the way the artist lived his life?

Posted by Loren on 25 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I entirely agree: artists are often (too often) bad people, or people with bad ideas, and whatever one concludes from that, to allow it to influence one's esthetic decisions is to condemn oneself to critical mediocrity. (And Karl Shapiro, in my view, was mediocre both as poet and critic, although he had his moments.) The Pisan Cantos was the best book of poetry published that year, end of story.

Posted by language hat on 25 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Pound wrote:
"I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move
Let the wind speak
that is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I
have made
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made."

If a man is to be honored for his writing, then let him be honored for _all_ of his writing.

In a broadcast in 1942, Pound wrote and broadcast the following to the English:

"Is there a RACE left in England? Has it ANY will left to survive? You can carry slaughter to Ireland. Will that save you? I doubt it. Nothing can save you, save a purge. Nothing can save you, save an affirmation that you are English.

Whore Belisha is NOT. Isaccs is not. No Sassoon is an Englishman, racially. No Rothschild is English, no Strakosch is English, no Roosevelt is English, no Baruch, Morgenthau, Cohen, Lehman, Warburg, Kuhn, Khan, Baruch, Schiff, Sieff, or Solomon was ever yet born Anglo-Saxon.

And it is for this filth that you fight. It is for this filth that you have murdered your empire, and it is this filth that elects your politicians."

In a broadcast in 1943, Pound wrote and broadcast the following to the Americans:

"I think it might be a good thing to hang Roosevelt and a few hundred yidds IF you can do it by due legal process, NOT otherwise. Law must be preserved. I know this may sound tame, but so is it. It is sometimes hard to think so. Hard to think that the 35 ex-army subalterns or whatever who wanted to bump off all the kike congressmen weren't just a bit crude and simpliste. Sometimes one feels that it would be better to get the job done somehow, ANY how, than to delay execution."

If you place Pound's Cantos on one scale and the broadcasts on the other and see a balance, then by all means honor the writing of the man.

However, the altar of pure art shines brightly, and casts a wide shadow. There now. I've moved it a bit. Can you see all the writing?


Posted by Burningbird on 25 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Bb, your argument is fine -- as long as you're comfortable with artwork being denied an award (or even suppressed) because its maker holds views -- views with which you strongly agree -- that are deemed unacceptable by the state or popular opinion.

Perhaps we should agree to revisit this issue when you've had another two (or six) years of Bush, Ashcroft & Co.

Posted by Jonathon on 25 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I had rather thought I brought what could even be considered a thoughtful element to this debate, and a different perspective. My point is that each individual must weigh their viewes of a persons contributions -- all contributions -- not just a selected few, when bestowing honor. This had nothing to do with state, and even little to do with art. It had all to do with a person making an informed evaluation and a decision for themselves.

I was disappointed to get Bush thrown in my face.

I guess my comment was not as thoughtful as I originally considered. I believe I lack both the education and the sophistication to participate with any degree of credibility -- must remember to leave these discussions alone.

Posted by Burningbird on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I'd guess that if we're going to be able to judge this award with any objectivity we'd have to have read the Pisan Cantos AND all the other poetry books that were awarded those two years.

I guess this is also relevant: "The Bollingen Prize for Poetry is awarded every two years for the best volume of poetry published in those years or for a poet's lifetime achievement in his or her art. "

I might award it to Pound on a lifetime basis, but not for the Cantos that I read. Of course, I can't find a list of poetry books published during the same time period so it's difficult to judge the award even on that basis.

As you note, even among poets it was considered a controversial and political award. " Robert Frost, in a memorandum to his secretary Kay Morrison soon after the award was announced, called it 'an unendurable outrage' and Pound 'possibly crazy but more likely criminal.'"

Posted by Loren on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

An eternal debate. In Europe Wagner is often the focus of such a discussion. As when nearly two years ago Daniel Barenboim played the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde in Jerusalem (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/saturday_review/story/0,3605,521202,00.html).

As a cuddly liberal I agree with language hat about the importance of clarity in aesthetic judgements, but recognise that as a fallible human (or fissile, opinionated ranteuse, take your pick) I often find it difficult personally to dissociate maker from made. But I'm certainly not going to stop listening to Bach (see article above.)

Shelley - I don't think you were being held responsible for "Bush". The White House has already censored a literary event organised by Laura Bush (see, eg, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/03/politics/main539048.shtml). If the trend continued it could result in the censorship of poets whose views we might consider at the least inoffensive, at most vitally important.

And besides, various Australian governments have not been blameless.

Posted by qB on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

qB, I understand what you're saying, and I do understand that this issue does not have an easy answer.

My response in my weblog to Jonathon's mention of Bush was over the top, but not necessarily by much. I don't know about others, but it seems as if I, as an American, can have little debate on any topic without someone, American and non-American both, bringing Bush in with a sense of "Aha! See?" My life is not defined by Bush. I am aware of the dangers of Bush. I work and protest against Bush. The man is getting slammed in the press now and his popularity is dropping like a big stone off a bridge. He's about to hit the water and sink. Can we please, then, focus on the topic of this debate, which is should a person's character and acts be a factor when we judge their artistic effort?

The point I had originally wanted to make is that though the award was for a specific work, the belief was that it was also an honor to Pound. Pound saw this as such. If the people giving the award wanted to honor Pound as much as the individual effort, then couldn't the pushback against the award be for the same reason? I spent a considerable amount of time reading material online about this before making my comment; there is a view that the reason for the award was not necessarily just because of the Cantos. If this was true, then if we look at one or ten pieces of the man, shouldn't we look at all of the writing of the man? And if we seek to honor the writing, does this mean that all of the writing is worth equal acclaim?

The point I had hoped to make was that this isn't a question about simple "separation of the art from the artist".

If we then look at all of the writings of Pound, I cannot ignore work, of which he was proud, that advocates and actually celebrates the extermination of an entire peoples based on their culture and religion. I cannot.

There is no clear answer in all of this, but I do believe that to always take a stance that "art is separate", to place Pound's work on the altar of pure art, is just as wrong as to always take a stance that the artist's behavior must be a factor when judging the art.

There was a bit of irony in the comment, too. The poem that I quoted at the beginning, where Pound apologizes for what he has written -- Pound wrote that about the Cantos, not about his broadcasts.


Posted by Burningbird on 27 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I support the notion of separation of creator and creation, if only because I think creation would be almost impossible without that notion. But.... When I read Pound's poetry, of any period, I hear an ego-bound blusterer with a good ear. For that matter, when I heard Cat Stevens in the 1970s, I heard a narrow-minded sexist bible-thumper (it's a wild world and you're nothing but a child, girl).

But I wouldn't want to be involved in any more award committees anyway, so my opinions are moot.

Posted by Ray on 27 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

(And, for what it's worth to those who seek out complication, the book which has complicated the Pound affair most for me isn't the Pisan Cantos but the collection of surviving and reprintable correspondence between Pound and Zukofsky -- the Marxist Jewish lower-class New Yorker who Pound mentored and defended and bitched at and insulted while becoming infatuated with fascism.)

Posted by R on 27 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I don't know. Good poetry or not, I'm uncofortable with awarding somebody who was a) a rabid anti semite at a time when the ovens working overtime and b) a traitor, not just to his country, but to everything decent and right.

Especially since he already lucked out not being shot for what he did.

Yeah, separation of the art and the artist is usually a good thing and something I do as well, but it only goes so far. I'm not even sure it's morally superior either. The artist informs the art they create after all.

Posted by Martin Wisse on 27 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Martin: Hold on there, hoss. You're sounding exceptionally rabid yourself: "...a traitor, not just to his country, but to everything decent and right.... Especially since he already lucked out not being shot for what he did"?! Do you have the slightest evidence that he *did* anything worth this kind of invective, or do you by chance believe that people should be shot for Bad Speech, in which case it seems to me you too would have been quite comfortable with Mussolini? For your information, a) there is no evidence Pound knew about the ovens until after the war (which of course doesn't mitigate his antisemitism), and b) he had loyal Jewish friends who said they'd never felt the slightest evidence of ill-feeling towards them personally on account of their Jewishness (which of course doesn't &c.). Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself whether your excessive rhetorical violence may mask some discomfort with your own imperfections, which you are trying to exorcise in this fashion.

Shelley: You are of course right that the whole thing is very murky, and in a sense there are no clear answers -- but in another sense there is a very clear answer, the same answer the ACLU gave when the Nazis wanted to march in Skokie: speech, however hateful, is not action, and must be defended. I realize that defending speech is not the same as giving it an award, but the esthetic corollary of the ACLU's answer is: if art is separate from the artist and his or her politics, then it must be judged separately, regardless of how we feel about the latter. Of course you feel uncomfortable about Pound's rants; so do I; so must anyone who is not in the same circle of lunacy as Ez -- and just as we must feel uncomfortable with the marching Nazis. But this is a yes/no decision; either you set aside discomfort and do the right thing by esthetics (or free speech, in the ACLU version), or you succumb to human-all-too-human intolerance and refusal to accord art its due, like the woman I knew who refused to read Hemingway because he was a misogynist. To me, that's a huge category mistake, and if that woman were on an awards committee it would be a travesty.

Bear in mind that the anti-Pound decision (if you're not going to shoot the bastard, at least don't give him an award) is the easy and popular one; perhaps that will induce a little discomfort on the other side of the scales.

Posted by language hat on 28 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Language Hat, I supported the ACLU in its defense of the Nazis because they were supporting freedom of speech. It was this decision that made me determined originally to study law -- so I could work with the ACLU.

Having said that, the ACLU effort was different then supporting an award honoring a person's work, and indirectly honoring the person. By denying that person the honor, we're not denying them their right to free speech. If this was true, then none of us would have free speech. Indirectly, an honor to an artist's work, is an honor to the artist.

I would fight to the death to allow _all_ of Pound's words to be heard, broadcasts and poetry, but I must in faith hesitate to honor a man who in his own way, sought to deny others their rights, including right to life, at a minimum right to vote. From the speech, and the words that Pound himself wrote and spoke, one must take this as so.

One could also say that in liberal artist circles, that the 'easy and popular' course is to say, well of course, we must honor Pound. What's a little anti-semitism when he's done so much for the Art?

Who is to say that by writing this comment here, I'm not taking the difficult course, considering the original posting, and what others have said?

All things are relative -- to say, "We must always separate the artist and the art" is no different than saying, "We cannot never separate the two".

Posted by Burningbird on 28 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Language, I think this will be a topic that will never resolve because there really isn't a right answer or a wrong one. It's a very complex issue, deserving to be treated as such. I think we're all in agreement that Pound's words should never be censored and that's the critical thing -- don't you think?

As for the awards, I think if I were on a committee having to make this decision, I would make it based on the person and the circumstance. I wish I could be more open in this regard, and defend the art as separate entity, but for me, and my own work (if that could be considered art) -- it and I are inseparable. I am biased in this regard.

Ah well.

Posted by Burningbird on 28 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

hmmmm... my problem is one of scale.
If we are able to enjoy a work of art despite distaste for its creator, to me that means that along the scale if that piece of arts is "the greatest" it should be celebrated as such.

To not be able to celebrate it means to me that along the scale I may be not allowed to enjoy it.

A few years ago in NZ we had an exhibition at the new national museum, which many christians considered blasphemous
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/8t7/8t719b.html
There were protests, and counter protests ( to show support for the exhibition). The whole thing became a circus.

But what if the museum had caved in and essentially censored the exhibition because of a religious/political bias?

This is what bemoaning the likes of pound getting his award means to me. Censorship.
I may not like Pound, but if his work is the best...
Of course as with any censorship issue it is a mindfield. You can't have NO censorship, but you can very easily have too much.

So what scale of censorship should we embrace in a case like this?

Posted by scottbp on 28 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Shelley, I totally agree that there really isn't a right or wrong answer and that the important thing is that Pound's words should never be censored. Had I been on the jury, I would have voted for the Pisan Cantos; had you been, you probably wouldn't, but I respect your decision -- and I deeply respect your working with the ACLU. Good on you.

Posted by language hat on 29 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Oh, I hate cluttering up Jonathon's comments -- sorry Jonathon! But I had to clarify -- I was seduced from law after a mad logic professor said, "Have you ever thought about working with computers?"

I'm sorry for wrong impression. But thank you!

Posted by Burningbird on 29 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

But I do in fact believe that Hemingway's misogyny is evident in his writing's flaws (as Barnes's misogyny is evident in her writing's virtues), and that Pound's fascism is evident in his poetry's flaws: bluster, bullying, self-pity, nostalgia, a terrible ear for human speech despite a great ear for abstract music. (As Celine's fascism might be evident in his prose's virtues, if I knew Celine's work better.)

This means that when I think about Hemingway's work, I'm likely to think about his misogyny (or, more generally, his macho ethic), and when I think about Pound's work, I'm likely to think about his politics. In neither case can anyone reasonably claim that I'm going against the writer's explicit intentions in doing so: Hemingway *did* focus on his macho ethic, and Pound's *goal* in the Cantos was to reform society at large. To ignore those aspects would be to insult the writer.

Posted by Ray on 30 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"This means that when I think about Hemingway's work, I'm likely to think about his misogyny (or, more generally, his macho ethic), and when I think about Pound's work, I'm likely to think about his politics... To ignore those aspects would be to insult the writer."

But to overemphasize them is to insult the writer even more. I have no problem with taking Hem's macho and Ez's politics into account; the problem is that it's so easy to use them to turn the writers into cartoons and push them aside. Both men were primarily, overwhelmingly, *writers*; one wrote some of the best American prose of the last century, the other some of the best poetry. Allow me to quote Bunting's "On the Fly-Leaf of Pound's Cantos":

There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?
They don't make sense. Fatal glaciers, crags cranks climb,
jumbled boulder and weed, pasture and boulder, scree,
et l'on entend, maybe, le refrain joyeux et leger.
Who knows what the ice will have scraped on the rock it is smoothing?

There they are, you will have to go a long way round
if you want to avoid them.
It takes some getting used to. There are the Alps,
fools! Sit down and wait for them to crumble!

Posted by language hat on 30 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

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Posted by usca on 22 July 2003 (Comment Permalink)

The discussion put forth here seems to me to revolve around two axes--whether or not an artistic mind with an exclusionary, hateful twist can produce true art, and whether or not that person should be honored for their art, regardless of their dark side.
The first question seeps into the work of a lot of artists--besides Hemingway's misogyny, there have been a raft of less-than-pure writers and artists out there. Eliot and cummings had their anti-Semitic lines, and old, grandfatherly Bobby Frost apparently went after his wife with the flat of a spade on one occasion.
In the case of Pound, he took his beliefs a step further. Martin is right, he was lucky to escape execution. (Lord Haw-Haw was hung, was he not? I think I'm remembering that correctly.) And I believe Pound's assertion the good people of the U.S. should hang their President and other "yids" in office probably amounted to a treasonous act in wartime.
Whether or not he knew about the concentration camps, he certainly knew--and I would suspect, approved--of the persecution of the Jews, the gypsies, the socialists, the untermensch. Can all that be divorced from his work as an artist?
Art has always been judged within the context of the social mores of the time. It does not exist in vacuum. After the Hemingway backlash of the 70's, it seemed every poem that mentioned "kitchen" and "oven" got print, no matter its merit, because Sylvia Plath was the touchstone ot the time, and all had to pay homage.
The current slurry of PC facism which exists right now consigns any inkling of Pound-type credo to one of the lower corners of hell. Are we better off as a society, as an artistic community? Our publications, litmags, and journals, already censor for us by excluding what the community as a whole deems unworthy thought.
So it has no clear right or wrong. It comes down to a personal choice, and rightly so. And personally, I would not have honored him, especially in order to put the Justice department in an untenable position. What kind of award is that? It also seems the jury for that first prize was stacked in such a way that viewpoints similar to Pound's might have been able to hold sway. At the very least, Pound had several friends on the jury, making it a precursor to some of the poetry awards today. So was it truly awarded for great work, or was it a political award, enhanced by the personal regard of some of the judges?

Posted by will on 30 July 2003 (Comment Permalink)

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Posted by dise on 7 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

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Posted by gepe on 7 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour