A Study of the Texts of Ezra Pounds Late Cantos
Ezra Pound’s Cantos remains the most enigmatic and demanding American poem of the twentieth century. The cantos of the ante-penultimate instalment Section: Rock-Drill (1955) and penultimate instalment Thrones (1959) are amongst the most difficult of them all: in these cantos, numbered 85 through 109, Pound elevates the poem’s intricate obscurity to unprecedented heights. The surface difficulties Section: Rock Drill and Thrones present are compounded by a complex history of composition, revision and dissemination, which has resulted in numerous authorised but different versions of the same cantos finding their way into publication.
Working with Prof. Dr. Richard Taylor, himself a leading Pound scholar who specialises in the field of textual scholarship, my project will explore the complicated textual history of the late cantos and achieve two related outcomes. First, it aims to set out in clear and necessary detail the genealogy of these cantos’ development, from their earliest conception to their last publication. This work will include the inspection of manuscripts, notes, annotations, revised pre-publication materials, letters between all interested parties, and of course the many published versions of the cantos themselves. Second, it aims to develop a means of interpretation that can conceptualise the poem’s textual variations as important indicators of shifts in authority and intention; doing so is appropriate to the late cantos especially because they constantly foreground these writerly concerns.
Furthermore, my project will show how the tension between conflicting textual records should be preserved, studied, and seen as essential to responsible literary interpretation rather than as a problem interpretation must silently ignore. In sum, my project will attempt to repair a long-standing rift between textual scholarship (which investigates the editorial history and provenance of texts) and literary criticism (which evaluates and interprets those texts). As I understand them, Cantos 85-109 exemplify the following contradiction: the confidence with which they present models of good ethics, right conduct, and earned trust is everywhere belied by the uncertainty of the textual artefacts created by Pound’s erratic and very changeable attitudes towards composition and publication. The ways in which Pound’s uncertainties impede the heightened attention he demands are directly related to his shifting and often problematic ideas about poetic authority.In sum, I aim to both articulate and then test the following simple hypothesis: since it is a philological poem, The Cantos should be read philologically. In other words, the idea of this project is to think about the late cantos in light of their philological structures. I mean to see Pound’s poetic philology as a method of writing poetry in which the diversity of the textual record itself becomes legible as an important condition of the poem’s aesthetic. Indeed, Pound’s maverick scholarship is inextricably connected to his poetic commitments. The main purpose of this project is to examine “inaccuracy” resulting from textual variation, and to look at the imperfect conditions of the texts of Pound’s late cantos both as the outcome of events arising from historical circumstance and as compositional performances integral to the total identity of the poetic artefact.Michael KindellanAlexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research FellowUniversität Bayreuth