“You can’t Separate Poetry from Propaganda“
- You can’t separate the poet from the fascist. Everything should be read together, says Andrea Rinaldi, PhD candidate at the Department of Foreign Languages at UiB.
The American poet Ezra Pound figures among the most important modernist poets of the 20th century. His masterpiece The Cantos is a 900-page long epic poem, dealing with everything from culture to economic theory. But Pound is also known as a fascist thinker. During the nineteen thirties, he started to do active propaganda for Mussolini’s regime in Italy, writing thousands of political articles and radio broadcasts. How should one do research on such a broadly educated and yet contested intellectual as Pound?
Rinaldi studies Pound’s relation with religion, understood in a particular way: he interprets Pound’s approach to politics and his ties to the Italian fascist regime as a kind of religious approach, a kind of lay faith or secular religion. This links Rinaldi’s study to the research project “Modernism and Christianity”, initiated by Erik Tonning and hosted at UiB.
- Italian historian Emile Gentile was the first one who gave a more detailed definition of the concept of political religion, and he tried to find a new approach of the people’s attraction to fascism. In the “Modernism and Christianity” project, we use the idea of political religion in the opposite way: we don’t look at the masses, but at single intellectuals who compromised with politics.
The aim of Rinaldi’s study is to achieve a better understanding of Pound’s ties with the fascist regime and the years he spent in Italy from 1924 to 1945.
Such a study has great relevance today. As right-wing-movements gain popularity in many European countries, it is important to take a deeper look at the mental roots of ideologies such as fascism. Ezra Pound’s case is particularly relevant to this matter, especially as his ideas have experienced a revival in the last few decades.
- First, there is this really peculiar movement called after Pound, the “Casa Pound Italia”, which is a radical right-wing-movement that squats houses for poor Italian people. Secondly, there are experiments with Pound’s economic theories. In a little town close to my hometown in Italy, a retired professor put all his money on such an experiment. He coined money that was only valid for this small town. He wanted to prove that Pound was right.
Especially after the financial crisis in 2008, Pound’s economic theories seemed surprisingly up-to-date. In fact, it was the idiosyncratic relation of the poet with economics that made Rinaldi interested in him in the first place:
- Pound translated his economic theories in verses. That’s really peculiar. I think this is quite unique.
Economics and Poetry
Pound’s theory of usury dates back to the time of World War I, when the poet became interested in economics. In 1920, he wrote the poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, where he defines Europe as “an old bitch gone in the teeth” and “botched civilization” because it was supposedly contaminated by the germ of usury. Pound believed that it was usury if the central bank asked for interest on the money that it was printing, because the money actually belonged to the people. In this mechanism of usury, Pound saw one of the reasons for the outbreak of the First World War.
- Pound not only mixed anti-Semitic prejudices in his theory of usury, he even tried to explain the painting technique of Italian Renaissance artists in light of this theory. He thought that when the Italian politics got corrupted, also the whole intellectual life got corrupted. This shows again how important it is to read everything by Pound together.
Pound loved Italy, and he believed that Italian art and culture was the purest in Europe. In fact, he was convinced that Catholicism had preserved Greek and Roman culture for centuries. He saw himself as “Mussolini’s druid.” While Mussolini was the center of the regime in a political sense, Pound considered himself as the center of the Italian culture.
- His ego was huge. I saw letters by Pound where he claimed he could manage to reach peace with the Allies, and he wanted to negotiate the peace between China and Japan. I don’t know if he was actually insane, but you can’t see normal people sending letters to the Italian foreign minister asking to be the center of a delegation.
In 1945, Pound was taken prisoner by Italian partisans who sold him to the US army. He was jailed in a so-called ‘gorilla cage’ for three weeks, facing the death penalty for treason. The FBI ordered a psychological examination which concluded that he was suffering “a mental breakdown”. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he spent the next 13 years. After that, Pound returned to Italy, where he died in 1972. He was buried in Venice.
- When I was on holiday in Venice, I met Pound’s daughter at his grave, just by chance. Her name is Mary De Rachewiltz. I was lucky enough to talk a little bit with her. She was really nice, and I was impressed because she had the same strong blue eyes as Pound. She just turned 90, and she still has a lot of documents and works. She tries to defend the heritage of her father against radical movements like “Casa Pound” which abuse his name for their own purpose.
During his research, Rinaldi waded through hundreds of boxes with material, mostly in the Beinecke library at Yale University: documents, letters, handwritings and typoscripts. The library’s index on what they have on Pound alone is about 900 pages long. But Rinaldi’s patient work in the archives was honored by some interesting discoveries:
- Apart from some essays on religion which are not yet published, I discovered a draft for a screenplay. Pound had planned a colossal movie on Italian history to celebrate the decennale of the march of Rome and the fascist regime. I knew that Pound loved cinema and was particularly fond of Walt Disney. But I was surprised to notice that some of the scenes of his screenplay were supposed to be motion comics. This draft is one of the important new things that I can shed light on in my study.
Rinaldi is about to complete his project, which will be another important contribution to the many published works of the “Modernism and Christianity project”.