Italian Fascist Exhibitions and Ezra Pound's Move to the Imperial

By Paul, Catherine E. | Twentieth Century Literature, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Italian Fascist Exhibitions and Ezra Pound's Move to the Imperial


Paul, Catherine E., Twentieth Century Literature


In or about May 1936, Ezra Pound's method for teaching neophytes about culture changed. During the 1930s, he had become increasingly invested in the ideals and rhetoric of Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, so it is no surprise that his writings from the time of Mussolini's declaration of empire have a decidedly imperialist quality. Where he had, during his years in London, practiced a form of cultural guidance that offered readers the tools for making their own decisions, his writings of the later 1930s, such as Guide to Kulchur (1938), share a sense of purpose and method with the totalitarian propaganda efforts of Mussolini's cultural ministers. While early fascist propaganda allowed and even expected a certain amount of participation from viewers, propaganda from the midthirties and onward presented Italian culture as sealed and complete, something to be docilely consumed. In this essay, I read two fascist exhibitions from the 1930s to represent the regime's changing approach to culture, and then I argue that Pound's writing of this period, exemplified by his Guide to Kulchur, reflects the ideological and iconographic imperialism of this late-1930s fascist propaganda. I further argue that because Pound's conception of culture in this period is shaped by Italy's position as a colonizing power, his attempt to embrace all of culture in his Guide must fail.

The shift in Pound's thinking about the function of poetry and criticism is visible in his writing about literature and in his critical methods. In "Ubicumque Lingua Romana," written in 1937 though not published until 1939, Pound contends that if he were "asked to organize a sindicato of men of my own profession ... Among other things I shd/ treat literature as communications service, not as the quantitative production of merchandise" (45). In a letter to C. H. Douglas also written in 1937, Pound asserts, "The masterworks or the best of its time is like orders from the STAFF, from the high command" (Papers 18 Nov. [1937]). These related claims that poets, like other propaganda artists, work in the service of a regime, passing on a leader's ideas to the masses, shock readers of Pound's London poetry and criticism, accustomed to his sense in 1915 that "it is the artist's job to express what is 'true for himself,'" and that "the man who tries to express his age, instead of expressing himself, is doomed to destruction" (Gaudier-Brzeska 102). This change in Pound's thinking from 1915 to 1937 occurs not merely on the level of content--his shifting view of the role of the artist from offering self-expression to purveying propaganda--but also on the level of rhetoric: his employment of terms like "sindicato," "communications service," "orders from the STAFF, from the high command." Such a transformation bespeaks the extent to which Pound had absorbed the fascist imperialist discourse surrounding him.

His change in critical methods demonstrates a similar adoption of fascist techniques. Many of his works preceding Mussolini's declaration of empire in 1936--works as early as The Spirit of Romance (1910) and as late as ABC of Reading (1934)--rely on an exhibitionary method, in which he lays out texts for readers to explore: he wants his readers to access the materials through which he comes to his conclusions. In other words, they enact what Steven Conn in the context of museum history calls an "object-based epistemology," the belief popular in the late nineteenth century that original objects can speak, representing the entire culture from which they come (4). Pound translates this notion into his criticism by asserting that criticism is not a viable substitute for first-hand reading and critical thinking. He famously comments in "How to Read, or Why" (1929), that "I have been accused of wishing to provide a 'portable substitute for the British Museum,' which I would do, like a shot, were it possible. It isn't" (Literary Essays 16).

Guide to Kulchur asserts, on the other hand, that such a substitute is not only possible but preferable.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Italian Fascist Exhibitions and Ezra Pound's Move to the Imperial
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?