Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Road to Rapallo: A Psychiatric Study

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Road to Rapallo: A Psychiatric Study

Article excerpt

Bell & Howell Information and Learning; Foreign text omitted

"It is, and as not, 1 am sane enough"-Ezra Pound in Sub Mare

Psychiatrists have often undertaken scientific studies of writers and artists. Nearly always the artist was dead and the issues buried. When Ezra Pound-one of the most influential poets of our time-was committed for an indefinite period to a psychiatric hospital, the issues connected with his case remained very much alive. In fact, the psychiatric and social implications of his case loom larger than the poet himself. Whereas in other psychiatric studies of outstanding men the psychiatry was introduced as an explanation of the man, in the Pound case just the opposite is true: the psychiatry itself needs explanation. In most previous studies it was a question of the use of psychiatry. In the Pound case, it is a question of its abuse.

As psychiatrists we have no right to shirk the responsibility of analyzing contemporary problems. If a poet disappears from public sight after a lifetime of creative activity during which his name appeared in many of the best literary magazines of two continents, a study of what his mental condition may really be is not only legitimate but necessary. That cannot be done merely by a discussion of psychological factors and symptoms in an isolated individual. It requires an inquiry into his work and the whole social setting in which this work was created and received. To separate psychiatric categories completely from the purely esthetic, legalistic or administrative ones would be unscientific. For this reason the strictly technical psychiatric discussion has to be preceded by a survey of its background. Without this background the psychiatry would remain ununderstandable.

Many years ago-to be precise, two World Wars ago-I used to frequent with fellow-students a unique bookstore in London. It was located not far from Queen's Square, near one of the greatest modern centers of neurology, and was called the Poetry Bookshop. You walked down a few steps and were in a different world. You could take down any book and sit on a little bench and read poetry. Once a week there were poetry readings. Besides poetry in books, you could buy there beautifully printed broadsides, "2 pence plain and 4 pence colored," with a single poem illustrated by such men as Lovat Fraser and Paul Nash, which have since become collector's items. One poet, a young American spoken of with much respect at the Poetry Bookshop, was Ezra Pound.

In those days I did not suspect that there would one day be not only a criminal Ezra Pound case, but actually a case with a background of significance as great as-or perhaps even greater than-the Dreyfus case. In the Dreyfus case a Jewish defendant, not guilty of treason, was condemned as a traitor. In the Pound case an anti-Semitic defendant allegedly guilty of treason was declared not guilty-or at any rate was not declared guilty The future historian (a man in considerable danger of losing his job) will record the ramifications of the Pound case as a warning signal.

Of course, between the Dreyfus case and the Pound case there are many differences. One is that we have no Zola to scrutinize the official information given out to the public and to raise his voice and, incidentally, be indicted for it. (That Petain who was a witness against Dreyfus is still alive and has fulfilled Zola's predictions is an interesting sidelight.)

Another great difference seems to be that we are living in an Age of Psychiatry, which puts on us, I believe, the added duty of having to scrutinize, in addition to other social phenomena, the psychiatry of the age. Oscar Wilde (speaking of painting and the London climate) wrote the paradox that nature follows art. In our time the paradox seems to be that not only nature but even society follows art. For the Pound case takes us into that twilight of intangible authorities described by Kafka and is a fine example of what one of his novels describes: a trial without a trial. …

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