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This item is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.Letters from Peter Brooker and Donald Davie
Sir: Donald Davie writes of his survey ('Who Are The Poundians, And What Is It They Do?' PNR 46) that it has been made 'rapidly and so of course unfairly'. I wish to point out a few of these unfairnesses, specifically those directed at my own essay in Ian Bell's Ezra Pound: Tactics for Reading. I am described as a 'dialectical materialist' (a better description than 'Marxist' and one I only wish were more true). Davie writes of dialectical materialism, however, as an ideology, and sets it in his discussion along with 'deconstruction', 'Perennial Philosophy' and 'bourgeois'. This is imprecise, since these categories are not of the same kind; nor are they incompatible, necessarily, one with the other. It is even possible to be a 'bourgeois dialectical materialist', or if we lower our sights, a 'bourgeois socialist'. As I am myself. But how and why does this then mean that I am strapped (I've strapped myself, he says) into an 'ideological strait-jacket' and others, namely certain 'bourgeois conservative' critics, are not? The reason I think is that Davie confuses dialectical materialism with certain past and present forms of inhumane and repressive State Socialism, to which I and other would-be and true dialectical materialists are opposed. Unfair this, I think.
Secondly Davie writes as if I consider Pound's Cantos to be 'first and foremost a fascist poem'. I do not, nor did I suggest anything so crude. My argument is that the poem is contradictory and shows both totalitarian and libertarian aspects. This argument runs over several pages of my article and is, I would have thought, quite clear. I write of the poem as being 'divided against itself', of its 'egoism and self-abnegation, its condition as stone and as water', of its 'erosive self-critique'. It is this I say 'which distinguishes the Cantos from Pound's prose writings, and from which his poem emerges as of interest not simply as a "fascist epic", or as an "American fascist epic", but also as a "failure", since where it "fails" it also succeeds in undermining Pound's totalitarian ambition'. I say this in the process of answering John Lauber's categorical description of the Cantos as 'totalitarian and fascistic'. My argument is not to Davie's taste perhaps, but it is unfair of him to twist it to suit his own ideological convenience.
Thirdly, I am accused as are other contributors to Ian Bell's book of not liking to dirty my hands with the poem itself. Personally, 'words on the page' trouble me far less than old new critics who hold them up as a litmus test of true criticism. However, for the record, I quote sixty-four lines of Pound's verse. Davie says the most that is quoted anywhere in Bell's book is eight lines, and seems to think that I quote at most two. This is unfair to other contributors as well as to myself. So unfair as to be just plain wrong.
There are other points, but perhaps I have made mine. Sufficiently at least for your readers to judge for themselves. It would be something if they read before they judged.
Donald Davie replies: Peter Brooker says that I describe him as a dialectical materialist; I do not. He says that I write of dialectical materialism as an ideology; I do not. ('I write of 'the dialectical materialist understanding of history' as such.) He says that I accuse him of quoting too little from Pound's verse; I do not. (I write that in 196 pages only 13 verse-lines are quoted. Those pages were written by, severally, Martin Kayman, H.N. Schniedau, Ian Bell, Joseph Riddel, and Richard Godden. Eric Mottram, David Murray and Brooker himself each quotes quite enough to satisfy me.) Finally, he says that I write as if he considered The Cantos first and foremost a fascist poem; and it's true, so I do (for which I apologize), but if he looks again he'll see that I don't quite say so.
Peter Brooker goes to bat for his team, as if what is alleged of any member of it were alleged of him also. And I intend no sneer when I say that this is very sporting of him. Because of this good sportsmanship I believe he is quite sincere when he describes himself as a bourgeois socialist. But he must recognize that the careers of some public figures-Foot and Scargill are two names for starters-have persuaded some of us that he and thousands of others who sincerely believe themselves socialists and yet good sports must be deluding themselves. Can one in fact, and at the end of the day, be a bourgeois socialist? It is what some of us have come to doubt. And if sportsmanship is a bourgeois concept (as I think it is), it should be clear why bourgeois ideology cannot be a strait-jacket.
This item is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.