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Especially Feminine Gender Issues of Ezra Pound


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Especially Feminine Gender Issues of Ezra Pound

Anna Mancinelli (1877-1969)
2012, oil on canvas, 32×32 cm

Especially Feminine Gender Issues of Ezra Pound

Anna Mancinelli (1877-1969)

Especially Feminine Gender Issues of Ezra Pound




Geun Young Jang
English and French Feminist Approaches to Pound's Poetics (Part 1)*

I will explore the theories of gender in Pound's poetic writings mainly in light of the French feminist theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray In effect, as I discussed in the second chapter, the whole scheme of my study will follow the tactic of mimétisme, a useful tool for Pound's gender issues comprising the masculine and the feminine. Moreover, in this heterosexual matrix, the gender issues are inevitably influenced by current heterosexual gender ideology, and my study might have a risk to be a mere repetition of this ideology. In terms of repetition and displacement, yet. this study is initially intended to be disruptive, subversive, and transgressive to the current gender ideology in that I will try to find the locus of blurting of the heterosexual normative in Pound's poetic writings through his appropriation and deployment of fluidities.

Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1950.

Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1950.

In this process, the survey of the strategies of English and French feminists will work as a background for critical traditions; Irigaray's mimétisme Will be the analytic tool for the gender issues of Pound; this psychoanalytic approach to Pound particularly leads to French theorists such as Lacan, Kristeva, and Irigaray Even though my dissertation's scheme will follow Irigaray's tactic of repetition and displacement, "mimétisme," Kristeva's notion of the subject in process will be fit for early Pound's search for self, as in his use of variable and multiple masks In Bodies that Matter. Butler has indicated that this tactic of Irigaray is repetition and displacement of the patriarchal discourse from the outside (44-45).

Looking at a Mirror

she suddenly began again. "Then it really has happened, after all!' And now, who am I? I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it'" But being determined didn't help her much, and all she could say, after a great deal of puzzling, was: "L, I know it begins with L"
Through the Looking-Glass (cited in TS 9)

There be thy mirrour in men. (85/554)

Carolyn Burke has quoted and discussed the above-cited paragraph both from Irigaray's first page of This Sex Which Is Not One and Lewis Carroll's third chapter of Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass. While in Speculum of the Other Woman Irigaray manifests her aim—her introducing a concave and inverted mirror to women as in the title—in This Sex Which Is Not One she suggests her consistent logic of the multiplicity of feminine sexuality Burke writes:

The original Alice finds herself alone in the wood where things have no name. The rules of logic do not yet prevail, for no name-bestowing Adam is present This is Alice's question about her identity, and her observation that "it begins with L." There is no answer, other than her self-renaming. "L" is, of course, multiple in Irigaray's reading: Alice, "Alice," Luce, and for a French speaker, elle/elles—the third person feminine, both singular and plural. To begin with elle(s) means to learn that the female self is multiple. (299)

Actually, Irigaray's This Sex Which Is Not One begins with a film review entitled as "Le Mirror, from the Other Side," and Alice is the name of the heroines both in a recent film, "The Surveyors" and in Lewis Carroll's novel (Burke 297) The "original Alice" in Wonderland finds that the wood is free of "name-bestowing," man's rule, though the first man/Adam is endowed with naming since the beginning of the World Beyond man's logic, Alice in Wonderland is the determiner of her Wood, and, she says, "L, I know it begins with L« Then, this "L" has plural meanings especially in the feminine third person in French and signifies the multiplicity of feminine sexuality.

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Pound (late 1930s)

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Pound (late 1930s)

This multiplicity of the feminine has also been noted in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One's Own. At the beginning of A Room of One's Own, Woolf says that the narrator, her alter ego, may be called by several names because h is not a "matter of any importance" (6). It appears that, through the plurality of names. Woolf shows women's fluidities opposed to the phallic, assertive, and solipsistic singular T." However, in my reading, Woolf s implied purpose of plurality of names, in particular, surnames, not only indicates the emphasis of women's fluidities, but also is literally no "matter of importance," which becomes a somewhat overt defiance of the patriarchal system, that is male genealogy in terms of hereditary family names. In fact, the narrator's surnames can be Beton, Seton, and Carmichael while her first name still remains Mary, a generic female name. In patriarchal societies, for both Woolf’s alter ego and her self, women's surnames are, in some ways, of no importance because their original surnames are removed by men, indicating patriarchal genealogy, and also replaced by other men's with their marriage. In this way, Woolf s narrator's plural surnames can represent this reality of patriarchy, and Woolf s disregard of patriarchal surnames presents her intentional challenge to patriarchy.

As Woolf s intentional ignorance of the surnames of her heroine is a challenge to patriarchal genealogy, Irigaray's heroine, Alice, also indicates the disruptive subversive force of feminine multiplicity opposed to patriarchal self-same economy, in that patriarchal self-same economy produces the same through the looking glass of the feminine. According to Lacanian psychoanalysis, the mirror stage is very important to the child because, through that stage, the child can enter the symbolic, "the name of the father" Once again, for Woolf. "Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (Room 60). Pointing to this male specular economy, Irigaray also notes that this male specular economy is based on man's eye; by this masculine eye, woman is objectified, and "the interior" of her dark continent can be penetrated (S 144) Consistent with this argument, Shoshana Felman notes that Honore de Balzac's Adieu[1] shows the "specular recognition" through male/female relation (148-9). According to Felman's reading of Adieu, Stephanie's restoration of identity, femininity, and reason depends on her specular recognition of Philippe, on her reflection of his own name and of his own identity. For Philippe, as in Woolf’s mirror, his pursuit of woman is just a mirror, which reflects his own image, and, thereby, he acknowledges his narcissistic self-image (Felman 148). In this regard, Felman states that Philippe's therapeutic design is "to restore her not to cognition, but to recognition." (149).

Male recognition, the entry into the symbolic, begins with the mirror stage, and, for Lacanian psychoanalysis, this reflecting mirror becomes woman By the way, in reality, woman herself is described as looking at a mirror In Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic, a mirror is presented as the metaphor for male images of woman Having been "penned up" or "penned in" by man, woman seems to have two opposite images, "angel" and "monster." For Gilbert and Gubar, these two aspects of woman are well depicted in the Grimm tale of "Little Snow White", they find Snow White and Her Wicked Stepmother as identical because the binary opposite, angel/monster, comes from the male imagination.[2] More interestingly, Gilbert and Gubar say, the first queen. Snow White's mother, and the second queen, the Wicked Stepmother, are both penned in the class in that the first is penned by the window and the second by the mirror (Madwoman 37). As in the title of the chapter, "The Queen's Looking Glass," after all, this self- reflection of woman is a male imagined femininity.

The Queen's husband and Snow White's father (for whose attentions. according to Bettelheim, the two women are battling in a feminized Oedipal struggle) never actually appears in this story at all, a fact that emphasizes the almost stifling intensity with which the tale concentrates on the conflict in the mirror between mother and daughter, woman and woman, self and self. At the same time, though, there is clearly at least one way in which the King is present. His, surely, is the voice of the looking glass, the patriarchal voice of judgment that rules the Queen's—and every woman's—self-evaluation He it is who decides, first, that his consort is "the fairest of all," and then, as she becomes maddened, rebellious, witchlike, that she must be replaced by his angelically innocent and dutiful daughter, a girl who is therefore defined as "more beautiful still" than the Queen. To the extent, then, that the King, and only the King, constituted the first Queen's prospects, he need no longer appear in the story because, having assimilated the meaning of her own sexuality (and having, thus, become the second Queen) the woman has internalized the King's rules: his voice resides now her own mirror, her own mind. (Madwoman 37-8)

In this context, female sexuality of the first Queen, the second, and Snow White is penned in by the man, the King, and he is absent in this story. Rather, the King is present in the voice of the looking glass. This looking glass as a judge for female sexuality, beauty, evaluates and is internalized in the woman who is looking at the mirror. Thus, the mirror in this story seems to function as a tool for patriarchal manipulation to women.[3]

This mirroring practice in Western literary tradition still continues in Peter Nicholl’s Modernisms. Citing Baudelaire's "To a Red-haired Beggar Girl" as an introductory example of modem ironies, Nicholls suggests that the objectification of this beggar girl expresses "the poet's separateness from the social world of which he writes" (3) Pointing out the fear from “the specter of the Double by the appearance of an other who somehow mirrors oneself," Nicholls notes that this threat can be overcome only by thoroughly "objectifying" the other and that the effects seem most impressing when the other is woman (15). At the same time, Nicholls explains that "Baudelaire's identification of Woman with a failed sociality" indicates women and their language as "a degraded form of representation" lacking in the virile energies of modernity (62) Here, eventually, what Nicholls suggests is that literary modernism can be viewed as masculine-gendered. As Gilbert and Gubar argue,[4] a typical modernist poet. Pound, can be said to be a masculinist at least in that he also emphasized the virile energy Furthermore, his masculinism appears to be related to the pun, eye/I, which can explain his use of masks or personae as the kind of mirroring practice as well as a masquerade of manliness and womanliness.

As Philippa Berry notes the pun, eye/I, this mirroring practice is criticized as based on "specularization" and male subjectivity in Irigaray's Speculum (234).[5] Irigaray's Speculum is, in effect, challenging to the Western oculocentric tradition in which the subject is man and the objectified other is woman.[6] However, Irigaray's strategy in this book is the mimétisme by which she turns the obstetric device for seeing woman's interior, the speculum, into the burning inverted, concave mirror.

According to Irigaray's reading in Speculum of Lacanian psychoanalysis, woman has no possibility of subjectivity, for she cannot find the reflection in an other and is reduced to being the other, the mirror, for the self-representations of men (Lorraine 70) For Irigaray, the male subject can sustain himself only by reflecting himself to some objectiveness in the narcissistic sameness This "object" is, "not massive, as resistant, as one might wish to believe" (S 134) Irigaray notes, however, that the subject’s desire to appropriate her is "another of his vertiginous failures," because he confronts another specularization of the inverted min-or, the concave mirror of the feminine. This concave mirror is the mimetic invention of the min-or stage. Irigaray, here, explains the concave min-or: "Whose twisted character is her inability to say what she represents The most amorphous with regard to ideas, the most obviously thing, if you like, the most opaque matter, opens upon a mirror all the purer in that it knows and is known to have no reflections. Except those which man has reflected there but which, in the movement of that concave speculum, pirouetting upon itself, will rapidly deceptively, fade" (.S" 134) Against the male self-reflective economy, thus, Irigaray declares that the most opaque matter without reflections is an alternative for the male specular economy.

As I have stated earlier, the importance of the mirror seems to be deeply based on the Western philosophical tradition. In my study, the meaning of mirroring practice is also leading to the notion of feminine plurality and multiplicity. Actually, Simone de Beauvoir has acknowledged the fluidities of truth, for she notes, "Woman does not entertain the positive belief that the truth is something other than men claim, she recognizes, rather, that there is not any fixed truth," and "It is not only the changing nature of life that makes her suspicious of the principle of constant identity." (612) At this point, certainly, Beauvoir is taking a role of the pioneer for Kristeva and Irigaray in the notion of fluidities[7] and multiplicity, though de Beauvoir cannot go beyond her existentialistic frame; Beauvoir suggests that women's free subjectivity is coming through transcendence in immanence In Pound, his appropriation and deployment of multiplicity and fluidities are presented in his mirroring practice, in other words, mimétisme, because his use of masks or personae furthers his flexible and variable metamorphoses of the self, which are not constricted within the fixed gender identification.

Miming—Assuming Masks

As Eli Goldblatt points out, borrowing Gilbert and Gubar's terms, "men can be 'penned in' by the 'male defined masks and costumes' with which women have long contended" (38). As Butler says, gender is performative; actually, the masquerade of the masculine and the feminine is required of both sexes in the heterosexual matrix Quoting Rachel Blau Duplessis's remark, "strong male bonding relations," in Pound, Goldblatt explains in detail George and Mary Oppen's meeting with Pound: "When they met Pound in Rapallo in 1930, the Oppens were 'bothered' by the way Pound seemed interested only in talking to George, and so together they resisted Pound as a 'father'" (52-3) Duplessis, again, says more: "There were two of us [the Oppens], and in Pound there is no feminine" (cited in Goldblatt 53).[8] Avoiding a psychoanalytic reading of Pound's gender dynamics, Goldblatt, rather, suggests "a cultural investigation" (35) Although Goldblatt's scheme of his article is quite skewed from my study, some of his observations are correct and useful. First, Goldblatt notes that "Perhaps there was a feminine in Ezra Pound that even his close associates could not see"; moreover, for Goldblatt, the Eleusinian Mysteries function as the yin to the Confucian yang. and these mysteries "represent a female element in the Cantos and as such form the center of Pounds Muse worship as well as his misogyny." (53)

Whereas Goldblatt suggests gender as "a cultural conception that Pound explored with ferocious care," Paul Smith offers a more broad range of psychoanalytic leading of Pound in gender issues, not restricted to "gender as a theme to be found in a particular canon" (Goldblatt 35). Comparing Pound to Joyce, Smith writes:

In setting the idea of the speaking subject with an identity fixed within a frame of a social institution which is recognized by that subject as the support for his identity, against the idea of a process that the speaking subject enjoins and is enjoined by in the actual articulation of that fixed position, Kristeva is led to posit a distinction between the activity of the symbolic structure of the first position and the semiotic of the second. The two continually cross, and meet with a certain excess in language. Together the symbolic, as a structure, and the semiotic, as a process, involve a constant production and generation of excess which is experienced by the speaking subject as pleasure (a sort of transgressive appreciation of excess). (96)

Seeing Pound's poetics as totalitarian, Smith argues that "the radical heterogeneity that the crossing of the symbolic with the semiotic entails"—Joyce's practice of signifiance is obviously opposed to "the simple (Poundian) fixity of position that the bonding of signifier and signified entails"; moreover, this Poundian practice, in terms of Kristeva, as "an act of signification," is in conflict with the process of what Kristeva calls signifiance (96).[9] Presenting Joyce as opposed to the Poundian practice, signification. Smith argues that Joyce "is more concerned with the disrupting of that coincidence within the actual process, the theatre perhaps, of language" and is "for process against fixity, for language against sight." (96-7).

Certainly, Smith is quite correct in that later Pound was the ardent pursuer of the bonding of signifier and signified. As Smith points out, yet, Pound began his career with the impassioned concern for poetry "as an art of verbal music" (7) "Swinburne recognized poetry as an art, and as an art of verbal music" (LE 292) In Smith's introduction of early Pound, young Pound was interested, at that time, in the autonomy, primacy, and reflexive quality of poetic language from the influence of the Decadents such as Swinburne. Thus, early Pound's concern for poetry as "an art of verbal music." as Smith properly defines, is the soft of Pound, and Pound's transition from soft to hard is, in other words, "the move from the melopoeia of the early poems" to "the issuing of priestly directives in the later work"; "Pound acts as the paternal Moses-figure, a lawgiver who is proprietor to a certain truth and morality which must be made available (monumentally) to the erring masses" (42). Even though Smith argues Pound's poetics as totalitarian, here, he sees Pound's early poems not as totalitarian but as reflexive and musical. Considering Pound's division of poetry into three aspects (melopoeia, phanopoeia, and logopoeia),[10] early Pound's interest in poetry as an art of verbal music can be defined as melopoeia. Moreover, as in Pound's frequent use of refrains in his early poems, his repetition and musicality is reminiscent of Kristeva's notion of the subject because, for Kristeva, the becoming subject goes beyond the fixed identity by way of repetition, eternity, and musicality.

* Geun Young Jang; Fluidities of Gender in Ezra Pound, (A Dissertation), Texas Tech University, May, 1999, pp. 54-63.

English and French Feminist Approaches to Pound's Poetics (Part 2)

English and French Feminist Approaches to Pound's Poetics (Part 3)


[1] According to Felman, Aunore de Balzac's Adieu, which consists of three parts. the mysterious present, a flashback, and therapeutic present, shows us the male female specular relation through Philippe de Sucy and his mistress, Stephanie de Vandiere In this psychoanalytic story, after seeing her husband's death, despite her lover, Philippe's heroic sacrifice, in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, Stephanie became an aphasic madwoman whose entire vocabulary is composed of the word, "adieu." While Stephanie and Philippe didn't see one another after this accident, their abrupt meeting brings a forceful therapeutic recovery by Philippe to Stephanie, madwoman, who lost femininity, reason, and identity. However, right after restoring her memory, Stephanie dies (139- 153).
[2] Gilbert and Gubar say, the first Queen and the second Queen are identical, "The real story begins when the Queen, having become a mother, metamorphoses also into a witch—that is, into a wicked 'step' mother" (Madwoman 37).
[3] In Sexes and Genealogies, Irigaray says: "The mirror, and indeed the gaze, are frequently used as weapons or tools that ward off touching and hold back fluidity, even the liquid embrace of the gaze" (65).
[4] See No Man's Land, 'Vol. 2 xi.
[5] Noting the pun, the eye / 1, Philippa Berry sees Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman as a criticism on Western philosophy based on "specularization" and "speculation" (234). Berry also observes that a scopic bias was "fundamental to the project of Western philosophy from its inception"; for instance, the Greek word, theorem, the origin of theory, actually means "to contemplate" (231).
[6] To a great extent, the notion of woman as the objectified other derives from Simone de Beauvoir; Beauvoir says, "He is the Subject, he is the Absolute she is the Other" (xvi).
[7] Margaret Fuller suggests the notion of "Femality" which might foresee that o\' fluidity "but as far as it [soul] is modified in her as woman, it flows, it breathes, it sings, rather than deposits soil, or finishes work, and that which is especially feminine flushes, in blossom, the face of earth, and pervades, like air and water, all this seeming solid globe, daily renewing and purifying its life. Such may be the especially feminine element, spoke of as Femality"; then. Fuller prefigures the notion of androgyny "Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism But. in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid There is no wholly masculine, no purely feminine woman" (75).
[8] In "Oppen and Pound," through examining George Oppen's and Pound's poems—for Pound, The Cantos—Duplessis finds the paternal line in their relation, though this line has been denied and resisted by Oppen (62-3).
[9] In Revolution in Poetic Language, relating signifiance to "excess," Kristeva says, signifiance is "precisely this unlimited and unbounded generating process, this unceasing operation of the drives toward, in, and through language, toward, in. and through the exchange system and its protagonists—the subject and his institutions" (17) This "mobile and heterogeneous but semiotizable chora is the place where the signifying process, rejecting stases, unfolds" (Revolution 182). Thus, "heterogeneity is not sublimated but is instead opened up within the symbolic that it puts in process/on trial There it meets the historical process underway in society, brought to light by historical materialism" (Revolution 191).
[10] Pound defines phanopoeia as "throwing the object (fixed or moving) on to the visual imagination," melopoeia as "inducing emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of the speech," and logopoeia as "inducing both of the effects by stimulating the associations (intellectual or emotional) that have remained in the receiver's consciousness in relation to the actual words or word groups employed" (ABCR 63).