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Masculine and the Feminine of Ezra Pound


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Masculine and the Feminine of Ezra Pound

Caterina Bonucci (1891-1958)
2012, oil on canvas, 23×25 cm

Masculine and the Feminine of Ezra Pound

Caterina Bonucci (1891-1958)

Masculine and the Feminine of Ezra Pound




English and French Feminist Approaches to Pound's Poetics (Part 1)

Geun Young Jang
English and French Feminist Approaches to Pound's Poetics (Part 2)*

Moreover, the early Pound's experiments with masks and personae can be seen as miming itself. Actually, the controversial notion of mimétisme and masks originates with Lacan. Lacan writes: "This fact is observable in the variously modulated scale of what may be included, ultimately, under the general heading of mimicry It is this that comes into play, quite obviously, both in sexual union and in the struggle to the death« (Four 107). Furthermore, Lacan writes of masks:

The lure plays an essential function therefore It is not something else that seizes us at the very level of clinical experience, when, in relation to what one might imagine of the attraction to the other pole as conjoining masculine and feminine, we apprehend the prevalence of that which is presented as travesty It is no doubt through the mediation of masks that the masculine and the feminine meet in the most acute, most intense way.

Only the subject—the human subject, the subject of the desire that is the essence of man—is not, unlike the animal, entirely caught up in this imaginary capture, he maps himself in it. How? In so far as he isolates the function of the screen and plays with it, Man, in effect, knows how to play with the mask as that beyond which there is gaze. The screen is here the locus of mediation. (Four 107)

Ezra Pound in Venice (by Horst Tappe)

Ezra Pound in Venice

Considering masks as the screen that enables the masculine and the feminine to meet in "the most acute and most intense way," Lacan notes that "Man" controls and manipulates the masks, and the screen becomes the "locus of mediation." In this way, for Lacan, the masks become the screen, the "locus of mediation," in so far as "Man knows how to play with the mask as that beyond which there is gaze." In other words, the mask may function as the mediating screen between the masculine and the feminine While Lacan seems to define the mask and masquerade as playful from a male point of view, Irigaray s own conception of the masquerade is based on a female one:

Or rather, they [women] find themselves there, proverbially, m masquerades. Psychoanalysts say that masquerading corresponds to women's desire. That seems wrong to me I think the masquerade has to be understood as what women do in order to recuperate some element of desire, to participate in man's desire, but at the price of renouncing their own In the masquerade, they submit to the dominant economy of desire in an attempt to remain "on the market" in spite of everything But they are there as objects for sexual enjoyment, not as those who enjoy.

What do I mean by masquerade? In particular, what Freud calls "femininity." The belief, for example, that it is necessary to become a woman, a "normal" one at that, whereas a man is a man from the outset. He has only to effect his being-a-man, whereas a woman has to become a normal woman, that is, has to enter into the masquerade of femininity In the last analysis, the female Oedipus complex is woman's entry into a system of values that is not hers, and in which she can "appear" and circulate only when enveloped in the needs / desires / fantasies of others, namely, men. (TS 133-4)

According to Irigaray, the masquerade of the feminine is, not the most intense and most acute mediation between the feminine and the masculine, but rather, a necessity for becoming a woman, "a normal woman" Woman's masquerade, thus, becomes the entry into Freudian femininity as in the female Oedipus complex through which woman can enter into the symbolic, a system of values, which I discussed in the story of "Little Snow White." In fact, Gilbert and Gubar also note that a feminized Oedipal struggle exists between Snow White and her Wicked Step Mother, daughter and mother, and. by this struggle, women can have a male-imagined femininity (Madwoman 37). Here, unlike woman, who needs the mask or masquerade to become "a normal woman." for Irigaray, man does not, because man is a man from the outset.

Yet, this masquerade is imposed upon woman as well as man, because man also needs to play the masquerade of manliness at the expense of womanliness A Pound critic, Goldblatt, has noted both man's and woman's masquerade as a sort of restriction enforced from the current heterosexual society Indeed, the masquerade of manliness and womanliness appears to be the ritual to "normal" sexuality both of the masculine and the feminine imposed by the heterosexual matrix. However, in Pound's early poems, his use of masks or personae seems to show a playful masquerade of the feminine and the masculine and, sometimes, an ambiguity of the feminine and the masculine For instance. Pound's early poem "Histrion" presents the fusion of the histrionic and the historical, for Pound's masks are usually borrowed from the dead poets of the past \s Gibson points out in Epic Reinvented, however, there's something else, a gendering process, because Pound's poetic "I" in his poem "Histrion" is a "clear space, taking the forms of others' spirits" and is, in turn, signifying some locus or receptacle for the dead poet's language (10). Through his receptive and melting "I" in "Histrion," Pound declares that the souls of great men such as Villon, Dante, even Christ and his own individuality melt into each other "'Tis as in midmost us there glows a sphere Translucent, molten gold, that is the ‘I’ / And into this form projects itself (CEP 1) For Gibson, thus, in Pound's "Histrion," "history and the histrionic are closely related, the poet or historian, through contemplation of the past, is at once filled with its malleable spirit and becomes a curiously malleable mold through which the past projects itself into the present" (Epic 6-7). The curiously malleable mold can be seen as feminine matter, and, then, in terms of the passive and receptive poet persona. Pound appropriates feminine matter in order to project masculine forms of the past, dead, and historical heroes.

This malleability can be attained by feminine fluid identities leading to the use of multiple personae in Pound. Pound's use of personae symbolically makes the poet lose a static self-identity when he arrives at the exact point of "self-annihilation." This point of "self-annihilation" or "self-extinction" is clearly described in Pound's "On His Own Face in a Glass." The poet in this poem confesses a somewhat confusing experience when he encounters his strangely alienated and split face "in a Glass" In "Histrion," the poet melted into historical figures and transformed him/herself into the malleable mold, "matter," for the projection of the form, while the persona in "On His Own Face in a Glass" is faced with a question about "self-identity" between the object ("And we?") and the doubtful, split, and multiple subject ("I ?") by wearing myriad personae, "historical masks." This doubt about "self-identity" seems to be settled as recognition of "self-extinction." "Self-extinction" or "self-annihilation" comes from the Decadent spirit of Nineties, and, in some ways, is the attribute of the soft because this is close to the notion of fluid, transient, not static self Moreover, it seems to me that "self-extinction" can be viewed as the nothing or lack of the feminine, while multiplicity appears to come from the excess of the feminine. In fact, for Leopold von Ranke, aesthetic "self-extinction" or "self-forgetfulness" is an answer for the nineteenth-century' discussion of the subject and the object (Gadamer 211, 215). This "self-extinction," from Ranke’s critical historicism, which Robert Browning, Pound's poetic mentor, employs as his contemporary discourse in his poetic writings, in the dramatic monologues, is also realized, in particular, in Pound's early poems such as "Histrion" and "On His Own Face in a Glass."[11]

While Browning considers the poet as a seer, for Pound, especially in his early days, the poet is a transformer. As Carol T. Christ says, Pound's personae "build upon the discoveries of Browning's dramatic monologues"(3). In History and the Prism of Art Gibson points out that Browning's aesthetic theory and poetry contain the nineteenth-century discussion of individual subjectivity and objective historical knowledge, echoing some of the theories of his contemporary historians such as Leopold von Ranke or his friend Thomas Carlyle (56). For Browning, the fusion of the subject and the object is that of the present interpreter and the past historical facts Like Browning who finds a solution for his contemporary discussion between the subject and the object—an individually subjectified objectivity—Pound, from Chinese written characters, seeks a natural language, according to natural suggestion, which represents the subject and the object with exact correspondence, Chinese language is close to "things" (Fenollosa 19) The Victorian dramatic monologue giving the poet a distance also provides, in some ways, the inevitable split in the voice as in "On His Own Face in a Glass," for the words of the poem belong both to a persona and to the poet Thus, Robert Langbaum points out, in the dramatic monologue "there is at work in it a consciousness, whether intellectual or historical, beyond what the speaker can lay claim to. This consciousness is the mark of the poet's projection into the poem; and is also the pole which attracts our projection, since we find in it the counterpart of our own consciousness" (94) Hence, the ancient poet persona comes to have a historical consciousness, which the poet persona might not have, by the modern consciousness of the poet. In this context, if we can see the consciousness of the poet as the malleable mold, feminine matter, the consciousness of the persona split from the poet would belong to the masculine form of the past However, after all, the inevitable split or gap between the persona and the poet will also be filled in by the malleable mold, the transforming matter of the feminine In Personae, there are several dramatic monologues such as "Cino" and "La Fraisne," but Pound feels the exhaustion of the dramatic monologue mode. In the first of the Ur-Cantos, the fluid and metamorphic Three Cantos, Pound says: "Semi-dramatic, semi-epic story, / "What's left for me to do? / Whom shall I conjure up? / Whom shall I hang my shimmering garment on?" (cited in Bush, Genesis 56). Nevertheless, despite his own feeling of exhaustion of the dramatic monologues in the Ur-Cantos, by conjuring up and resuscitating the dead poets or historical heroes. Pound's experiments with his shimmering garment, persona or mask, still continue and finally are consummated in The Cantos. For Eliot, Pound's later Cantos shows what "the consummation of Mr. Pound's work could be: a final fusion of all his masks." (cited in Bush, Genesis 5)

Ranke's term "self-extinction" or "self-forgetfulness" is closely related to Pound's use of personae, because through "self extinction" he achieves his nothingness self-annihilation—to receive and reflect other men's voices. The poet employs a persona that speaks its own voice behind which the poet hides. As Morse Peckam and Mary Ellis Gibson have argued. Browning was familiar with nineteenth-century historiography and its discussion of the subject and the object under the influence of the Victorian tradition, and, thus. Pound's historicism can also be best understood in "the context of historical speculation that begins with Ranke and Carlyle and finds a moment of relative coherence in the poetry of Browning."[12] In addition, Christ sees the nineteenth-century historicism as existential relativism in that particularly Ranke "urged a similar existential understanding of past experience" and was aware of the distortion in which his own personal bias imposes upon his evaluations (111). A nineteenth-century historiography and its discussion of the subject and the object are realized in Pound's early poems, especially in the use of personae, masks, because, by wearing masks, the subject can be fused into the past objective. The Romantics see "the activity of the perceiving mind not as a mirror reflecting the external world but as a lamp projecting its light, creating as it sees, and thus unifying subject and object" (Christ 4-5).[13] In this definition of the function of the mind as a melting, unifying vehicle between subject and object, perhaps, the masks, screens for subject and object, can be said to be unifying mediators for subject and object. These mediators are not only reflecting but also receiving the historical objects, and, thus, become receptacles. Since Pound presents his disillusion from the romantic fusion of subject and object as well as his "paradoxical combination of absence and excess,"[14] one of Pound's early poems—"On His Own Face in a Glass" is opposed to the traditional male specular economy.

Indeed, this traditional male specular economy is inverted in Pound’s "On His Own Face in a Glass" because in this poem the male reflection cannot provide the entry into the symbolic, male self-same economy. If the flux of identities against the definition is embodied in Pound's "search for oneself through masks, after wearing myriad masks, how does Pound feel? Pound's describes:

O strange face there in the glass!

O ribald company, O saintly host!
O sorrow-swept my fool.
What answer?
O ye myriad
That strive and play and pass.
Jest, challenge, counterlie,
I ? I ? I ?
And ye? (CEP 34-35)

Here, the poet persona is wondering if the multiple, alienated mirrored faces are his If the mirror-stage is served as the "narcissistic self-image" of the male specular economy, in these above-quoted lines, this traditional metaphor of a mirror becomes somewhat absurd, because Pound confesses the mirroring practice as a confusing, alienating, and multiple experience.[15] In other words, the use of myriad personae leads to "extinction" as well as "multiplicity" of self as in "nothing" and "excess." Despite Pound's apparent reference to a masculine gender (the word "His" in the title), this male poet persona has appropriated the feminine multiple and fluid identities. The nothing/excess in terms of the feminine multiplicity and fluidities provides woman both with transcendence and with immanence and, thereby, woman can get "free subjectivity" outside the heterosexual relation. Yet, in his case, instead of free subjectivity, in terms of metamorphic fluidities Pound ironically proceeds to pursue "phallic hardness" in the flux, which blurs the binaries such as masculine/feminine and creates the nothing/excess.[16] This paradoxical pursuit of masculinity through the nothing/excess seems to be presented as historicism, however, his pursuit is doomed to failure, for he cannot completely leave the soft of the Nineties.

Moreover, according to Walter Ong, by worshipping historical figures or by learning classic languages such as Latin or Greek, historicism or classicism can indicate the learning or acquisition of the "civilized" patrius sermo of the father's speech (cited in Gilbert and Gubar, "Sexual Linguistics" 91). As Gilbert and Gubar suggest, thus, translations of classical literature mean a feminization from the father's speech to the mother tongue, materna lingua (92). In this process, historicism may be understood as the masculinist oedipal pursuit of the past, the father's speech, but, at the same time, the "fusion" of the past and the present, interpretation or translation—this is one of metamorphoses—would assume a feminization through this process of the dialogue between the past object and the present interpreter, because the fusion creates the blurring as well as the unifying between subject and object. In his attempt to write a historical epic Pound develops "the method of luminous detail" which means choosing "something that would truly illuminate a work of art or a historical event, rather than offering mere multitudinous detail'" (Carpenter 169). While Pound's "luminous detail" signifies a historical pursuit of masculine identities, Irigaray's concept of the "luminous" related to the radiant white which "gives back as much as it receives" is associated with the feminine and multiplicity (TS 207). Associating the white with the luminous, Irigaray explicitly appropriates the traditional masculine metaphor, light, that is, gaze Pound's ideogrammic method can be also taken as the masculine version of a feminine ritual His ideogrammic method "consists of presenting one facet and then another until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the readers mind, onto a part that will register" (GA: 51). Unlike his "luminous detail," Pound's ideogrammic method, as a sort of collage, seems to show the feminine ritual of making a quilt with historical patches through the mystic rebirth or revitalization; despite the apparent allusion of masculinity to historicism. Pound's historicism is, here, ultimately feminized.

Further, this split, alienated, and multiple I in the mirror is strongly reminiscent of Kristeva's becoming subject. Kristeva writes:

The matrix of enunciation in narrative tends to center on an axial position that is explicitly or implicitly called "F' or "author"—a projection of the paternal role in the family. Although axial, this position is mobile, it takes on all possible roles in intra-and inter-familial relations, and is as changeable as a mask. Correlatively, this axial position presupposes an addressee who is required to recognize himself in the multiple “I”’s of the author. (Revolution 91)

The phallic and assertive "F' or "author" is "a projection of the paternal role in the family" whereas this position is mobile and "as changeable as a mask." Reciprocally, this axial position in the family relation incurs the multiple "I" of the author Kristeva also notes that "a subjectal space" is signifying the space of no unique and fixed subject and showing "as a series of identities, which are infinite to the extent that material discontinuity is projected there, but locked in place to the extent that parental and social network is applied to it" (Revolution 91). Similar to Irigaray's notion of the feminine fluidity and multiplicity, Kristeva considers the speaking subject the multiple positing this subject as an in-between both of the axial and the mobile. This axial yet mobile subject is indicated in Pound's "On His Own Face in a Glass" and can also be said to show "self-indeterminacy."

Indicating Pound's early poetry as a search for the self and the real, Thomas I Grieve observes that "The self is seen above all as a construct fraught with indeterminacy" and "Expression of that self is a frustrating task doomed to inevitable failure since such a protean entity will always escape the confines of any constraint or integral voice" (Early Poetry 34). "Such a protean entity" is also well described in Pound's "On His Own Face in a Glass." Hugh Kenner even says. "The title of the 1909 Personae, Pound's earliest collection of verse to achieve general circulation, implies not merely masks but a man donning them" ("Broken" 3). Pound writes in Gaudier-Brzeska

In the "search for oneself," in the search for "sincere self-expression." one gropes, one finds some seeming verity. One says "I am" this, that, or the other, and with the words scarcely uttered one ceases to be that thing.

I began this search for the real in a book called Personae, casting off as it were, complete masks of the self in each poem. I continued in long series of translations, which were but more elaborate masks. (85)

If Pound's search for the self or the real is realized in his use of personae or masks, his search for the real can be viewed as the attempt to enter into the symbolic. Pound's attempt, then, accompanies the mimetic method of the mirroring practice in order to get the "sincere self-expression," the father's language, and his translation of present interpretations of the past, dead father's language is just an attempt to resuscitate the father's language, the phallic signifier. However, this symbolic father is already dead, and the phallic signifier is just "an index of its own impossibility" Slavoj Žižek writes

The phallic signifier is, so to speak, an index of its own impossibility In its very positivity it is the signifier of "castration"—that is, of its own lack The so-called pre-phallic objects (breasts, excrement) are lost objects, while the phallus is not simply lost but is an object which gives body to a certain fundamental loss in its very presence. In the phallus, loss as such attains a positive existence. (157)

The pre-phallic objects, in other words, are the objets a signifying a lack Like these objets a, the partial objects, the objectified and reified phallus is a loss, a lack of the signifier of "castration" even with its presence In this context, Lacan also writes

How, indeed, could Freud fail to recognize such an affinity, when the necessity of his reflexion led him to link the appearance of the signifier of the Father, as author of the Law, with death, even to the murder of the Father-thus showing that if this murder is the fruitful moment of debt through which the subject binds himself for life to the Law, the symbolic Father is, in so far as he signifies this Law, the dead Father. (Ecrits 199)

For Lacan, the child's entry into the symbolic is occasioned with the dead Father as in the first victim of father sacrifice in the Oedipus complex in Freud's Totem and Taboo, seeing the Oedipus complex as a sacrificial ritual in sharing of the power of the father, God, Freud ultimately says that the Father is the first sacrificial victim; in this process. God is totem and the exalted father (146). The Father is always dead since he gave his power to his revolting sons through the father sacrifice. Although Pound attempts to find the dead father's language or the symbolic order in the past, his quest only results in the impossibility of the phallic signifier. Therefore, Pound's love of the past in terms of his use of personae of the dead poets turns out to be his recognition of the dead father.

The current age is feminized; the masculine and dead father's age existed in the forgone past. This modem age is usurped by the phallic mother who is presented as a sterile old woman in Pound. Of the phallic mother, Lacan writes:

But what I do wish to insist on is that we should concern ourselves not only with the way in which the mother accommodates herself to the person of the father, but also with the way she takes his speech, the word (mot), let us say, of his authority, in other words, of the place that she reserves for the Name-of- the-Father in the promulgation of the law (Ecrits 218).

* Geun Young Jang; Fluidities of Gender in Ezra Pound, (A Dissertation), Texas Tech University, May, 1999, pp. 63-74.

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


[11] "Histrion" was published in A Quinzaine For This Yule, and "On His Own Face in a Glass" in A Lume Spento in 1908 (Oderman 19, 88).
[12] See Gibson, Epic Reinvented, 6 and Peckam 243-57.
[13] Noting the relation between the subject and the object, Christ borrows M II Abrams' classic statement of Romantic poetics.
[14] I am indebted for these terms to Bruce Clarke.
[15] The Lacanian subject is split out of the break or separation from the objet a According to Irigaray, despite Lacan's notion of the subject as split and dispersed, and alienated from the lack and desire, the subject is fundamentally the one because the subject enters a language through self-reflection, mirroring back to himself Actually. Irigaray sees the gender of the split subject as the masculine: 'The 'subject' play s at multiplying himself, even deforming himself, in this process He is father, mother, and child(ren). And the relationship between them. He is masculine and feminine and the relationships between them. What mockery of generation, parody of copulation and genealogy, drawing its strength from the same model, from the model of the same the subject. In whole sight everything outside remains forever a condition making possible the image and the reproduction of the self A faithful, polished mirror, empty of altering; reflections. Immaculate of all auto-copies. (S 136) In this case, Irigaray criticizes Lacan's implicit notion of the gender-free or neutral and sees this notion as a disguise of the male economy of the same. Since this male hom(m)osexuality permits the masculine of the same, thus, the feminine is excluded and becomes a reflective mirror for the masculine subject. However, my reading of Pound's "On His Own Face in a Glass" will not employ the Lacanian notion of the split subject which is criticized as the masculine Rather; I would see the male subject in this poem as having fluidities of gender by means of self-extinction or annihilation.
[16] In fact, Yeats dissociates from Pound's poetics because Pound's poetry doesn't have "forms"- Pound's poetics "exhibited a 'loss of control,' which Yeats could not consider to be anything but gravest weakness. It surrenders 'the flux,' the twentieth-century version of the nineties' despair, and seems to Yeats to fulfill a dread prophecy, which he speculates was possibly latent in Pater's aesthetics, of a poetry, a philosophy, where the individual is nothing" (Grieve, Early Poetry 10).