Fascist-free speech is fascist free speech?

While I'm on the subject of books, Jeff from Beautiful Atrocities reminded me in the comments of something that he, Sean Kinsell and I had posted about before -- that San Francisco's City Lights doesn't sell books by fascists.

Hmmmm....

I don't know why it took me so long to think of this, but I have one question:

What about Ezra Pound?

(Pound is not new topic on this blog, but this is purely a fascist-free-speech question.)

While Ezra Pound has to be considered a quintessential fascist by definition (the man avoided trial for treason by commitment to a mental hospital), apparently City Lights makes an exception to it's "We don't carry books by fascists" rule if the fascists are leaders of a particular literary tradition. I'm not sure quite how this exception to the City Lights Rule works, so I was forced to look for guidance in the various pontifications of City Lights' founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

In an interview with Jeff Troiano, Ferlinghetti condemns fascism as a threat to free speech:

Freedom of speech is always under attack by Fascist mentality, which exists in all parts of the world, unfortunately.
I think Ferlinghetti is absolutely right on that account. The anti-Danish rioting over the Muhammad cartoons is a classic example. (Which means City Lights probably supports the Danish cartoonists in their struggle against fascism, right?)

While the fascism Ferlinghetti opposes the most appears to be Bush fascism ("American corporate monoculture" is presided over by Bush's "bandits" and "international criminals"), he proudly mentions his long association with Pound's leading publisher:

How do you envision the future of publishing? E-books?

The future of publishing lies with the small and medium-sized presses, because the big publishers in New York are all part of huge conglomerates. The real literary editors have mostly been fired. Those that remain are all "bottom line" editors; everything depends on the money. New Directions, who's been my publisher since they published my book A Coney Island of the Mind> in 1958, is a rare exception. They were the first to report on and publish poets like Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, Tennessee Williams—a huge list of important American, as well as European, writers. New Directions is still going strong, and they're still not a part of any corporate conglomerate.

I guess the important thing is that Pound wasn't associated with a "corporate conglomerate."

Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2003, Ferlinghetti attended the Ezra Pound Conference (held in honor of Pound in his native Idaho) where he read gave a poetry reading:

Taking advantage of the Idahoan connections, the 20th International Ezra Pound Conference takes place in Sun Valley over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Scholars and students from 10 different countries will attend the meeting to discuss Pound's life and work. Two eminent and accomplished American poets, Robert Creeley and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, will join them.

Four conference events are open to the public. Both Creeley and Ferlinghetti will give public readings of their work. On July 2, Creeley reads in the Continental Room in the Sun Valley Inn at 8:15 p.m. Ferlinghetti reads also in the Continental Inn on July 3 at 8:15 p.m.

Now that's cool! I like honoring authentic fascists as opposed to the Bushitler McHalliburton ReChimplican wannabes.

But they have to tone it down. Please! Image. Context.

Which means that Pound's fascism has to be seen in, um, context:

Despite his Fascist leanings during World War II, he helped define and promote a modernist sensibility in poetry.
Pound may be a fascist, but his "sensibility" is "modern."

And that's what's important. Elaborating on Pound's modernist sensibility at City Lights' website, Ferlinghetti describes Pound as part of an important movement:

The attack had indeed begun much earlier, with Whitman's "barbaric yawp," and was carried forward by the American lingo of poets like W.C. Williams, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings, further aided and abetted after World War II by poets of the Black Mountain School--Robert Creeley, Charles Olson--who were in tune with what the New York abstract expressionists--de Kooning and Kline and Motherwell and Pollock--were doing in their spontaneous gestural action painting.

Today, raw thought as poetry is everywhere, at every festival, every open mike, every poetry slam, from rap to hip-hop and back--black and white and Latino poets and the latest youth movement poets, from the Nuyorican Cafe to Wednesdays at La Peña in Berkeley, and on Youth Radio on FM stations late at night.

In the autumn of our civilization, the poets of the world are speaking up and speaking their mind.

Fine. OK. I have no problem seeing Pound as part of modernism. Hell, he may be part of post-modernism. My problem is that the man was an unapologetic, unreconstructed fascist, and this is being ignored by people who not only claim that refuse to sell books by fascists, but who complain that free speech is under attack by fascists!

This is a bit much.

Then there's Ferlinghetti's own poem -- "Baseball Canto," -- described as being "as much about Pound and his influence as it is about the epic nature and forces embedded in the game of baseball." It begins:

Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,

reading Ezra Pound

and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the

Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto

and demolish the barbarian invaders

I know I'm starting to belabor the point, but Ferlinghetti's attachment to Pound is itself an exercise in belaboring the point. Here's Ferlinghetti interviewed by Ernest Beyl:
I am working on a documentary poem now called "Americus." It's modeled on Ezra Pound's "Cantos."

And if you don't like it, GO POUND SAND!


UPDATE: I see that last month, Common Sense and Wonder noted City Lights' Ezra Pound connection. (What took me so long?)

posted by Eric on 03.31.06 at 09:17 AM










Comments

I suppose the difference is that Pound ethically separated his fascism from his art. I was in a writing group once - me & 10 Berkeley liberals - where a woman said she'd never read Mario Vargas Llosa because she didn't like his politics.

I'm like, Honey if we apply that rule we'll soon have to ditch many good writers, including Castro toady Garcia Marquez.

In Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas wrote how Garcia Marquez would fly in on Fidel's pvt jet & appear at rallies for the glory of totalitarianism, while the Cuban writers were in prison, under house arrest, undergoing show trials, or in nuthouses.

I wrote a short story about Elian Gonzalez, called Angel Moreno, which was published in Caribbean Journal, in which I referred to "that Nobel prize-winning writer" aka "Castro's lapdog". Oddly, it wasn't nominated for any of the best stories of the year anthologies...

beautifulatrocities   ·  March 31, 2006 3:35 PM

I've read Pound and have absolutely no problem with any store selling his books.

But when they say, "We don't carry books by fascists," it's a little insulting.

Whether all of Pound's work was necessarily separate from his fascism is debatable. ("Usura" is a good example http://www.utpjournals.com/product/utq/672/672_review_munk.html). But I don't think that's relevant, because City Lights doesn't claim they refuse to carry books FAVORING fascism; they refuse to carry books BY fascists.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 31, 2006 4:37 PM

Well, Aunt Julia & the Scriptwriter is excellent, in spite of the fact it was written by a fascist! I bet they don't carry him either ;p

beautifulatrocities   ·  March 31, 2006 7:49 PM

The real literary editors have mostly been fired. Those that remain are all "bottom line" editors; everything depends on the money.

This at least is true. I wrote a novel & nabbed a big agent (he sold Wicked) to flog it, but it's going nowhere. It's sort of James & the Giant Peach meets Beetlejuice, & the rejections almost never have to do with the book, but with the rules of the genre, which are quite arcane (the protagonist must be so old, it can only be so long, etc). To me, it's rather more insulting than someone saying the book sucks

beautifulatrocities   ·  March 31, 2006 7:52 PM

They only ban books from Black Shirt Fascists, but they just love books by Red Flag Fascists. If they were concerned about the fascist threat to freedom of speech, they should be equally concerned about the threat from Marxists, Stalinists, Maoists and other Left Fascists. It's the same mentality and the same threat.

Kenneth   ·  March 31, 2006 9:33 PM

What does this mean for Hegel and Heidegger?

banopus   ·  April 1, 2006 6:42 PM

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