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“A Consciousness Disjunct”: Sex and the Writer in Ezra Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2009

Peter Nicholls
Affiliation:
Peter Nicholls is Reader in English and American Literature, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QN, England.

Extract

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley occupies an odd place in the context of the poet's work as a whole, partly because it has produced a range of widely conflicting readings, but also because Pound himself seems to have gone to quite unusual lengths to authorise one particular interpretation of the poem. Take his notoriously unhelpful comment in a letter to Thomas Connolly, that “Mauberley buries E. P. in the first poem; gets rid of all his troublesome energies.” Pound seems to ignore the powerful elements of social critique in the first main section of the poem, insisting instead on the text's complete dissociation of the aesthete Mauberley from the “active” E. P. The same way of construing the poem as simple satire can be found in a 1935 letter to Basil Bunting where Pound observes:

Mauberley: sure, the picture of ANY young man in England. Eviscerated, VOID of ALL creative impulse. EP done a picture of what ANY young educated bloke wd have SEEN, and all he would have done about it IF he had no guts, balls, viscera, PREcisely.

While Pound's dismissive handling of the poem in his later years is closely bound up with his insistence that “I'm no more Mauberley than Eliot is Prufrock,” recent critical discussion has tended to emphasise connections between the two main “characters,” with Stephen Adams, for example, arguing convincingly that “There is…no necessary reason to summon a speaker other than ‘Pound’ at any point in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.”

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1994

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References

1 Connolly, Thomas, “Further Notes on Mauberley”, Accent, 16 (1956), 59Google Scholar.

2 Unpublished letter to Basil Bunting, ca. May 1935, Yale Letters (Beinecke Collection) no. 1267, p. 1. I am grateful to Faber and Faber Ltd. on behalf of the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust for permission to quote this passage.

3 Letter to Felix E. Schelling (8 July 1922), in The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, ed., Paige, D. D. (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), 180Google Scholar.

4 Adams, Stephen J., “Irony and Common Sense: The Genre of Mauberley”, Paideuma, 18.1/2 (Spring & Fall 1989), 159Google Scholar.

5 Bush, Ronald, “‘It Draws One to Consider Time Wasted’: Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”, American Literary History, 2.2 (Summer 1990), 65CrossRefGoogle Scholar (further references will be given in the text). Bush's reference is to Kenner, Hugh, The Poetry of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1951)Google Scholar.

6 Unpublished letter to John Quinn (8 Nov. 1920), quoted in Bush, 62.

7 Berryman, Jo Brantley, Circe's Craft: Ezra Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983), 76Google Scholar. In contrast to her early article on the poem (see below, footnote 8), Berryman here goes to often quite absurd lengths to argue a complete dissociation between E. P. and Mauberley (e.g., p. 62:“Pound has Mauberley imitate Masters's rhythm in order to suggest that Mauberley lacks the poetic ability to create his own distinctive cadence”).

8 Berryman, Jo Brantley, “‘Medallion’: Pound's Poem”, Paideuma, 2.3 (Winter 1973), 391–98Google Scholar. The big worry about “Medallion” has always been, since Donald Davie's early account, whether or not the poem is “good” — see, for example, Bell, Ian F. A., “The Phantasmagoria of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”, Paideuma, 5, 3 (Winter, 1976), 376Google Scholar: “… Ms. Berryman's argument for‘Medallion’ as ‘Pound's poem’ makes it, paradoxically, in the context of the critical debate about the poem's stature, really too good.”

9 “Early Translators of Homer” (1918–19), rpt. in The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed., Eliot, T. S. (London: Faber & Faber, 1968), p. 250Google Scholar. The phrase is a sort of Arnoldian touchstone for Pound which he cites on numerous occasions in his essays and in The Cantos. For possible negative implications attaching to this particular use of the allusion, see below, p. 70.

10 Corbière, Tristan, “Epitaphe,” in The Centenary Corbière, trans. Warner, Val (Cheadle Hulme: Carcanet Press, 1975), 6Google Scholar. Warner translates: “Not to impose, — posing for the one;/ Too cynical, therefore too homespun;/ Taking nothing on trust, too trustful./ His taste lay in the distasteful”.

11 Pound, Ezra, ed., Profile: An Anthology Collected in MCMXXXI (Milan: Giovanni Scheiwiller, 1932)Google Scholar.

12 Jo Brantley Berryman, “Medallion: Pound's Poem,” 391–98.

13 Hesse, Eva, “Raymonde Collignon, or (Apropos Paideuma, 7–1 & 2, pp. 345–6): The Duck That Got Away”, Paideuma, 10, 3 (Winter 1981), 584Google Scholar.

14 Reinach, Salomon, Apollo: Histoire Générale des Arts Plastiques Professée à L'Ecole du Louvre (1904; Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1930), 58Google Scholar (figure on p. 59). With regard to Pound's “basket-work of braids”, the OED gives under “basket”: “A head-dress of wickerwork, or of basket shape.” Perhaps Pound knew Dorothy Richardson's Backwater (1916) where we read of Margaret Wedderburn “standing in her full-skirted white dress on the hearthrug in a radiance of red and golden light [cf. Pound's“ honeyred]. Her heavily waving fair hair fell back towards its tightly braided basket of plaits from a face as serene as death” (Pilgrimage, Vol. I [London: Virago, 1979], 205–6Google Scholar).

15 “French Poets”, in Make It New (London: Faber & Faber, 1934), 182Google Scholar; noted in Brooker, Peter, A Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1979), 224Google Scholar

16 The Cantos of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), 77, 425Google Scholar (further references will be given in the text in the form: XVII/77). The word appears in a partly negative context in XX/93: “Lotophagoi of the suave nails, quiet, scornful”. For the relation of the lotus-eaters to Pound's visionary landscapes, see below, p. 69.

17 See, for example, V/17: “Topaz I manage, and three sorts of blue;/but on the barb of time.” In a cancelled passage in the typescript of Mauberley, Pound follows the reference in “‘The Age Demanded’” to “The wide-banded irises [sic]” with a mention of the “doubled azure” of the woman's eyes — see the typescript as reproduced in Berryman, Circe's Craft, 232–33. For other references to eyes, see below, p. 71.

18 Music. By William Atheling. Some Recent Concerts [and Raymonde Collignon]”, New Age, 22, 10 (3 01 1918)Google Scholar, rpt. in Schafer, R. Murray, ed., Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1978), 68Google Scholar.

19 Music. By William Atheling. Varia”, New Age, 23, 3 (16 05 1918)Google Scholar rpt. in , Schafer, ed., Ezra Pound and Music, 102Google Scholar.

20 Music. By William Atheling. Lamond, Tinayre, Collignon”, New Age, 24, 17 (27 02 1919)Google Scholar, rpt. in Schafer, , ed., Ezra Pound and Music, 161Google Scholar.

21 Music. By William Atheling. Some Recent Concerts [and Raymonde Collignon]”, New Age, 22, 10 (5 01 1918)Google Scholar, rpt. in Schafer, , Ezra Pound and Music, 69Google Scholar.

22 Music. By William Atheling”, New Age, 23, 17 (22 08 1918)Google Scholar, rpt. in Schafer, , ed., Ezra Pound and Music, 119Google Scholar: “Raymonde Collignon's art is exquisite and her own, minute as the enamelling on snuff boxes (of the best sort)…. This diseuse is very young, but she shows herself capable of perfectly finished work….”

23 Three Cantos. I”, Poetry, 10, 3 (06 1917), 113Google Scholar.

24 Music. By William Atheling”, New Age, 26, 24 (15 04 1920)Google Scholar, rpt. in Schafer, , ed., Ezra Pound and Music, 225Google Scholar.

25 While Bush ignores the presence of Collignon in “Medallion” he does observe (p. 68) that “the poem presents the persistent suggestion of a figure, at once muse and emotional self, a figure who, whole, would be a woman, eyes shining with vision, mouth informed with song. But with one exception [“Envoi”], this figure is never whole.” In contrast to Bush I argue below that while this intermittently present figure (who may well be Collignon) is in no sense a negative figure, she does create a troublesome ambivalence, deferral, and confusion in the second half of the poem.

26 Compare “A Virginal”, in Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, ed. King, Michael (London: Faber & Faber, 1977), 195Google Scholar: “Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly/And left me cloaked as with a gauze of aether…”.

27 The Centenary Corbière, 6; Warner translates: “A lounger at large, — drifting,/Jetsam never arriving”. The lines may have suggested the portrayal of a washed-up Mauberley in Poem IV.

28 Homer, , The Odyssey, trans. Rieu, E. V. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), 161Google Scholar.

29 Berryman, , Circe's Craft, 235Google Scholar. My emphasis.

30 Terrell, Carroll F., A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1980), 161Google Scholar.

31 Cf. Canto V/17: “Weaving with points of gold,/Gold-yellow, saffron…” where the allusion is to the marriage hymn of Catullus (LXI), with its reference to “the yellow shoe” and “your golden feet.”

32 The relevance of “Stele” is noted but not developed in Espey, John, Ezra Pound's Mauberley: A Study in Composition (1955; Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1974), 100Google Scholar, and Witemeyer, Hugh, The Poetry of Ezra Pound: Forms and Renewal 1908–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 174nGoogle Scholar.

33 Bell, Ian F. A., “The Phantasmagoria of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”, Paideuma, 5, 3 (Winter 1976), 379Google Scholar observes that Pound's version of the Homeric phrase here “seems deliberately impoverished, suggesting merely the trap of auditory illusion, counterpointing the Sirens' song, ‘Caught in the unstopped ear’, which traps E.P. in the opening ‘Ode Our L'Election de son Sepulchre.’”

34 Carpenter, Humphrey, A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1988), 332Google Scholar. Further references will be given in the text.

35 See, for example, uses of the phrase in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. Eliot, T. S. (London: Faber & Faber, 1968), 25, 153Google Scholar.

36 See my Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing (London: Macmillan, 1984), 170–1Google Scholar. Mason, H. A., “The Women of Trachis and Creative Translation”, rpt. in Sullivan, J. P., ed., Ezra Pound: A Critical Anthology (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970), 289Google Scholar, notes the relevance to Pound's The Women of Trachis of “ the Greek view that sexual desire is at bottom an alien intrusion into the soul.”

37 Letter to Ford Madox Ford (7 Sept. 1920), in Pound/Ford: The Story of A Literary Friendship, ed. Lindberg-Seyersted, Brita (London: Faber & Faber, 1982), 42Google Scholar.

38 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in The Essential James Joyce, ed. Levin, Harry (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965), 125Google Scholar.

39 “On the development of taste”, in The Use of Poetry and the Uses of Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1964), 3334Google Scholar. See also the discussion in Laity, Cassandra, “H. D. and A.C. Swinburne: decadence and modernist women's writing,” Feminist Studies, 15.3 (Fall 1989), 467–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I have pursued this set of connections in more detail in Apes and Familiars: Modernism, Mimesis and the Work of Wyndham Lewis”, Textual Practice, 6.3 (Winter 1992), 421–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 Lewis, Wyndhan, Tarr: the 1918 Version, ed., O'Keefe, Paul (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1990), 214Google Scholar.

41 Bell, Ian F. A., “A Mere Surface: Wyndham Lewis, Henry James and the ‘Latitude’ of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”, Paideuma, 15, 2–3 (Fall & Winter 1986)Google Scholar, 58n rightly insists on the difference in this aesthetic between “unhuman” and “inhuman.”

42 Typescript of Mauberley, in Berryman, , Circe's Craft, 238Google Scholar.

43 Benjamin, Jessica, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination (London: Virago Press, 1990), 33Google Scholar. It is, arguably, a limitation of Benjamin's argument (though not one which bears on the present discussion) that she limits her presentation of Hegel's Anerkennung to the Master/Slave dialectic. For a fuller discussion of modalities of love, friendship and forgiveness in the Phenomenology, see Williams, Robert R., Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1992)Google Scholar.

44 Ibid., 78 (my emphases).

45 See my “Apes and Familiars” for a detailed discussion of forms of social mimetism in relation to modernist aesthetics.

46 There is an intriguing because probably unconscious echo of this in Pound's translation of the final sentence of Jules Laforgue's “Salomé”: “Thus died Salome of the Isles… less from uncultured misventure than from trying to fabricate some distinction between herself and every one else; like the rest of us”: Pavannes and Divagations (London: Peter Owen Ltd., 1960), 200Google Scholar. Laforgue's own emphasis is actually less “aesthetic”; compare Smith, William Jay, trans., Moral Tales (London: Picador, 1985), 109Google Scholar: “So that was how Salome met her death… less a victim of illiterate chance than of the desire to live in a world of artifice and not in a simple, wholesome one like the rest of us.”

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