An Epiphany of Footnotes
Claude Rawson (LRB, 16 March) argues that in his Social Values and Poetic Acts, Jerome McGann ‘simplistically attributes’ ‘referential functions’ to Ezra Pound’s ‘footnote style’. The case at issue is this passage near the end of Canto I:
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, out of Homer.
McGann comments in a passage Rawson cites:
the lines represent a kind of footnote in Pound’s text … Pound supplies us with an introductory or preliminary gloss. He means – among other things – to identify the text of Homer he is using. It is the Renaissance Latin translation done by the scholar Andreas Divus. The actual book he is using is also identified: the edition from the Paris printing house of Christian Wechel. And Pound might have added, as he tells us elsewhere, that he acquired the volume in a bookstall in Paris in the early years of the century, probably in 1908.
Rawson responds to this: ‘In fact, Pound’s “gloss” cannot act as a gloss unless it is itself glossed in some such manner as McGann’s. Few readers would be able to decode from Pound’s text the information about the Homeric translation used, or the identity of Divus or the officina Wecheli, and none would be able to deduce that Pound had bought a copy of Paris circa 1908. On such matters, Pound’s “kind of footnote” is no kind of footnote, just another difficult passage inaccessible without the help of professors like McGann.’ But as McGann’s own footnote following the quotation above (which Rawson omits) reminds us, the ‘elsewhere’ where Pound tells us all about Divus and the book he bought in Paris in c. 1908 is Pound’s own essay, ‘Translations of Greek: Early Translators of Homer’, which appeared, first in serial form (five parts) in the Egoist during 1918, then in Instigations (1920), and then in the Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (1954), from which McGann cites it.
In the essay in question, Pound has a separate section on Andreas Divus, which begins: ‘In the year of grace 1906, 1908 or 1910 I picked from the Paris quais a Latin version of the Odyssey by Andreas Divus Justinopolitanus (Parisiis, In officina Christiani Wecheli, MDXXXVIII), the volume containing also the Batrachomyomachia by Aldus Manutius, and the Hymni Deorum rendered by Georgius Dartona Cretensis. I lost a Latin Iliads for the economy of four francs, these coins being at that time scarcer with me than they ever should be with any man of my tastes and abilities.’ And Pound goes on to cite the Nekuia (Odyssey XI) passage he used in Latin, following it with his translation, which was to become Canto I. The poetic text is in turn followed by a few pages of commentary, in which, among other things, Pound praises the ‘constant suggestions of … poetic motion’ in Divus’s Latin.
Thus the ‘just another difficult passage inaccessible without the help of professors like McGann’ was in fact quite accessible, not to those in the despised ‘beaneries’ (Pound’s word for universities), but to those literary people who had kept up with Pound’s writing from its beginnings to the publication of the first Cantos. Indeed, those who would have been able to ‘deduce’ that Pound had bought a copy of Divus in Paris would presumably include not only poets like William Carlos Williams and publishers like James Laughlin, but a good portion of the readership of the Egoist and of course of Instigations. Just as later, those who know the literary Essays, which is, after all, one of Pound’s best-known books, would presumably recognise the reference in Canto I.
Why does this matter? Because – and this, I think, was Jerome McGann’s point about the ‘factive’ intervention of Pound’s footnotes – the sort of self-quotation Pound uses here and everywhere in the Cantos has a very different status from, say, the footnotes Eliot added (and later regretted adding) to The Waste Land. Such ‘footnotes’, or rather cross-references, are Pound’s way of saying, look, if you want to understand my work you’ll have to read it, all of it. This is, of course, a large and, some would say, presumptuous demand to make on one’s reader, but it is not at all untypical of Modernist writers. Joyce and Proust, to name two, consistently demanded of their readers that they would give up all else and follow the Artist. Thus the ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ section of Finnegans Wake has echoes of the laundry scene in Joyce’s early short story ‘Clay’, and the Saint-Loup of Le Temps Retrouvé makes no sense unless we have been following Saint-Loup’s curious evolution through the preceding six parts of A la recherche du temps perdu.
If it is objected that at least Joyce and Proust referred to their earlier fiction, not to essays, and that contemporary readers of the Cantos can’t be expected to be up on Pound’s literary criticism, the answer is – and this, I take it, is what McGann had in mind – that such refusal to observe generic boundaries is precisely what makes Pound so important to Post-Modernist readers, who have become accustomed to the kind of cross-referencing in which he engages. Such self-quotation (with reference to other genres) is common enough in Beckett and Calvino, in Perec and Pinter, and its pleasure is the Aristotelian pleasure of recognition. But recognition of a special kind: it opts for poeisis rather than poema (the Brooksian ‘well-wrought urn’), suggesting that the way to understand a given poetic oeuvre is to look, not outside the text, but in the next line (where Chinese ideograms are often translated) or the next page or the previous Canto or The Spirit of Romance or Instigations. To read the Cantos this way is to watch constellations of meanings as they begin to crystallise. For many of us, this makes reading the Cantos an especially exhilarating and challenging process: to make present what was already there if we had only known how to look for it.
Among much that was intelligent and valuable, Harry Ricketts (LRB, 16 March) made a comparison linking Martin Seymour-Smith’s suggestion of Kipling’s supposedly submerged homosexuality with a similar claim he feels was advanced in James Miller’s T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land. Ricketts indicates that in both instances the commentators were over-suspicious and over-inventive. For many years I have seen and heard only negative and dismissive comments as to Miller’s study, and I feel that it should not be allowed to pass into literary folklore as a gauge of near-libellous scandal-mongering. Vague libertarian inhibitions about discussing an artist’s unacknowledged sexuality have hindered for almost seven decades the reader’s reception of the full experience of Eliot’s major poems before the Quartets. Miller’s book does nothing less than compel us to re-examine the sovereign poetic metaphor of our century.
The Waste Land is not just the Decline of the West or Man’s Loss of Faith in microdot concentration: it is a peculiar, intensely personal poem written in a sort of Ur-language invented for the occasion in a desperate effort to survive some great personal catastrophe, and (let us not forget) finished in a Swiss mental sanatorium. Eliot seems to have offered up his poem as a substitute host for his personal demons to invest and feed upon. Miller assembles biographical details with compelling authority to suggest that some vast, bone-shattering sexual catastrophe casts shadows into almost every line Eliot wrote before his creative mood altered with Four Quartets and his subsequent work.
Miller was not trying to offer ‘documentary evidence’ as to the sexual particulars of Eliot’s friendship with Jean Verdenal, the young French medical officer killed in the Gallipoli campaign to whose memory the American poet dedicated his first volume of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. Several letters from Verdenal to Eliot survive, but they have not been published by Eliot’s widow: Miller’s argument does not depend on the sort of thing that might be argued in a court, nor does his interest lie in gossip. The essence of Miller’s analysis of Eliot’s poetic creations is to restore what I suppose you’d have to call their sexual dimension – a matter of their interior music, not of ‘documentary’ fact; and Miller does not pretend otherwise. But that music is not heterosexual, and Miller asks us to not pretend otherwise. Using the original, pre-Pound text of The Waste Land as well as poems like ‘Exequy’, ‘Elegy’, ‘The Death of Saint Narcissus’ and ‘Song for the Opherion’, Miller offers a subtle reading which compels our deepest admiration – and sympathy – if we take the trouble to open our minds to his argument and see the poems for the anguished near-private psychiatric documents that they ‘really are’. Eliot was writing of crucial, personal things.
Florida State University
Wendy Steiner’s article on the ‘Blunt case’ in your 30 March issue, bringing up the fact that no art historian has written on the subject so far, prompts me to signal that my book, which has just come out, The Interpretation of Pictures, contains a long section on this subject. No art historian familiar with Blunt and his work with whom I have discussed the subject has ever expressed agreement with George Steiner’s argument, as Ms Steiner seems to do, and omission from her account of Blunt’s attachment to the Warburg Institute and of his relations with Johannes Wilde produces a view of Blunt’s ‘scholarly corpus’ and the principles underlying it which makes for a strong disagreement between what she writes and the way in which I put together the different aspects of Blunt’s persona. Essentially, the history of art history is at issue here in important ways linking those within the discipline to those outside of it.
Department of Art History,
Your contributor, Wendy Steiner, is two Directors out. It was not Anthony Blunt, the third Director of the Courtauld Institute, but W.G. Constable, the first, who was one of those instrumental in bringing the Warburg Institute to London in 1933. For the record, and in gratitude, Constable’s colleagues in the rescue were C.S. Gibson and Sir E. Denison Ross, together with the committee they got together in Britain and – of course – the Warburg family.
Director, Warburg Institute,