“‘Pull Down Thy Vanity’: Post-Pastoral Subject in Ezra Pound’s Cantos”

Julia Fiedorczuk

Abstract


Anglophone modernism is often interpreted as reflecting a crisis of modernity brought about, among other factors, by the trauma of World War One. The parameters of the crisis include the perception that things are “falling apart,” i.e. a growing sense of the fragmentation of reality and of the exhaustion of traditional teleological narratives such as religion or the myth of progress. Poetry written in the face of this condition must necessarily be paradoxical in that it combines the profound skepticism of the times with an almost religious faith in the redemptive power of art. The paradoxes of modern poetry and its frequent recourse to silence in general have been discussed from a number of perspectives. Seldom, though, have critics taken into consideration the role played by the silence of nature in modernist poetry. In the work of Ezra Pound, it is possible to trace a progress from pastoral representations of nature to what Terry Gifford has defined as the “post-pastoral” mode. The latter mode is especially present in the Pisan section of Pound’s great epic poem Cantos and in its concluding parts. However, the earlier pastoral model is always already complicated by the tension between what, after Lacan, can be called the “énoncé” (statement) and the “énonciation” (enunciation) within Pound’s text. The pastoral and post-pastoral modes of nature representation correspond to two different subject positions. The pastoral setting involves a rigid subject/object dichotomy and the subject’s dominion over nature. The post-pastoral requires a reconfiguration of subjectivity to make space for the silent presence of nature, which no longer serves as a bearer of man-made meanings.

Keywords


Ezra Pound; 20th-century U.S. poetry; Modernism; Jacques Lacan; silence; (post-)pastoral; fascism

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549