Pound Foolish

The question arises very early on and looms ever larger as one progresses through this thousand-page-long life: how did Humphrey Carpenter stand it? Pound's range was from loathsome or contemptible at the beginning to hateful at the apex of his career, and finally to pitiable at the end. To have continued with this distasteful project, to be obliged each day to face once again the dreary prospect of returning to Pound's dank and unremitting unattractiveness, must have been taxing indeed. It isn't easy for a reader, even in boots, to wade through this swampy stuff.

On the other hand, the book is admirable for its thorough and evenhanded presentation of most of the facts of Pound's life. It makes a valuable contribution—if only as a corrective to much of the bemusement of the past generation or two. Pound scholarship is a medium-sized academic industry (particularly among those who dislike literature and who hate students, and for whom the obvious choice is between Joyce and Pound). Philip Larkin was quite correct when he said that The Cantos were nothing more than "a long twentieth-century poetic curiosity." Pound's odd career and influence were symptomatic of what was and to some degree still is awfully wrong with high culture.

Let's begin with Carpenter's title, which has got to be at least partly ironic. The line, as the biographer makes clear in a couple of epigraphs,...

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