From 1934 to 1935, James Laughlin, the founder of New Directions Press and Ezra Pound’s publisher in the United States, lived in Rapallo, Italy, where he studied at Pound’s informal “Ezuversity” for several months. In his affectionate and perceptive memoir, Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on Ezra Pound (1987), Laughlin recalls a man who was moving toward the manic intensity that blinded him to the horrors of the Fascist regimes he admired but who still retained the singular humor, style, and vision that makes so much of his opinionated literary criticism so compelling. As Laughlin reflects on Pound’s routine in those days, he describes “classes” beginning “with Ezra going through the day’s mail, commenting on the subjects that it raised.” Laughlin notes that economic theory had become Pound’s central concern, but that letters from “writers and translators, professors and scholars” covering an astonishing range of books—from ancient Greece to modern times—poured in, “a huge correspondence from all over the world.”
Pound was past fifty, and he was in the process of preparing his most authoritative version of his revisionist interpretations of history and literature as a kind of commentary and supplement to his imaginative literary expressions of similar material in The Cantos (1925-1969). As he gathered material and refined his ideas, the keenness of his mind already blunted by his obsession with financial affairs, so many things caught Pound’s attention that he found it hard to develop a concept without shifting focus whenever something related came up. In addition, he was so preoccupied with economics that he was now convinced that they represented the key to understanding civilization, and he began to sift everything through the filter of economic theory, most of it unconventional and eccentric. The result of this situation is a book, Guide to Kulchur (which Pound always called Kulch), that John Tytell, one of Pound’s best biographers, calls “more digressively impulsive, more disorganized than anything Pound had done previously,” but it is also a book, as Laughlin claims, that is “the richest of Pound’s prose texts.”
The “barrage of ideas” Pound throws from the pages is not entirely the product of a harried and confused mind. Pound’s avowed intention was to provide a guide for the education of a young man or woman who could not afford to attend a university, but who, Pound believed, might be better off anyway since the “beaneries” (his term for colleges) were “stuffed to the gills with parasites and bloated...
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