Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330

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In Pound’s Ezuversity, Guide to Kulchur would be one of the assigned texts, a book designed either to scare the student away or to capture him completely. Like most of Pound’s pronouncements before he lapsed into the extremity of silence, this book shouts with the certainty of a man who knew that he was an outsider, who relished his status as a cultural rebel, but who devoutly wished to remake the culture so that he could be one of the ultimate insiders.

It was written at a point in the history of modernism when it could both explain and predict the direction of the central artistic movement of modern times. It is both summary and exposition of modernist thought in the fourth decade of its development, and its range reflects the characteristic qualities of its nature: international, polycultural, multilingual, and cross chronological. Along with The Cantos, ABC of Reading (1934), and his letters, it is one of the works which most completely reveals the style, method, and eccentric brilliance of a pioneer proponent of the “revolution of the word” which transformed literature. As Hugh Kenner points out, when he met Pound in 1948 in St. Elizabeths hospital in Washington, D.C., Pound was already a prisoner, his mind blasted and his senses dulled. In the mid-1930’s, when he was “gestating the Guide to Kulchur,” the “old, good humor [was] still active,” and the book, in spite of its ominous forecast of the venom which was to poison Pound’s thinking, is generally a record of the voice of an American maverick, a true original. Like most truly controversial artists, Pound has been the subject of so much discussion that secondhand accounts cannot give the reader a sense of what made the controversy in the first place. For that reasion, Guide to Kulchur remains one of the essential texts for anyone interested in understanding the man and his thought—although even Pound himself might not consider a complete reading necessary.