20 February, 2010

Doomed to repeat?

I have received a new nick-name from my classmates, which was great at first, but quickly gave me pause. Ezra Pound (the full nick-name is The New Ezra Pound). This is interesting because of a few not inconsequential similarities between myself and the renegade poet, and moreso because of the original Ezra's general philosophy.

Pound was instrumental in solidifying, or even beginning the careers of several of his contemporary "Modernist" poets and artists; T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and James Joyce not least among them. He worked tirelessly at the editing and publishing of numberous literary periodicals between 1912-1920(or so), and promoting the works and championing the persons of his lettered friends.

Now, you may be thinking, "but Cassady, so far you have absolutely nothing in common with him."

Here's where things get eerie. We both hail from the American Midwest; moved to London in the early part of our respective major centuries; both are committed Anglophiles working in literary professions (or working towards them). Also, though less telling, much of our poetry from this age has passed unappreciated by our contemporaries (mine quite simply because it's rubbish).

Here's where things take an interesting turn towards...presagement? Ezra, feeling unappreciated by the London circles, moved to Italy in early 1920 and became an early admirer of Benito Mussolini. And the similarity ends...or so I hope. I haven't noticed any fascist leanings in my philosophy of life, but I'll keep you posted.

At least I can innocently hope to become an old man who looks this great:


Elliot said...

Oh my god AND YOU'RE ABOUT TO GO TO ITALY!!! Uncanny.

Just don't do something that will get you arrested for treason, and then sent to an insane asylum.

Also, you need to pretend you know Chinese and fake-translate/interpret some ancient Chinese authors. Only then will the transformation be complete.

Elliot said...

Also, calling someone "New Ezra Pound" as a nick name is kind of clunky - they must shorten it somehow. Maybe "Nep" or "Nezra" or "Nee-pound".

What up, Nee-pound. I like that.

Guadalupe said...

Although Nee-pound is good, I think I'll try to institute Nezra, followed by a terrorist fist jab.. I mean pound.

So it will be like "Hey Nezra!" (pound it!) A sort of poetry itself, yes?

spencer said...

Fascism began with idealism--as all totalitarian ideologies do. And clearly you have a great deal of that.

Eremita said...

democracy began with idealism too. don't they all?

spencer said...

To believe that your ideas are so correct as to be imposed on the masses against their will at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives requires a special brand of idealism, I think. Democracy may have had its idealists, but at its root it is pragmatic. Much like capitalism.

Cassady said...

Some people would argue that capitalism is only idealistic up to a point as well, and begins to impose and recreate itself continually.

As the methods of production are revolutionized time and again, the relations of labor must be reinforced for the continued subjugation of the proletariat--kinda like fascism, no?

Elliot said...

Lupe - thats clever. although given EP's proclivities, we'll probably have to call it a fascist fist pound instead.

Cassady - you're really starting master that lingo. its a little worrisome.

spencer said...

Cassady, I guess I'd buy your argument if the "continued subjugation of the proletariat" was a feature of Western economies. But living standards have increased steadily and dramatically since the 1800s.

My point was that capitalism, like democracy, is fundamentally pragmatic. They are both about providing people with what they want on a day-to-day basis. Not imposing the ideals of some authoritarian clique.

Cassady said...

But Spencer, it's all well and good to point out how living standards have increased over time, because those increases represent only a bare margin of happiness; enough only to distract and pacify to workers such that they content themselves to think that they are truly free actors.

The fact remains that every aspect of life remains inextricably wedded to capitalist production.

And I don't disagree with you about pragmatism. Capitalism certainly is good at achieving its ends--but another fact remains; the system is inherently exloitative.

spencer said...

To summarize your arguments:

1) Increases in living standards have little effect on happiness.
2) Every aspect of life is wedded to capitalist production.
3) Capitalism is inherently exploitative.

Without getting into the details of the empirical literature, I will just say that increases in living standards (across countries and over time) do appear to be associated with increases in reported happiness. Obviously, there are a lot of problems in the measurement of happiness, but this is what the best estimates have found.

It's not clear that happiness should be our only criterion in evaluating economic institutions, however. Surely there is some value to living eighty years instead of living forty years, even if your life is not wall-to-wall joy. There is also value in not watching one out of every five children die before the age of one.

And it seems hard to argue that these kinds of massive increases in standard of living are trivial. Would you prefer to have lived in the late 19th century instead of the late 20th? What would you be willing to give up to avoid that?

Statement 2 seems sufficiently vague that no one could disagree with it. Would not every aspect of life be wedded to socialist production? Why is this bad?

As far as statement 3, you'll have to be more specific about this exploitation.

I would also push back on the implicit idea that capitalism has ends that can be achieved. Capitalism is a system through which individuals achieve their own ends. It doesn't make much sense to talk about it as an entity that can have ends of its own.