Research Colloquium: Prof. Ronald Bush (Oxford)

18.03.2014 13:00 to 14:00

Tuesday, 18 March, 1 - 2pm (sharp)

Department of English, Nadelberg 6, room 13

"Brilliant Bungling, or How Great Poems Surmount the Negligence of their Creators: The Composition of Ezra Pound's Canto 81"

Like X-ray investigations of painterly false starts found beneath the surface of recognized classics, genetic study occasionally throws up genuine and even shocking revelations -- not only of the common miracle of a leaden phrase made quick-silver, but of wholly unexpected background narratives and once in a great while of uncaught mechanical blunders possessing the potential to ruin a work but also to spur the artist into feats of intuitive recuperation. It is hardly surprising that, produced as they were under great duress -- composed in snatches following a nervous breakdown amid confinement in the open air in a U.S. army prison camp at the end of the Second World War and then retyped in the small hours of the morning -- Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos should provide instances of all three kinds. But it is stunning that the most dramatic example of the last should involve the “What thou lovest well remains” section of Canto 81 -- perhaps the most powerful lyrical passage in the Cantos and the one that casual readers respond to most instinctively. Nevertheless, the record shows that Pound managed blatantly to misread his own manuscript as he typed and revised the Canto, and that for several years and to the puzzlement of his half-informed editors, without access to his own materials he groped his way back to a text that had they might have helped him restore. But in the end the sum of Pound’s brilliant bunglings managed almost to surpass his original composition.