Richard Bosworth on an exploration of Pound’s activism before and during the Second World War
Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda, 1935-45...
By Matthew Feldman
Palgrave Macmillan, 184pp, £45.00
Published 4 September 2013
However, diatribes against the Jews do not constitute the last word of Pound’s political effusions. Feldman almost takes the anti-Semitism as read as he focuses on the poet as a long-term resident in Fascist Italy, an admiring fan of Benito Mussolini and, during the Second World War, a regular broadcaster on the dictatorship’s Radio Rome. Pound, Feldman states in his preface, was
At his most active, that is, during Italy’s war, Pound may have been a radical (although one who possessed some personal obsessions; few Italian Fascists shared his limitless enthusiasm for the works of Confucius or Vivaldi). Even before 1940, Pound may have
So much is thesis. In its assertion, however, Feldman stutters as often as he convinces. He spends almost half of his short book on background, urging that Pound had been won over by the Duce by 1923 and was exhilarated by the regime’s Decennale 10th-anniversary celebrations in 1932-33. It was at this point that he actually met the dictator, to be deeply moved when Mussolini told him he found his gift of the draft of XXX Cantos “divertente”, a word that a more critical observer than Feldman might imagine was part of the automatic vocabulary of vague praise deployed by a ruler who spent most mornings in interviews and who, in reality, must often have been scarcely able to distinguish one guest from another.
Over the next years, Pound was a loud advocate of Italy’s imperial cause in its brutal invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. While acting as a sort of foreign correspondent for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, he urged them towards more radical policies and more aggressive anti-Semitism. But the heart of Feldman’s case lies in the Second World War and in Pound’s numerous broadcasts, whether in his own name or under an array of pseudonyms, including Piero Mazda, Marco Veneziano and Mr Dooley. Here Feldman has unearthed useful information. What is less sure is whether readers will be persuaded by the claim that Pound, other than with his crude and violent but scarcely original assaults on “World Jewry”, had forged himself into a coherent intellectual warrior of Fascism (or fascism). Feldman fails to stick for long enough on major potential themes – corporatism, the geographical lineaments of a Fascist empire, “race”, the role of the party, the place of the monarchy and Vatican – to allow proper analysis of what was the more complex and contradictory reality of Fascist Italy than is adequately defined by chat about “political religion” or “Modernism”. The book ends abruptly, avoiding exploration of Pound’s postwar “insanity” (by American military definition) and later cosy sanctuary at what he helped make an increasingly Vivaldi-ised Venice.
Richard Bosworth is senior research fellow, Jesus College, Oxford, and author ofWhispering City: Rome and its Histories (2011).