Meanings in Madness: a mental disability studies reading of Ezra Pound's the Pisan Cantos Open Access

Ezra Pound has clear authorial intentions for his 40 year work, the Cantos, of which the Pisan Cantos form a pivotal evolution, as well as an independent series of 11 poems. Meanings do exist, at least in the author’s corporeal mental vision. Yet, the text remains notoriously difficult. Under-analyzed in both Disability Studies and Pound scholarship, what meanings come into being through Pound’s madness?— through writing lengthy poems in a mad state, and through scholastic study of difficult poems in a mad state? In 1948, Pound was imprisoned outside of Pisa, held as a traitor. Locked in a cage, flooded with light at night, he was exposed constantly to the elements for three weeks. Here, during and after this maltreatment, he wrote the 11 lengthy poems of the Pisan Cantos. Regardless of any diagnoses, of Schizophrenia or otherwise, Pound certainly endured Post-Traumatic Stress. But after his confinement, he was deemed unfit to stand trial for his treason, and transferred to St. Elizabeth’s hospital. For these reasons, this paper will examine the Pisan Cantos through the lens of Disability Studies and Mental Disability Studies. First, we must find appropriate language for madness, and locate Disability— especially the difficult to pinpoint locations of madness. Was Pound mad enough to warrant study in a Disability Studies vein? We must next make sure we are asking the correct questions about madness, Disability and the poetry of such. The most central questions become, does poetry “mean something different” (Davidson, 597) when the author is mad? And, how can authors deconstruct normalcy through difficult poetry? Turning to the poetry itself, this paper will analyze the motif of birds on telephone wires, insisting that it is Pound’s meticulous revisionary process that transforms a manic or psychotic detailing of birds on wires into the notes on a modern musical staff. Assuming Race to be a fiction, or perhaps a delusion, Pound’s racism will come under specific concentration, looking for War Prison race-relation realities. A lengthy analysis of economics in the Pisan Cantos will expose important becomings of the series. Through an equally lengthy study of names of deities and mythological heroes throughout the series, this paper will arrive at consistent and evolving meta-narratives— clearly with authorial intent. The penultimate section reveals what eyes can show us throughout the Pisan Cantos, and the final section will arrive at some disturbing understanding of Pound’s fascist moralities.

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