Bibliographic Technography: Ezra Pound’s Cantos as Philological Machine

As a Modernist epic poem, Ezra Pound’s Cantos demonstrates an aspiration towards the encyclopaedic, ranging across political, literary and intellectual history, geography, philosophy, economics, and so on. Pound scholars have long exerted considerable effort in tracking down sources and discerning intertextual references in his poem. The Cantos simulates the materiality of various literary forms on its surface – parliamentary speeches, Papal encyclicals, ancient Chinese oracle bone inscriptions, imperial decrees, epistles, as well as numerous literary genres and an array of languages and scripts. In a sense the poem is a (selective) primer in historical bibliography. The ways in which it deploys its intertextual examples include partial or full citations, glosses, and annotations. These techniques are of particular significance in the context of Pound’s early medieval sources (John Scottus Eriugena, Pseudo-Dionysius, Martianus Capella), for it is in the shift from late classical textuality to early medieval and Carolingian textuality that many of these techniques became properly codified. The way late classical authors were absorbed in the Carolingian context is something that scholars such as Rosamond McKitterick, Bernard Bischoff and others have considered for decades, but the relevance to Pound and to other Modernists has been almost completely overlooked. The urge to encyclopaedism in particular is a direct point of connection between these phases of cultural activity, and is so prominent in both epochs that it’s frankly astonishing that the link has yet to be drawn. My paper will attempt a schematic exploration of the way technologies of textuality in early medieval and Modernist epochs come together in Pound’s ‘poem containing history,’ with specific attention to such features as the physical distribution of text material within the codex, intellectual apparatus such as glosses and annotations, and the concept of encyclopaedism within each cultural-historical formation.

About msbyron27

Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British and American Literature, Department of English, University of Sydney
This entry was posted in Abstracts – Presentations (2014). Bookmark the permalink.

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