Friday, June 09, 2006

Pound's ABC's

The following is taken straight from an entry in my journal dated 14 July, 2002. I love Ezra Pound, and I love the points he makes in this little book; its spare treatment is exactly what is needed. I wish people taught theology this way; they probably should. Say, maybe that's why I'm posting this? (It could be.)

"I've been putting off writing in the stuff pulled from Ezra Pound's ABC's of Reading (New Directions, 1960). Let me say briefly that the main message of this book is that you learn best by direct encounter with masters of the craft. Rather than essays about the masters, ad fontes, a return to the source, makes the best training. Here are my culled quotes from this book (caps are authors):

  • Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man. [Pound meant poetry, but I believe Barth made the same point about theology.]

  • The proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters (belles lettres) is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful, first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one 'slide' or specimen with another.

  • In the middle ages when there wasn't any material science, as we now understand it, when human knowledge could not make automobiles run, or electricity carry language through the air, etc., in short, when learning consisted in little more than splitting up of terminology, there was a good deal of care for terminology, and the general exactitude in the use of abstract terms may have been (probably was) higher.

  • Science developed more rapidly after Bacon suggested the direct examination of phenomenon.

  • Melody is the most artificial thing in music, meaning that it is furthest removed from anything the composer finds THERE, ready in nature, needing only direct imitation or copying. It is therefore the root, the test, etc.

  • Any general (re: categorical) statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there (re: empirical) to meet it.

  • A general statement is valuable only in REFERENCE to the known objects or facts. Even if the general statement of an ignorant man is "true," it leaves his mouth without any great validity. He doesn't KNOW what he is saying.

  • Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.

  • It doesn't so much matter where you begin the examination of a subject, so long as you keep on until you get round again to your starting point.

  • The critic who doesn't make personal statement, in re measurement he himself has made, is merely an unreliable critic. He is not a measurer but a repeater of other men's results. Krino: to pick out for oneself . . . to choose.

  • Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate; keep it clear.

  • The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is CAPABLE of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension.

  • Different climates and different bloods have different ratios between different groups of impulse and unwillingness, different needs, different spontaneities, different reluctances, different constructions of throat, and all these leave trace in the language, and leave it more ready and more unready for certain communications and registrations.

  • Dichten = condensare / Dichten is the German verb corresponding to the noun Dichtung meaning poetry and the Italian verb meaning "to condense."

  • Until you have made your own survey and your own closer inspection, you might at least beware and avoid accepting opinions: (1) From men who haven't themselves produced notable work; (2) From men who have not themselves taken the risks of printing the results of their own personal inspection and survey, even if they are seriously making one.

  • There would seem to be almost no limit to what people can and will misunderstand when they are not doing their utmost to get at a writer's meaning.

  • It is my firm conviction that a man can learn more about poetry by really knowing and examining a few of the best poems than by meandering about among a great many.

  • The quicker you go to the texts the less need there will be for your listening to me or to any other long-winded critic.

  • Incompetence will show in the use of too many words.

  • One definition of beauty is: aptness to purpose.

  • The list of things safe to read an hour before you start writing, is distinct from the books a non-writing reader can peruse for enjoyment.

  • An attempt to set down things as they are, to find the word that corresponds to the thing.

  • The lecturer's first problem is to have enough words to fill forty or sixty minutes. The professor is paid for his time, his results are almost impossible to estimate. The man who really knows can tell all that is transmissible in a very few words. The economic problem of the teacher (of violin or of language or of anything else) is how to string it out so as to be paid for more lessons.

  • The true problem is, what is the simplest possible statement.

  • Real education must ultimately be limited to [those] who insist on knowing, the rest is mere sheep-herding.

  • It is only after long experience that most men are able to define a thing in terms of its own genus.

  • If you want to study the novel, go READ the best you can find.


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