Fall 1985 • Vol. VII No. 4 NonfictionOctober 1, 1985 |

Modernist Abstraction and Pound’s First Cantos: The Ethos for a New Renaissance

"We base our 'science' on perceptions, but our ethics have not yet attained this palpable base." ("Remy de Gourmont," in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound)1 I Critics of modernist poetry share a problem unique in its intensity if not in its general form. They must locate languages for taking seriously the enormous cultural ambitions of the poets while acknowledging the peculiarities of an enterprise which insisted on rejecting most of the values basic to our liberal democratic society. That is easiest to do by concentrating on the poets' sufferings and ironic strategies since these, at least, we are largely able to share with them. But modernism insisted on rivaling the scope and power of religion, so a language of fragmentation and alienation must be seen as preparatory, an effort to establish a context which warrants and deepens their quest for alternatives. How do we take the alternatives seriously without lapsing into anachronistic talk of myth and ritual, or of the synt

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