In an essay entitled “The Inheritance of Τὸ Καλόν,” John Espey notices Ezra Pound’s arduous interest in the significance of material aesthetics in his poetic works. In the late 1960s, surveying the sources and developments of Pound’s aesthetics, ...
In an essay entitled “The Inheritance of Τὸ Καλόν,” John Espey notices Ezra Pound’s arduous interest in the significance of material aesthetics in his poetic works. In the late 1960s, surveying the sources and developments of Pound’s aesthetics, he remarks “as [Pound] felt more and more strongly the limitations of purely aesthetic studies he began to examine the products of art he admired—admired for their individuality, their precision, their exactness of definition, their cleanness of line, their freshness of vision, their ‘hardness’.” But Espey does not explore Pound’s material aesthetics and its significance in his works and further than this.
Until Jerome McGann’s The Textual Context, few literary critics paid due attention to the problem of materiality in Ezra Pound’s works. He argues with great ingenuity for the significance of materiality or material textuality in poetic production. He begins by contesting the modern hermeneutic tradition, which imagines texts “as scenes of reading rather than scenes of writing.” While criticizing the traditional hermeneutic reading that views the text not as “something we make” but as “something we interpret” (original emphasis), McGann attempts to practice “a materialist hermeneutics,” which encompasses both “linguistic codes” (the words in the text), and “bibliographical codes” (page layout, book design, ink and paper, and typeface as well as broader issues, such as publisher, print run, or price).
While asserting that the “meaning of a text is transmitted through not only the linguistic codes but also the bibliographical codes,” McGann demonstrates how close attention to Pound’s material practices contributes to our understanding of his literary texts. The material textuality of Pound’s work—such as the elaborate page designs, the decorated capitals in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley published by Ovid Press in 1920, the ornamented initials in red and black, the careful arrangement of letters in his early installments of the drafts of The Cantos published by the Three Mountain Press in 1925 and by J. Rodker in 1928, and the vertical exhibition on the page of the Chinese characters in his later Cantos—works with the linguistic codes and takes part in the formation of the poems’ meaning.
However, In The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, T. S. Eliot insisted that each generation, like each individual, should bring to the contemplation of art its own categories of appreciation, make its own demands upon art, and have its own uses for art. Although “beauty” has been persistently one of the primary aesthetic principles, especially in Aestheticism at the fin-de-siècle, he refused to accept it as a valid and substantial criterion for modern poetry and argued that modern poetry should have new aesthetic principles and categories different from those of the preceding period. On the basis of such contention of Eliot, this research aims to investigate the main reason he rejected “beauty” for modern poetry, to illustrate new aesthetic principles and criteria he adopted for modern poetry and criticism, and to illuminate their meaning and significance.