The Spring semester having ended, I was able to turn my attention to the growing pile of books on the living room floor that I had been wanting to read for some time. Over the years, I've read most of the biographies of Ezra Pound, and I'd been looking forward to having time to work my way through the three volumes of A. David Moody's Ezra Pound: Poet - A Portrait of the Man and his Work, looking particularly for information that might not have been available to earlier biographers. But as I proceeded through the volumes, I found myself increasingly suspicious of Moody's use of his sources, especially those sources touching on Pound's antisemitism, his racial thought, and his activities during the second World War. There were moments when assertions made by Moody (such as his suggestion that we think of Pound as having worked through the Italian Fascists rather than for them) seemed directly contradicted by quotations from the primary sources just a few pages later.
and then I came to this:
"'Elder Lightfoot' is celebrated in canto 95, as being 'not downhearted' and observing 'a design in the Process'; but a possibly tone-deaf critic has found in that abbreviation of his name evidence of anti-African-American racism." Moody counters that tone deaf assertion of Pound's racism by recounting stories of Pound's good treatment of individual Black people, all but testifying: "Some of his best friends were Black."
As some will have recognized, and as readers learn from Moody's notes, I am that possibly tone-deaf critic.
Now we could spend time wondering just what exactly tone has to do with anything in this context, but more to the immediate point, this is simply a lie.
In my first monograph, Reading Race, I supplied the full name of Elder Solomon Lightfoot Michaux, suggesting that Rev. Michaux was the likely referent in canto 95, and not, as the widely read Guide to the cantos had it, a fellow patient at Saint Elizabeth's hospital who had a theory that evolution was running backwards. Nowhere in that book do I suggest that Pound's abbreviation of the name was an act of racism, though I do in that volume offer ample evidence of Pound's life long racist thought and expression.
I returned to the subject of Elder Lightfoot's appearance in Pound's work in an essay titled "Ezra Pound and 'The Best-Known Colored Man in the United States,'" which appeared in the Pound studies journal and in a volume collecting essays on the subject of Pound and African American Modernism. One of the goals of that essay was to explore the complexities of Pound's racialist thought. The only comments I make regarding the suppression of Michaux's last name have to do with the absence of that name from the existing scholarship. On the first page I remark simply that the extant scholarship yielded little useful information on the identity of Elder Lightfoot, the chief exception being George Kearns' 1980 guide, which supplies the full name and notes that Elder Michaux had broadcast sermons on Washington radio. Nowhere in that essay, or anywhere else, do I in any way suggest that the absence of Michaux's full name from Pound's Cantos is evidence of his racism; there is plenty of evidence of that to be had. (I do mention Pound's misspelling of Dunbar's middle name, though Moody takes no note of that.) To the contrary, my essay clearly takes critics and scholars to task, not Pound, for the abbreviated name.
I go on in the essay to document and discuss Pound's troubling mapping of culture onto race, of primitivism onto eugenics. I have long held that there is no such thing as a simple racism, that no poet is "merely" racist, and that if we are to understand and learn from our history of slavery and race, we must engage with the full complexity of these issues in the thought of Pound and other cultural workers.
Moody, it appears, is so bent upon not engaging fully with Pound's thought on race that he feels required to misrepresent the scholarship of those of us who believe such evasions ultimately damaging even to our understandings of Pound.
Perhaps not a matter of tone, but surely a certain mode of deafness.