"First must thou go the road to hell.
...sail after knowledge." (Canto 47)
In March of 1963, when Ezra Pound was 77 years old, the Italian magazine Epoca published an interview with him in which he described a "realization" that, were it not for the despair in his tone, an Eastern sage might interpret as a moment of enlightenment.
I have lived all my life believing that I knew something. And then a strange day came and I realised that I knew nothing, that I knew nothing at all. And so words have become empty of meaning. . . .
It is something I have come to through suffering. Yes, through an experience of suffering. . . .
I have come too late to a state of total uncertainty, where I am conscious only of doubt. . . .
I do not work any more. I do nothing. I fall into lethargy, and I contemplate. . . .
Everything that I touch, I spoil. I have blundered always. (Quoted in Heymann 1976, p. 276)
It would take only a very small gestalt shift to align this description with the experience of "moksha", in which the sage attains a free relation to social life by overcoming the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, who was six years older than Pound (but died already in 1950), reached this insight "spontaneously" at the age of 16, overcome by a fear of death that "drove [his] mind inwards". Peter Holleran puts it this way: "He was unable to do anything to avoid this fear, the fear of death, and he surrendered himself and passed through it to realize the deathless Self, prior to the ego-I." We might say he suffered in a single moment what Pound spent a lifetime coming to terms with. But it should be noted that in another sense that single moment lasted twenty-three years (when he lived in a cave).
After Mauberley (1920), Pound seems to have spent 25 years "in error", "wrong from the start". (See Kenner's, The Pound Era, p. 556). In May 1945, he entered a cage.
The realization that Pound almost seemed to have arrived at, but could never quite accept (although who knows how he felt at the end?), was that the knowledge he sought, the ideas he wanted to get in order "for his poem", was not possible. I have been at the edge of this realization for years now, too, never quite willing to give in, never quite able to let go (the muc of mukti?) of an understanding of the world that makes of it a kind of hell. The sociology of a society that lacks all justification (in so far as authority comes from right reason).
And yet, that society persists. I am complicit in it.
Already in 1948 in the Pisan Cantos, Pound knew what was in the way, namely, vanity. "Tear down thy vanity," he roared (though there is some question about whether he meant this to apply to himself). "Master thyself," he says, "then others shall thee bear." This I think is the essential point. There can be no knowledge of social relations, only an empowerment with respect to them. The goal is not self-knowledge but self-mastery. Or, to put it in terms of pangrammatical analogy, there can be no understanding of these matters only precision in our obedience to the socius.
I, too, obey. Whatever I may think. Which shows that my thoughts are errors. My "refusals" of "most things", as Williams put it, are imprecise.
I understand this. Or, I understand that I can't understand it—and must finally find a way to obey. But I share Pound's vanity. "Too late," Irving Layton has Whitman reply to Pound, "you learned humility and love." I indulge in the hope that it is not too late for me. I want to learn not just that I don't know what I thought I knew but that this knowledge was never possible, nor necessary.