Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Archives Project: STL #18

Title:The pleasure of discovery
Description: A Morning in the Rare Book Room
Date: 28 October 2003

I'll post this without comment. I did finally finish my dissertation, and discontinued my blog. There's a lesson there.

One of my informal rules is that I don't talk about my dissertation here, for the simple reason that that's what I'm avoiding when I do this. But I had an exciting moment this morning in one of my favorite places, the reading room at the Harry Ransom Center that bears comment. You see, I'm giving this paper at a world-famous conference in central Arkansas (a-hem), and I've been slicing away at what I've got because it's a little too long. Why editing would lead me to additional research is a good question that only now occurs to me, but I had come across references to an edition Ezra Pound did of the 13th century Guido Cavalcanti, which I thought might bear on the topic of the paper Louis Zukofsky's First Half of "A"-9.

Pound you know, the grandpa of hard American poetry. Louis Zukofsky was his younger disciple, and something of a mirror image: where Pound was anti-Semite, he was Jewish, while Pound was fascist he was radical. You may not have heard of Zukofsky, though he's exerted a lot of influence over a lot of contemporary poets he also may not have heard of. The HRC hold the Zukofsky archive, which has become the focus of my research. (Last winter they were renovating the reading room, where I have to go to do my research. Whenever I went by the Loading Zone sign, I would think the LZ was a secret message.)

Because of almost complete indifference from nearly everyone, Zuk had to seek his own publishing arrangements. His first book publication, The First Half is a thoroughly homemade affair made on a mimeograph machine and bound in manila folders. The title poem is only 75 lines, but the book is 41 pages, the majority of which are quotations from Karl Marx, and rest including a poem by the 13th C Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti in the original and in four different translations, and some text describing the poem and its prosody. My paper, which I won't get into here, argues that the book itself exhibits bibliographic codes which supplement the semantic codes of the poem itself to help us fully understand LZ's argument.

Why Zuk uses Cavalcanti's poem as a vehicle for a Marxist argument I'm not sure, though the he was a favorite of Pound's, who published a scholarly edition, with some commentary written in Italian. The large book looked impressive enough, with red card stock covers (bearing the creepy stamp ANNO X, denoting the 10th year of Mussolini's reign), alternate readings in the margins, and plates of earlier editions. What really caught my attention was the second half of the book, which reprinted his attempt at getting a bilingual edition of Donna Mi Pregga into print in England ("With all these printers, all this paper, and all this ink, it is manifestly idiotic that we can't get the editions we want"! railed EP). This is the template LZ was copying in his First Half. The same poem, one of the same translation, the same exegesis. Why LZ is copying this I still don't know, nor do I know if or how I'll address this edition in my paper, but the thrill of recognition more than justified the effort.

The Cavalcanti is rather rare, with some 500 copies published, and the Zukofsky extremely rare, with only 55. I've never seen mention of the correspondence of these volumes in print, so it's possible that no one ever put these two rarities together before. Discovering this simple, fact is more satisfying than creating any elaborate theory to explain them. It's the pleasure of the observable.