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“Grinding the Corn in the Head’s Mortar” – Discipline and Authoritarian Aesthetics in Ezra Pound’s Translation of
The Great Digest

Ching Yun University, Taiwan

This essay explores the role of Ezra Pound’s idea of authoritarian aesthetic discipline in his translation of The Great Digest, or the Ta Hsio. The Ta Hsio is one of China’s Four Classics of Confucianism which Pound undertook a second translation of in 1936, in Mussolini’s Italy. My argument centers on the claim that Pound found, in the Ta Hsio and other Confucian texts, an aesthetic attitude toward political and social problems. This article is thus somewhat unique in that it tries to connect, on the basis of a fairly close translation reading, Pound’s fascist thinking to his “Confucian speculations” of this time. I do so by focusing on the specific techniques of the self that Pound tries to single out for us. Although this study is fairly jargon-free, I implicitly rely on some important notions from the work of Michel Foucault: first, I understand his translation choices in terms of the discourse of discipline that Pound was appealing to, i.e., rightwing authoritarianism; second, I pay close attention to how personal “power” (virtu / zhi) works in Pound’s diction and tone. Pound’s self-conscious tone is understood as a lesson in subjectivation, and an indication that he was always concerned with those techniques of the self which lend the will (Pound’s zhi) the necessary strength to perceive and write clearly.

Ezra Pound, aesthetics, discipline, authoritarianism, translation, Confucianism, The Great Digest


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