Andrew Gross LectureTuesday, November 3, 2009 - 3:30pm
"Lyricism and Liberalism: Post-War Poetic Responses to Modernist Anti-Semitism"
John F. Kennedy Institute of the Free University Berlin
This talk explores some of the consequences of the Bollingen controversy of 1949, when Ezra Pound was honored as a poet by one branch of government while under indictment for treason by another. This incident produced a public outcry, but it also resulted in a widespread liberal consensus about the importance of separating politics from aesthetics. A democracy was strong—so the argument—that could honor the work of a poet whose principles it found abhorrent. Karl Shapiro, one of the two dissenting votes on the Bollingen committee, rejected this logic, explicitly stating that as a Jew he could not honor an anti-Semite. The price of his dissent, he often said later, was a sidetracked career. Nevertheless, his protest authorized a lyrical response to Pound at odds with the liberal consensus about free speech. A number of younger poets subsequently dubbed “confessional” rebelled against the high modernists—and “discovered” their own poetic identity—by identifying in their writing with Jews. Shapiro, while outspoken about his Jewishness, remained suspicious of “imaginary Jews” (Berryman’s phrase) and indeed about the very notion of identity. This placed him at odds with two major cultural and political trends of the Cold War—the notion of the separate aesthetic sphere, which can be traced back to the rationalization of the Pound award, and the poetics of identity that rebelled against Pound’s prejudice and the liberal consensus it engendered. My talk concludes by looking at some of Shapiro’s now largely forgotten poetry as examples of an alternate lyricism.
Place: Close/Hipp Building (BA) 855
[Sponsored by Department of English Language & Literature, Jewish Studies, Department of Religious Studies, and the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies]