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Saturday, April 22, 2023

Eric Wagner on Ezra Pound, RAW and 'Intolerance'

Scene from the 1916 film Intolerance (Alfred Paget as Prince Belshazzar).

In the latest regular Hilaritas podcast, featuring Eric Wagner on Ezra Pound, Eric contends that to really understand Robert Anton Wilson, the reader must wrestle with Ezra Pound.  Eric is, as I've mentioned before, the author of the revised edition of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson; I keep the Kindle on my phone for ready reference. 

One important point Eric makes early in the hour-long podcast with Mike Gathers is that regardless of what one thinks of Pound's more dire views,which he recanted late in life, he played a major role in assisting many of the top writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway. Eric also makes reading recommendations for Pound, but see also his recommendations in the comments for my earlier post on the podcast. 

One  other point: Eric remarks in passing that Illuminatus!  "based on" D.W. Griffith's movie Intolerance. While I knew Wilson admired the film,, I didn't  know (or at least didn't remember) that the movie influenced Illuminatus!, so I did some searching. In this interview of RAW by Neal Wilgus, RAW, referring to Illuminatus!, says, "The narrative technique is based on D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, which I think is the greatest movie ever made." (The interview is excerpted in The Illuminati Papers, but not the bit about Intolerance.)

Intolerance is a three-hour epic, but evidently I need to get around to watching it. 

A question for Eric: Robert Shea's acknowledgements for All Things Are Lights mentions RAW. Should we guess that RAW recommended Pound's The Spirit of Romance, and that the book influenced Shea's novel? 


Eric Wagner said...

In the early 1990's Bob gave me a reading list on the Middle Ages. I think it included The Spirit of Romance by Pound. Alas, our house got flooded in 2019, and my Wilson correspondence got boxed up. When I dig the reference up, I will share it with you. Bob told me he had give the same list or a similar list to Bob Shea before Shea wrote "All Things Are Lights."

The first year I taught high school film history in 2004-2005, I relied heavily on Bob Wilson's recommended viewing lists to create the syllabus. I had the kid's rate each film we watched, so I revised the syllabus every year. That first year I included three full length Griffith films: "Birth of a Nation," "Intolerance" and "Broken Blossoms," as well as the Griffith short "A Corner in Wheat." Surprise, surprise, most of the students didn't like the silent Griffith films. Bob implored me to include "Broken Blossoms" as well as another of his favorites "Bringing Up Baby" in my second year syllabus. I did, but eventually I switched to showing silent comedies, "The General" and City Lights" (the latter a sound film with no talking) instead of Griffith films.

For anyone who struggles watching "Intolerance," I suggest that enjoying silent films seems like an entrainment process. One has to learn how to enjoy them. That first year teaching high school film history, I taught it first thing in the morning, and I had a bunch of senior boys who frequently arrived late. I started giving silent movie detentions. After school the students would come to my room and watch a short D. W. Griffith film and then write a paragraph on it. After the second or third detention, the students started getting into the films, hooting and hollering.

PS "Intolerance" includes a scene where a character finds a quarter. I love that.

Bobby Campbell said...

Absolutely loved the podcast w/ Eric!

Reading THE CANTOS was one of the best literary experiences I've ever had.

I started with RAW's commentary as training wheels:

I read Pound and Joyce the same way, with an eye for what it means to me, not what it means in some objective sense, but it's fun to pair it with erudite exegesis as well.

RAW had us watch Intolerance during the 8 Dimensions of "Mind" class. I've seen it a bunch of times since, so much truly wild stuff in there, a lot of which I've stolen for my own purposes.

Like w/ Pound, Intolerance was another thing I picked up from RAW without understanding its larger cultural connotations.

Specifically, that Intolerance was meant to be D. W. Griffith's defense of The Birth of a Nation, an abuse of the paradox of tolerance that certainly sours things significantly.

The DVD I had came with a pamphlet featuring an essay from DWG explaining that women shouldn't vote, but actually because they are superior to men! Another unappealing and unconvincing usage of paradoxical logic.

The film does at least end with a transcendentally beautiful and truly magnificent vision of prison abolition!

Pound and Griffith fall into a similar category for me where their contributions to the medium are too great to ignore, but significant aspects of their message seem too abhorrent to celebrate without an asterisk.

Strip em for parts I say! MAKE IT NEW :)))

Also, anyway! I actually popped in here to say that I've set it up so that posts will be auto posted over on the maybelogic subreddit:

With twitter circling the drain I figure it might be smart to diversify.



michael said...

I thought Eric's talk about Pound's influence on RAW on the Hilaritas podcast was top notch. Eric has a good voice, he's funny, and his knowledge is extensive.

Claire Dederer has a new book out called Monsters, subtitled, IIRC from reading a review "A Fan's Dilemma." The book is about the problem we all must negotiate with: we love an artist's work. But they did offensive things, or had very bad politics, etc. She's not a "de-platform 'em all!" person. Readers of RAW might like it, because RAW was able to separate the work from the artist, while acknowledging the reality of Pound's vile antisemitism , Griffith's racism, Crowley's mental illness, etc.

Oz Fritz said...

The podcast sounded outstanding! I pulled out my copy of the Cantos to dip in when possible.

RAW had a highly functional bullshit detector. Speaking of which, the antisemitism and racism in P & G are clearly evident. Not so with the "mental illness" judgement. None at all.

Jesse said...

The one article of mine that I can remember Bob specifically not liking was this one.

michael said...

To Oz's point: Aside from Pound and Griffith, there seems to be a sort of game in which some writers who never knew Crowley diagnose him with a mental illness, or some condition. Almost always they are the detractors or unfriendly biographers. Recently, Gary Lachman has diagnosed/guessed Crowley was "autistic." RAW, in an upcoming book, is the first to surmise Crowley was mentally ill in some way, but RAW is anything but a detractor.

I've read all the Crowley bios (unless there's one I've missed?) and always thought his upbringing in hard-core fundamentalist Xtianity could suffice to explain ENOUGH about the, shall we say, corrosive aspects of his personality and actions.

Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for the kind words. Bob Wilson liked Lillian Gish's book "The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me." (I did too.)

The DVD of "Intolerance" included a cool introduction by Orson Welles.

Oz Fritz said...

Michael and I disagree on the interpretation of that passage in the forthcoming book Lion of Light. Wilson does not surmise, claim, declare or diagnose Crowley with mental illness. RAW puts "mental illness" in quotes indicating doubt. Wilson has quite a bit already on record about what he thought of Crowley. One could start with Cosmic Trigger I. One doesn't have to wait until his lost manuscript which he never had a chance to revise and never intended to publish to get his take on AC's psychology. One would also find it difficult or impossible to find RAW discussing the "corrosive aspects of his personality and actions." In talks, Wilson usually opens the discussion of Crowley by talking about his humor - "The funniest mystic I know ..."

Gary Lachman seems the Tucker Carlson of Crowley biographers. I have a review of his AC bio somewhere in my blog.