Monday, February 25, 2013

A Retabulation of Tables Already Tabulated

Excerpted from an essay in The New Age in 1917.  (Unabridged audio recordings of the parts of the essay at the links.)

Part I (sound file, 12:21)

Now, apart from intensive national propaganda, quite apart from German national propaganda, the 'university system' of Germany is evil.  It is evil wherever in penetrates.  Its 'universal pervasiveness' is a poisonous and most pestilent sort of pervasiveness.  The drug is insidious and attractive.

It is...the only system whereby every local nobody is able to imagine himself a somebody.  It is in essence a provincialism....

Its action in Germany was perfectly simple.  Every man of intelligence had that intelligence nicely switched on to some particular problem, some minute particular problem unconnected with life, unconnected with main principles (to use a detestable, much abused phrase).  By confining his attention...he could become at small price an 'authority', a celebrity.  I myself am an 'authority', I was limed to that extent.  It takes some time to get clean....

It is evil because it holds up an ideal of 'scholarship', not an ideal of humanity.  It says in effect: you are to acquire knowledge in order that knowledge may be acquired.  Metaphorically, you are to build up a dam'd and useless pyramid which will be no use to you or to anyone else, but which will serve as a 'monument'.  To this end you are to sacrifice your mind and vitality.

The system has fought tooth and nail against the humanist belief that a man acquires knowledge in order that he may be a more complete man, a finer individual, a fuller, more able, more interesting companion for other men.

Knowledge as the adornment of the mind, the enrichment of the personality, has been cried down in eery educational establishment where the Germano-American 'university' ideal has reached.  The student as the bondslave of his subject, the gelded ant, the compiler of data, has been preached as a summum bonum....

No one who has not been caught young and pitchforked into a 'graduate school' knows anything of the fascination of being about to 'know more than anyone else' about the sex of oysters, or the tonic accents in Aramaic.  No one who has not been one of a gang of young men all heading for 'scholastic honors' knows how easy it is to have the mind switched off all general considerations, all considerations of the values of life, and switched on to some minute, vital detail....

The crux of the matter is that the student, burying himself in detail, has not done so with the understanding of his act.  He has not done it as necessary sacrifice in order that he may emerge....

The student has become accustomed first to receiving his main ideas without question; then to being indifferent to them.  In this state he has accepted the Deutschland ├╝ber Alles idea, in this state he has accepted the idea that he is an ant, not a human being.  He has become impotent, and quite pliable.  This state of things has gone on long enough already.

Part II (sound file, 11:10)

The desire to coerce the acts of another  is evil.  Every ethical thought is of slow growth; it has taken at least thirty years to suggest the thought that the desire to coerce the acts of others is evil.  The thought belongs to only a few hundreds of people.  Humanity is hardly out of the thought that you may have inquisitions  and burn people at stakes....

The bulk of scholarship has gone under completely; the fascinations of technical and mechanical education have been extremely seductive (I mean definitely the study of machines, the association with engines of all sorts, the inebriety of mechanical efficiency, in all the excitement of its very rapid evolution).

Part III (sound file, 10:26)

America has yet no notion of reforming her universities....Provincialism I have defined as an ignorance of the nature and custom of foreign peoples, a desire to coerce others, a desire for uniformity--uniformity always based on the temperament of the particular provincial desiring it.

The moment you teach a man to study literature not for his own delight, but for some exterior reason, a reason hidden in vague and cloudy words such as 'monuments of scholarships', 'exactness', 'soundness', etc., 'service to scholarship', you begin his destruction, you begin to prepare his mind for all sorts of acts to be undertaken for exterior reasons 'of State', etc., without regard to their merit....

Take a man's mind off the human value of the poem he is reading (and in this case the human value is the art value), switch it on to some question of grammar and you begin his dehumanization....

The uncritical habit of mind spreads from the university to the Press and to the people.  I am well aware that this uncritical habit of mind is hidden by an apparatus criticus, and by more kinds of 'criticism' and criteria, and talk about criticism than the man in the street has heard of.  But it is for all that uncritical.  It divides facts into the known and the unknown, the arranged and the unarranged.  It talks about the advancement of learning and demands 'original research', i.e., a retabulation of data, and a retabulation of tables already tabulated.

[Pound, Ezra. "Provincialism the Enemy" in Selected Prose: 1909-1965.  New Directions, 1973.]

1 comment:

  1. Well, Ezra Pound went in for a lot of rhetoric, even when young.