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“CRIME Ov two CENturies”

Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theory as a Narrative Arc in Ezra Pound’s ‘Cantos’

James Dowthwaite

Pages 413 - 436


Ezra Pound’s ‘Cantos’ are as notorious for the difficulty of both their politics and their form as they are famous for their lyrical beauty. Pound’s long poem, which is about nothing less than the history of humanity, follows a cyclical structure and logic in which chronology is disrupted, making the narrative fluency of the text difficult to discern. Furthermore, Fascist politics and an anti-Semitic worldview lie at the heart of the poem’s political and historical visions. In this article, I explore the ways in which Pound uses an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to form a historical narrative structure in which the progress of humanity has been arrested by the supposed insidious actions of Jewish international capitalists. While there have been many critical engagements with Pound’s alleged anti-Semitism, the exact affect that it had on his long poem is yet to be determined. I argue that throughout Pound’s middle period (1920-1945), the theory that a cabal of Jewish figures were corrupting geopolitics is the central narrative thrust of ‘The Cantos’. That such a theory lies at the heart of a determined attempt to delineate a vision of human history remains of crucial importance to literary studies.


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