The Plague of Usura (ryan, scott, eric, joshua, & bailey

Published in 1937, canto XLV is part of the Fifth Decad, also called the Leopoldine Cantos, in reference to the Monte dei Paschi institution established by Arch Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo. In short, the Monte dei Paschi established a system of usury–charging unreasonably high interest rates on (property) loans. Thus, this canto acts as a Poundian non-capitalist ideal, in which he denounces the practice or usury, essentially cursing it as the most heinous and crippling force against nature.

In breaking down this canto, we can examine how and to what degree Pound finds fault in the practice of usury (which he calls usura, and we will too for brevity’s sake). Pound begins his liturgy by listing several ways that usura separates or takes certain things away from existence and creation.

With usura/ hath no man a house of good stone/…with usura/ hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall/ harpes et luz/…with usura/ seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines/no picture is made to endure nor to live with/but it is made to sell and sell quickly/with usura, sin against nature

A close reading of these lines reveals several aspects of Pound’s disdain for usura. First off, the syntactical structuring of Pound’s line breaks emphasizes the separation of usura from that which is good in nature. “hath no man a house of good stone,” if the construction of this house is in any way associated with usury. The next image is particularly telling: “hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall/harpes et luz.” This image presents usura as a preventative force that blinds the human race from a paradisal vision, thus inhibiting their creation of a paradise on earth.
The final lines of this passage depict usura as diminishing the inherent value of aesthetic creation: “no picture is made to endure nor to live with/but it is made to sell and sell quickly/with usura, sin against nature.” With the rapid selling of paintings, the motivation shifts from a desire to create and cherish artistic beauty, to solely appealing to the artist’s avaricious desires. Pound’s denouncement isn’t primarily based on the moral injustices of interest, but more so on the fact that excess capital is no longer devoted to artistic patronage, as it could now be used for capitalist business investment.

Continuing with lines 18-20, Pound portrays usura as an obscure agent, one that blurs the dividing lines of quality and individuality.

with usura the line grows thick/with usura is no clear demarcation/and no man can find site for his dwelling

The term “demarcation” alludes to the marking of boundaries, often associated with land distribution.With “thick” lines an area is blurred and therefore difficult to determine and appropriate. Thus, the dimensions of a man’s land or “dwelling” isn’t sufficiently distinguished from the surrounding dwellings; the sense of individuality is lost.

This theme is reinforced in the next two lines in which Pound writes, “Stonecutter is kept from his stone/weaver is kept form his loom.” This appeal to lost trades emphasizes the negative connotation of usura as a thief of even the inherent goodness of a man’s craft. And without his craft man loses his sense of self and value.

Thus far in canto XLV, the tone Pound perpetuates is overwhelmingly pessimistic and foreboding, particularly in his portrayal of usura as a deathly disease or parasite that infects all who practice the corruption of usury. In line 26 Pound labels usura as a murrain, which translates to plague. He proceeds to propound (ha) that usura is utterly contrary to all artistic creation and inspiration, referencing numerous artists from lines 28-33. He also asserts that usura is disconnected from the religious or spiritual realm, writing: “Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit/Not by usura St Trophime/Not by usura Sain Hilaire” (34-36).
It may be inferred that Pound sees the architectural design of beautiful churches as a most righteous and pure form of artistic creation, one that is devoid of monetary motivation. The line Adamo me fecit translates to “Adam made me,” which refers to an inscription etched on a pillar in the Church of San Zeno, Verona. The mention of Adam alludes to the Biblical time on earth before the presence of sin; thus Pound may be asserting that this church–and perhaps the others listed–were formed through righteous and natural creation, untainted by the corruption of usura.

Continuing with 43-46, Pound seemingly returns to the “disease” or “parasitic” concept of usura, although including a more perversely sexualized depiction.

Usura slayeth the child in the womb/It stayeth the young man’s courting/It hath brough palsey to bed, lyeth/between the young bride and her bridegroom

In the first line, Pound may be implying the genetic character of usura, as if a disease passed on from parent to fetus. If this is the case, then usura can be viewed to perpetuate its destructive influence from generation to generation. Usura is also represented as a venereal disease, one that hinders a man’s sexual performance, yet another preventative force against nature. The resulting palsey would cause muscle tremors which create a divide “between the young bride and her bridegroom.” While this metaphor may seem abstract and slightly arbitrary,we believe that Pound was merely trying to illustrate the power of usura to debauch the most sacred practice of nature in creating new life.
This concept of money as the “root of all evil” is reinforced in line 48 with the appeal to the Eleusinian Mysteries, a symbol of sacramental coition, which is defiled by whores; a final metaphor of the carnal corruption of usura.

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Mystery vs. Muddle

In chapter VII of A Passage to India, a discussion of racial and cultural misunderstandings leads to the current ambiguous condition of the country. Forster then presents the relationship between mystery and muddle, examining the difference (if any) between the two, and which more accurately defines India.

Through Forster’s characters of Adela and Mrs. Moore, he presents the ideal India as being veiled by mystery, arousing the women’s curiosity and speculation as a result of the country’s secretive nature. Both women aspire to see the “real India”; Adela for intellectual reasons, and Mrs. Moore for motives inspired by her genuine concern and compassion for the oppressed peoples. While both women possess mystical leanings in their desires to experience India’s true identity, they overlook the more pressing issue of India’s stifled identity at the “cultivating” hands of English colonialism.

Forster’s concept of a muddled India is most strongly supported through the lens of  his character Cyril Fielding. Forster, a homosexual living in a European society and era that chastised him for his sexual orientation, had long experienced prejudice and misunderstanding firsthand. Thus, through Fielding, Forster expounds upon his idea of sympathy and support for the Indian ambition of freedom and self-rule. Fielding– an advocate for tolerance among people of all ethnicities and social/cultural backgrounds –seeks to educate his Indian students, providing them with a sense of personal identity, and thereby  disengaging India from its muddled state. As opposed to Adela and Mrs. Moore’s blinding infatuation with the seeming mystery of India, Fielding views the concept of “mystery” as no more than a glorified disguise for its true muddled condition.

A mystery is only a high-sounding term for a muddle. No advantage in stirring it up, in either case. Aziz and I know well that India’s a muddle (63).

Much of Fielding’s perception that India is in fact a muddle is attributed to his idea that its natives are viewed by their colonizers as a homogenous body of inferior beings, rather than a group of individual humans. This negative association to Indian people causes the makeup of the country itself to be rendered as muddled and ill-defined.

Aziz, neither directly supporting nor refuting Fielding’s assertion in the scene, is portrayed by Forster as a mess of extremes and contradictions throughout the novel, an embodiment of the author’s notion of the muddle of India. Aziz is impulsive and pliable, switching his beliefs and roles sporadically and consistently. His moods swing back and forth between extremes, and his characteristics present Forster’s  representation of the general characteristics of all Indians.

Ultimately, the issue of mystery and muddle is left to the perceptions and workings out of the characters. It is clear through Forster’s message that the Indian condition can only transition from subservience and oppression to freedom through its actual independence from the British government; a goal not realized until three decades after Forster’s visit to India, in 1949.

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The End is Near

In the final section of The Wasteland entitled, “What the Thunder Said,” it is crucial to examine Eliot’s use of language and imagery in determining what exactly the thunder ‘says’ or represents. The section begins with a desolate and apocalyptic scene, where sacred cities are destroyed and there are “hooded hordes swarming over endless plains.” With his form, Eliot expertly crafts his lines with frantic repetition and alliteration:

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water.

As well as form, imagery is used to emphasize the apocalyptic setting and society’s desperation for a saving grace.

He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying…

as well as the narrator’s question to the reader:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

Both these excerpts, as well as the references to contemporary events in Eastern Europe and other more traditional apocalypse narratives, continue to draw on Biblical imagery and symbolism of the quest for the Holy Grail; reemphasizing the desperate search for a renewal. But the tone of the narrative voice offers no hero or sense of hope for salvation from a doomed land that is dry and barren, deprived of water, silence and solitude.

After researching this section some, I learned that Eliot drew inspiration for the thunder motif from the Upanishads–Hindu fables–which describe the power of the thunder’s speech as derived from its ability to give, sympathize, and control. These three ideas become Eliot’s focus in the meditative latter part of this section. These meditations seem to offer a sense of reconciliation–perhaps with nature or spirituality. They also allow the narrator to parallel the condition of the modern world to the power of thunder’s speech. He seeks to discover what (if anything) people have given each other, and sadly determines that the only gift has been the destructive and fickle act of sex.

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed–

His comparison of this gift to a spider’s web and a solicitor reading wills depicts the sex acts as fleeting and vulnerable. The narrator also finds no acts of sympathy in mankind, describing people as selfish and cruel, unconscious of everything but the “ethereal rumors” of those around them.

We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours

The final idea of control seems more promising than the first two although it implies a concept of penitence and submission that are, ultimately, unrealized. The aspects of the thunder’s speech act as the progressive tool in guiding the erring people. In highlighting the errors of humanity, what the thunder says provides a spoken judgment and institutes a value system, and thereby offers some consolation.

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A Call to Celebrate

In A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Stephen experiences several major transitions through self-definition. None more important, or joyous, than his epiphany in chapter 4 to reject the world’s social/religious forces and to forge a new identity as an artist. However, though Stephen’s idea of recreating himself originates from his own mind, Joyce contends that becoming a true artist involves a calling, not a conscious decision the artist can make himself.

This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar (154).

Here, Stephen recognizes his calling, one in which he will create an “imperishable being,” which references the soul. He becomes determined to celebrate this new freedom, no longer a slave to his own sin, nor to the monotonous restrictions of the church. He is reflective on the temptations that have prevented him from discovering his true self: first, a “dull gross voice” acts as the voice of physical lust that caused him to fall prey to the squalor of Dublin; second, an “inhuman voice”refers to his former spiritual conscience that beckoned him into the priesthood.  Both of these temptations, including his calling to art, are external forces projected upon Stephen by the world. In this context, the passage suggests that it is as much fate as Stephen’s own free will that leads him to become an artist.

His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders.  He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world (148).

It is clear that Stephen feels alone in the world, but that his isolation suits his pursuit of the art aesthetic. No longer will he rely on the advice or influence of others; he chooses now to forge his own path in the world through his art. His former physical lust now turns to a lust to “set out for the ends of the earth” and experience the beauty of life. This discovery of beauty arrives immediately after Stephen’s epiphany when he encounters a beautiful girl standing near the water. She is alone, much like Stephen, but he is enchanted by her seemingly magical beauty and he swoons inwardly, overjoyed by what he observes. He experiences complete physical rapture and he knows that his soul is forever touched by this girl’s image, but he cannot fully comprehend this impact.

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