Gold, Representation, and the Reversible Dynamic of Symptomatic Return in Ezra Pound

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Author: Salah el Moncef
Editors: Jeffrey W. Hunter and Deborah A. Schmitt
Date: 1999
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,774 words

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[(essay date Spring 1995) In the following essay, Moncef examines Pound's disdain for gold as a symbol of evil. According to Moncef, "the malevolent aspect of gold exists in its own right throughout Pound's works; however, within this negative imaginary dimension of gold, there also lies its positive function as a master-signifier of discursive and economic author-ity."]

Gold and silver have been established by a general agreement as the means of purchasing all goods, and as a pledge of their value, because these metals are rare, and useless for any other purpose: of what consequence was it to us, then, that they should become more common, and that to mark the value of any commodity, we should have two or three signs in place of one? . . . [A]miable simplicity, so dear to our holy Prophet, constantly recalls me to the artlessness of the olden time, and the peace which reigned in the hearts of our first fathers.

--Montesquieu, The Persian Letters, Letter 106

So much has been written about Pound's obsessive deprecation of gold that one can hardly avoid approaching the subject without confronting a sort of Manichean division whereby gold is relegated to an almost exclusively "evil" function in his works. Even if we limit ourselves to the vague parameters of "good" and "evil," however, a close inquiry into the symbolic (that is, discursive) implications of gold in Pound's writings reveals its highly ambivalent function of a condensed signifier that points to a complex interplay of both "good" and "malevolent connotations." As Peter Nicholls rightly argues, when viewed against the background of a debilitating overproduction of monetary signifiers, gold undoubtedly emerges in Pound's writing as a malevolent master-signifier, the obsessive index of a "psychological" fear of the dislocation of "the genuinely creative signifying system." I shall argue that this anxiety ultimately reflects the poet's fear of symbolic castration through dislocution and his relegation to the status of a dead author. Considering the recurrence of Pound's explicitly negative statements about gold and money, it is tempting to take his words at face value and see in his obsession with the destabilization of monetary and discursive referentiality a desire to reject gold as the cause of the destabilization--which would be a typically Poundian strategy.

One way to deal with the facile one-sidedness of this temptation is to articulate Pound's fear for the "genuinely creative signifying system" as a motive inseparable from his fear for the monetary signifying system. The analogous relation between a literary medium of representation based on nonreferentiality and the dissemination of meaning in what Pound defines as an "abstract" monetary discourse has been investigated by Jean-Joseph Goux, who posits the principle of nonreferential money as the paradigm of a literary discourse "devoid of . . . evocative capacity":

The token, as a word or a currency devoid of all evocative capacity, is therefore, in turn, the symbol of formalized reason. . . . Thus all exchange [monetary, discursive] is done through a mediating substitute, or a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100004027