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Geoffrey Hill

The Drama of Reason

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Alex Pestell

Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016) was often hailed as one of the most important – and one of the most difficult – poets of his lifetime. This book is a timely investigation into a writer whose work seems simultaneously to invite analysis and to refuse explanations of its sensuous, allusive language. It provides an introduction to Hill’s work for readers coming to it for the first time and offers an account of his poetics that will be of interest to his more experienced readers. Alongside many close readings of poems spanning Hill’s long and varied career, the author brings to light findings from the Geoffrey Hill Archive in Leeds and investigates the poet’s important critical writings. Hill’s often antagonistic engagement with the thought of other poets and philosophers supplies the book’s structure. Coleridge, Eliot, F. H. Bradley and Ezra Pound are engaged by Hill in a dramatic contest over what the author claims is his visionary aim for poetry: the realisation of the objective conditions of judgement. Above all, Hill is presented as a quintessentially modernist poet – at odds with modernity, and at the same time creating a language answerable to its rich, traumatic complexity.
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Chapter 5: Ezra Pound and Diagnosis

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← 126 | 127 →

CHAPTER 5

Ezra Pound and Diagnosis

In 2009 Hill said in interview

Until very recently I thought that I had invented the term plutocratic anarchy, but it appears to have originated with William Morris. A few days ago I happened upon the text of a lecture delivered at University College, Oxford in 1883 (‘John Ruskin in the Chair’). Morris’s term, to be precise, is ‘anarchical Plutocracy’. Anarchical Plutocracy destroys memory and dissipates attention; it is the enemy of everything that is summoned before us in Bishop Butler’s great pronouncement of 1729; ‘Everything is what it is, and not another thing’.1

This position is remarkably similar to Ezra Pound’s in the thirties. Writing in 1931, Pound declared:

Plutocracy does not favour the arts. […] Plutocracy hovering above demos favours the second rate. Whatever the ‘general terminology’, of foundations, endowments etc., the whole drift of plutocratic kultur is toward devitalization of letters and scholarship.2

While he does not use the term ‘anarchy’, there are nonetheless parallels between the Pound of 1931 and the Hill of 2009. For a start, both shy away from the noun ‘capitalism’, preferring the older term ‘plutocracy’, seeking perhaps to establish a broader historical scope for their ‘diagnoses’, and perhaps also supposing the past to contain inherently redemptive qualities, though neither would admit to it. Both view ‘plutocracy’ (one of Pound’s many words – including ‘usury’ – for the appropriation of the machinery ← 127 | 128...

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