Kulchural Studies seeks the incontrovertible fact, the photographic evidence, the smoking gun of the historical process—what Pound called the "luminous detail". Of course, a simple fact can only ever shine on the background of a shared understanding of how the world "really" works. In this post, I want to look at the kind of world that kulchural studies assumes we live in and the kind of character or intellectual figure that is required to study it.
"An education consists in 'getting wise' in the rawest and hardest boiled sense of that bit of argot," writes Pound in the Guide to Kulchur. I'm grateful to Jonathan Morse for bringing Malcolm Cowley's corroborating observation to my attention in his interesting piece in Jacket 34. "I've found the lowdown on the Elizabethan drama," he quotes Pound saying and adds: "he was always finding the lowdown, the inside story and the simple reason why" (Exiles Return, p. 120). Elsewhere, Cowley also characterized Pound's view of history as a "conspiracy" theory.
According to Pound, "the method of Luminous Detail" had two main competitors in scholarship: "the method multitudinous detail" (most prevalent in his day) and "the method of sentiment and generalisation" (which he saw as outdated). (This was in "I Gather the Limbs of Osiris", from 1911, SP, p. 21.) In the Guide to Kulchur he puts it this way:
This active and instant awareness is NOT handed out in colleges and by the system of public and/or popular education. In this domain the individual will remain, individualism will remain, without any theoretical and ideological bulwarks. A man will continue to gain or lose his own soul. (GK, p. 52)
This individualism is really quite important. Kulchural Studies is not about teaching others how the world works. They'll "get it" if they do, we might say, and always in their own way. It is about saving your own soul from being duped about "the process now going on" (51).
When reading Pound, I sometimes think of Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder", an essay that was published at about the same time as the Guide to Kulchur. Here he describes the corrupt world of hard-boiled detective novels. "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean" (20). "He talks as the man of his age talks—that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness" (20-21). In a way, this describes the Poundian literary and social critic.
But there is a disturbing detail: Chandler's "realist" vision was "a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities" (I wonder if that shouldn't read "gangsters can rule cities and almost rule nations"). The informal, personal, and often violent networks of loyalty that run the world in the background of these novels are arguably fascist.