“Scope for elbow and mind”: industrial labor and working-class culture in the nonfiction of Jack Hilton AND “To pick out for oneself, to choose”: Ezra Pound, Carl Schmitt, and the poetics of sovereignty

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Emily Rich (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Ben Clarke

Abstract: Jack Hilton was a working-class author who frequently expressed ambivalent attitudes toward modernity and industrialism. He often seems nostalgic for a pre-industrial past, yet simultaneously acknowledges the material benefits of industrialism and the difficulties of rural life. Many of Hilton’s critiques of industry focus on the effects of mechanized or “rationalized” labor on the intellectual and cultural development of the working class. But while Hilton critiques industrial labor, he is careful not to romanticize labor in other fields, acknowledging the oppressive nature of all wage labor and its negative effects on culture. In this essay, I outline Hilton’s critique of rationalized work and its effects on working-class culture. Then, I contrast his criticism of industry with his depictions of other types of work, including both agricultural labor and work in skilled trades, highlighting how Hilton problematizes his own critique of rationalization. I conclude by detailing Hilton’s proposed solutions to labor’s negative effects on culture, and explore the extent to which his concern for working-class culture informed his support of socialism, which he believed would provide working-class people with the economic stability and leisure time necessary for intellectual and artistic pursuits. Hilton’s materialist analysis of his own cultural moment seems to anticipate cultural studies methodology, positioning Hilton as part of the intellectual pre-history of the discipline. Moreover, Hilton’s refusal to separate cultural and political critique provides a model of cultural studies as an active political practice. AND. This essay explores the apparent contradiction between Ezra Pound’s foundational role in the formulation of modernist poetics and his active engagement in fascist political projects beginning in the interwar years and continuing through World War II. Recently, many scholars have worked to document the extent of Pound’s investment in fascist projects and to explicate the political and social content of much of his poetry. Yet the question still stands: what connections exist between Pound’s understandings of poetics and politics? This essay seeks to address this question by examining Pound’s inter-war nonfiction prose. I read these texts alongside the work of German judicial theorist Carl Schmitt, focusing on his theory of sovereignty. First, I outline Schmitt’s definition of sovereignty and the relationship between a sovereign’s power and his use of language. Using Schmitt as a theoretical framework, I then turn to Pound’s early articulations of the role of the artist and the implications of that role on his creation of a paratactic poetic style. By creating a new poetic language that denies the figurative, Pound rescues poetry from the flaws of discursivity by allowing it to approach the status of action. His articulation of aesthetic problems in terms of sovereignty carries over into his political writing and eventual support of fascist dictators like Mussolini. By using Schmitt’s work to explicate Pound’s, I also demonstrate the relevance of Schmitt’s judicial theory to literary studies and provide a framework for further investigations of the political implications of modernist poetics.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
British literature, Cultural studies, Ezra Pound, Fascism, Sovereignty, Working class
Hilton, Jack, $d 1900-1983 $x Criticism and interpretation
Pound, Ezra, $d 1885-1972 $x Criticism and interpretation
Schmitt, Carl, $d 1888-1985
Industrialization in literature
Working class in literature
Aesthetics $x Political aspects
Poetry $x Political aspects
Fascism and literature

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