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Ezra Pound On Gender Essay, Research Paper
The following is Pound’s Introduction to his translation of
Remy de Gourmont’s The Natural Philosophy of Love
"Il y aurait peut-?tre une certain corr?lation entre la copulation compl?te et
profonde et le d?veloppement c?r?bral."
Not only is this suggestion, made by our author at the end of his
eighth chapter, both possible and probable, but it is more than likely that the brain
itself, is, in origin and development, only a sort of great clot of genital fluid held in
suspense or reserve; at first over the cervical ganglion, or, earlier or in other species,
held in several clots over the scattered chief nerve centres; and augmenting in varying
speeds and quantities into medulla oblongata, cerebellum and cerebrum. This hypothesis
would perhaps explain a certain number of as yet uncorrelated phenomena both psychological
and physiological. It would explain the enormous content of the brain as a maker or
presenter of images. Species would have developed in accordance with, or their development
would have been affected by the relative discharge and retention of the fluid; this
proportion being both a matter of quantity and of quality, some animals profiting hardly
at all by the alluvial Nile-flood; the baboon retaining nothing; men apparently stupefying
themselves in some cases by excess, and in other cases discharging apparently only a
surplus at high pressure; the imbecile, or the genius, the "strong-minded".
I offer an idea rather than an argument; yet if we consider that the power of the
spermatozoid is precisely the power of exteriorizing a form, and if we consider the lack
of any other known substance in nature capable of growing into brain, we are left with
only one surprise, or rather one conclusion, namely, in face of the smallness of the
average brain’s activity, we must conclude that the spermatozoic substance must have
greatly atrophied in its change from lactic to coagulated and hereditarily coagulated
condition. Given, that is, two great seas of this fluid, mutually magnetized, the wonder
is, or at least the first wonder is, that human thought is so inactive.
Chemical research may have something to say on the subject, if it be directed to
comparison of brain and spermatophore in the nautilus, to the viscous binding of the bee’s
fecundative liquid. I offer only reflections, perhaps a few data; indications of earlier
adumbrations of an idea which really surprises no one, but seems as if it might have been
lying on the study table of any physician or philosopher.
There are traces of it in the symbolism of phallic religions, man really the phallus or
spermatozoid charging, head-on, the female chaos; integration of the male in the male
organ. Even oneself has felt it, driving any new idea into the great passive vulva of
London, a sensation analogous to the male feeling in copulation.
Without any digression on feminism, taking merely the division Gourmont has given
(Aristotelian, if you like), one offers woman as the accumulation of hereditary aptitudes,
better than man in the "useful gestures", the perfections; but to man, given
what we have of history, the "inventions", the new gestures, the extravagance,
the wild shots, the impractical, merely because in him occurs the new upjut, the new
bathing of the cerebral tissues in the residuum, in la mousse of the life
Or, as I am certainly neither writing an anti-feminist tract, nor claiming
disproportionate privilege for the spermatozoid, for the sake of symmetry ascribe a
cognate role to the ovule, though I can hardly be expected to introspect it. A flood is as
bad as a famine; the ovular bath could still account for the refreshment of the female
mind, and the recharging, regracing of its "traditional aptitudes"; where one
woman appears to benefit by an alluvial clarifying, ten dozen appear to be swamped.
Postulating that the cerebral fluid tried all sorts of experiments, and, striking
matter, forced it into all sorts of forms, by gushes; we have admittedly in insect life a
female predominance; in bird, mammal and human, at least an increasing mate prominence.
And these four important branches of "the fan" may be differentiated according
to their apparent chief desire, or source of choosing their species.
Insect, utility; bird, flight; mammal, muscular splendour; man, experiment.
The insect representing the female, and utility; the need of heat being present, the
insect chooses to solve the problem by hibernation, i.e. a sort of negation of action. The
bird wanting continuous freedom, feathers itself, Desire for decoration appears in all the
branches, man exteriorizing it most. The bat’s secret appears to be that he is not the
bird-mammal, but the mammal-insect: economy of tissue, hibernation. The female principle
being not only utility, but extreme economy, woman, falling by this division into a male
branch, is the least female of females, and at this point one escapes from a journalistic
sex-squabble into the opposition of two principles, utility and a sort of venturesomeness.
In its subservience to the money fetish our age returns to the darkness of medievalism.
Two osmies may make superfluous eggless nests, but do not kill each other in contesting
which shall deposit the supererogatory honey therein. It is perhaps no more foolish to go
at a hermit’s bidding to recover an old sepulchre than to make new sepulchres at the
bidding of finance.
In his growing subservience to, and adoration of, and entanglement in machines, in
utility, man rounds the circle almost into insect life, the absence of flesh; and may have
need even of horned gods to save him, or at least of a form of thought which permits them.
Take it that usual thought is a sort of shaking or shifting of a fluid in the viscous
cells of the brain; one has seen electricity stripping the particles of silver from a
plated knife in a chemical bath, with order and celerity, and gathering them on the other
pole of a magnet. Take it as materially as you like. There is a sort of spirit-level in
the ear, giving us our sense of balance. And dreams? Do they not happen precisely at the
moments when one has tipped the head; are they not, with their incoherent mixing of known
and familiar images, like the pouring of a complicated honeycomb tilted from its
perpendicular? Does not this give precisely the needed mixture of familiar forms in
non-sequence, the jumble of fragments each coherent within its own limit?
And from the popular speech, is not the sensible man called "levelheaded",
has he not his "head" well screwed on or "screwed on straight"; and
are not lunatics and cranks often recognizable from some peculiar carriage or tilt of the
headpiece; and is not the thinker always pictured with his head bowed into his hand, yes,
but level so far as left to right is concerned? The upward-jaw, head-back pose has long
been explained by the relative positions of the medulla and the more human parts of the
brain; this need not be dragged in here; nor do I mean to assert that you can cure a
lunatic merely by holding his head level.
Thought is a chemical process, the most interesting of all transfusions in liquid
solution. The mind is an up-spurt of sperm, no, let me alter that; trying to watch the
process: the sperm, the form-creator, the substance which compels the ovule to evolve in a
given pattern, one microscopic, minuscule particle, entering the "castle" of the
"Thought is a vegetable," says a modern hermetic, whom I have often
contradicted, but whom I do not wish to contradict at this point. Thought is a
"chemical process" in relation to the organ, the brain; creative thought is an
act like fecundation, like the male cast of the human seed, but given that cast, that
ejaculation, I am perfectly willing to grant that the thought once born, separated, in
regard to itself, not in relation to the brain that begat it, does lead an independent
life much like a member of the vegetable kingdom, blowing seeds, ideas from the paradisial
garden at the summit of Dante’s Purgatory, capable of lodging and sprouting where
And Gourmont has the phrase "fecundating a generation of bodies as genius
fecundates a generation of minds".
Man is the sum of the animals, the sum of their instincts, as Gourmont has repeated in
the course of his book. Given, first a few, then as we get to our own condition, a mass of
these spermatozoic particles withheld, in suspense, waiting in the organ that has been
built up through ages by a myriad similar waitings.
Each of these particles is, we need not say, conscious of form, but has by all counts a
capacity for formal expression: is not thought precisely a form-comparing and
That is to say we have the hair-thinning "abstract thought" and we have the
concrete thought of women, of artists, of musicians, the mockedly "long-haired",
who have made everything in the world. We have the form-making and the form-destroying
"thought", only the first of which is really satisfactory. I don’t wish to be
invidious, it is perfectly possible to consider the "abstract" thought, reason,
etc., as the comparison, regimentation, and least common denominator of a multitude of
images, but in the end each of the images is a little spoiled thereby, no one of them is
the Apollo, and the makers of this kind of thought have been called dryasdust since the
beginning of history. The regiment is less interesting as a whole than any individual in
it. And, as we are being extremely material and physical and animal, in the wake of our
author, we will leave old wives’ gibes about the profusion of hair, and its chance
possible indication or sanction of a possible neighbouring health beneath the skull.
Creative thought has manifested itself in images, in music, which is to sound what the
concrete image is to sight. And the thought of genius, even of the mathematical genius,
the mathematical prodigy, is really the same sort of thing, it is a sudden out-spurt of
mind which takes the form demanded by the problem; which creates the answer, and baffles
the man counting on the abacus.
I question the remarks about the sphex in Chapter 19, "que le sphex s’est form?
lentement", I query this with a conviction for which anyone is at liberty to call me
lunatic, and for which I offer no better ground than simple introspection. I believe, and
on no better ground than that of a sudden emotion, that the change of species is not a
slow matter, managed by cross-breeding, of nature’s leporides and mules, I believe that
the species changes as suddenly as a man makes a song or a poem, or as suddenly as he starts
making them, more suddenly than he can cut a statue in stone, at most as slowly as a
locust or long-tailed Sirmione false mosquito emerges from its outgrown skin. It is not
even proved that man is at the end of his physical changes.
Say that the diversification of species has passed its most sensational phases, say
that it had once a great stimulus from the rapidity of the earth’s cooling, if one accepts
the geologists’ interpretation of that thermometric cyclone. The cooling planet contracts,
it is as if one had some mud in a tin pail, and forced down the lid with such pressure
that the can sprung a dozen leaks, or it is as if one had the mud in a linen bag and
squeezed; merely as mechanics (not counting that one has all the known and unknown
chemical elements cooling simultaneously), but merely as mechanics this contraction gives
energy enough to squeeze vegetation through the pores of the imaginary linen and to detach
certain particles, leaving them still a momentum. A body should cool with decreasing speed
in measure as it approaches the temperature of its surroundings; however, the earth is
still, I think, supposed to be warmer than the surrounding unknown, and is presumably
still cooling, or at any rate it is not proved that man is at the end of his physical
changes. I return to horned gods and the halo in a few paragraphs. It is not proved that
even the sort of impetus provided by a shrinking of planetary surface is denied one.
What is known is that man’s great divergence has been in the making of detached,
That is to say, if an insect carries a saw, it carries it all the time. The "next
step", as in the case of the male organ of the nautilus, is to grow a tool and detach
Man’s first inventions are fire and the club, that is to say he detaches his digestion,
he finds a means to get heat without releasing the calories of the log by internal
combustion inside his own stomach. The invention of the first tool turned his mind (using
this term in the full sense); turned, let us say, his "brain" from his own body.
No need for greater antennae, a fifth arm, etc., except, after a lapse as a tour de
force, to show that he is still lord of his body.
That is to say the crawfish’s long feelers, all sorts of extravagances in nature may be
taken as the result of a single gush of thought. A single out-push of a demand, made by a
spermatic sea of sufficient energy to cast such a form. To cast it as one electric pole
will cast a spark to another; to exteriorize; sometimes to act in this with more
enthusiasm than caution.
Let us say quite simply that light is a projection from the luminous fluid, from the
energy that is in the brain, down along the nerve cords which receive certain vibrations
in the eye. Let us suppose man capable of exteriorizing a new organ, horn, halo, Eye of
Horus. Given a brain of this power, comes the question, what organ, and to what purpose?
Turning to folk-lore, we have Frazer on horned gods, we have Egyptian statues,
generally supposed to be "symbols", of cat-headed and ibis-headed gods. Now in a
primitive community, a man, a volontaire, might risk it. He might want prestige,
authority, want them enough to grow horns and claim a divine heritage, or to grow a cat
head; Greek philosophy would have smiled at him, would have deprecated his ostentation.
With primitive man he would have risked a good deal, he would have been deified, or
crucified, or possibly both. Today he would be caught for a circus.
One does not assert that cat-headed gods appeared in Egypt after the third dynasty; the
country had a long memory and such a phenomenon would have made some stir in the valley.
The horned god would appear to have persisted, and the immensely high head of the Chinese
contemplative as shown in art and the China images is another stray grain of tradition.
But man goes on making new faculties, or forgetting old ones. That is to say you have
all sorts of aptitudes developed without external change, which in an earlier biological
state would possibly have found carnal expression. You have every exploited
"hyper-aesthesia", i.e. every new form of genius, from the faculty of hearing
four parts in a fugue perfectly, to the ear for money (vide Henry James in The
Ivory Tower, the passages on Mr. Gaw). Here I only amplify what Gourmont has indicated
in Chapter 20. You have the visualizing sense, the "stretch" of imagination, the
mystics–for what there is to them–Santa Theresa who "saw" the microcosmos,
bell, heaven, purgatory complete, "the size of a walnut"; and you have Mr. W., a
wool-broker in London, who suddenly at 3 a.m. visualizes the whole of his letter-file,
three hundred folios; he sees and reads particularly the letter at folder 171, but he sees
simultaneously the entire contents of the file, the whole thing about the size of two
lumps of loaf sugar laid flat side to flat side.
Remains precisely the question: man feeling this protean capacity to grow a new organ:
what organ shall it be? Or new faculty: what faculty?
His first renunciation, flight, he has regained, almost as if the renunciation, so
recent in terms of biology, had been committed in foresight. Instinct conserves only the
"useful" gestures. Air provides little nourishment, and anyhow the first great
pleasure surrendered, the simple ambition to mount the air has been regained and
regratified. Water was never surrendered, man with subaqueous yearnings is stiff, given a
knife, the shark’s vanquisher.
The new faculty? Without then the ostentation of an organ. Will? The hypnotist has
shown the vanity and Blake the inutility of willing trifles, and black magic its futility.
The telepathic faculty? In the first place is it new? Have not travellers always told cock
and bull stories about its existence in savage Africa? Is it not a faculty that man has
given up, if not as useless, at any rate as of a very limited use, a distraction, more
bother than it is worth? Lacking a localizing sense, the savage knowing, if he does, what
happens "somewhere" else, but never knowing quite where. The faculty was perhaps
not worth the damage it does to concentration of mind on some useful subject.
"Instinct preserves the useful gestures."
Take it that what man wants is a capacity for clearer understanding, or for physical
refreshment and vigour, are not these precisely the faculties he is for ever hammering at,
perhaps stupidly? Muscularly he goes slowly, athletic records being constantly worn down
by millimetres and seconds.
I appear to have thrown down bits of my note somewhat at random; let me return to
physiology. People were long ignorant of the circulation of the blood; that known, they
appeared to think the nerves stationary; Gourmont speaks of "circulation
nerveuse", but many people still consider the nerve as at most a telegraph wire,
simply because he does not bleed visibly when cut. The current is "interrupted".
The school books of twenty years ago were rather vague about lymph, and various glands
still baffle physicians. I have not seen the suggestion that some of them may serve rather
as fuses in an electric system, to prevent short circuits, or in some variant or
allotropic form. The spermatozoid is, I take it, regarded as a sort of quintessence; the
brain is also a quintessence, or at least "in rapport with" all parts of the
body; the single spermatozoid demands simply that the ovule shall construct a human being,
the suspended spermatozoid (if my wild shot rings the target bell) is ready to dispense
with, in the literal sense, incarnation, enmeshment. Shall we postulate the mass of
spermatozoids, first accumulated in suspense, then specialized?
Three channels, hell, purgatory, heaven, if one wants to follow yet another
terminology: digestive excretion, incarnation, freedom in the imagination, i.e. cast into
an exterior formlessness, or into form material, or merely imaginative visually or perhaps
musically or perhaps fixed in some other sensuous dimension, even of taste or odour
(there have been perhaps creative cooks and perfumers?).
The dead laborious compilation and comparison of other men’s dead images, all this is
mere labour, not the spermatozoic act of the brain.
Woman, the conservator, the inheritor of past gestures, clever, practical, as Gourmont
says, not inventive, always the best disciple of any inventor, has been always the enemy
of the dead or laborious form of compilation, abstraction.
Not considering the process ended; taking the individual genius as the man in whom the
new access, the new superfluity of spermatozoic pressure (quantitative and qualitative)
upshoots into the brain, alluvial Nile-flood, bringing new crops, new invention. And as
Gourmont says, there is only reasoning where there is initial error, i.e. weakness of the
spurt, wandering search.
In no case can it be a question of mere animal quantity of sperm. You have the man who
wears himself out and weakens his brain, echo of the orang, obviously not the talented
sieve; you have the contrasted case in the type of man who really cannot work until he has
relieved the pressure on his spermatic canals.
This is a question of physiology, it is not a question of morals and sociology. Given
the spermatozoic thought, the two great seas of fecundative matter, the brain lobes,
mutually magnetized, luminous in their own knowledge of their being; whether they may be
expected to seek exterior "luxuria", or whether they are going to repeat
Augustine hymns, is not in my jurisdiction. An exterior paradise might not allure them
"La b?tise humaine est la seule chose qui donne une id?e de l’infini", says
Renan, and Gourmont has quoted him, and all flesh is grass, a superior grass.
It remains that man has for centuries nibbled at this idea of connection, intimate
connection between his sperm and his cerebration, the ascetic has tried to withhold all
his sperm, the lure, the ignis fatuus perhaps, of wanting to super-think; the dope-fiend
has tried opium and every inferior to Bacchus, to get an extra kick out of the organ, the
mystics have sought the gleam in the tavern, Helen of Tyre, priestesses in the temple of
Venus, in Indian temples, stray priestesses in the streets, unuprootable custom, and
probably with a basis of sanity. A sense of balance might show that asceticism means
either a drought or a crowding. The liquid solution must be kept at right consistency; one
would say the due proportion of liquid to viscous particles, a good circulation; the
actual quality of the sieve or separator, counting perhaps most of all; the balance and
Perhaps the clue is in Propertius after all:
Ingenium nobis ipsa puella fecit.
There is the whole of the twelfth century love cult, and Dante’s metaphysics a little
to one side, and Gourmont’s Latin Mystique; and for image-making both Fenollosa on The
Chinese Written Character, and the paragraphs in Le Probl?me du Style. At any
rate the quarrel between cerebralist and viveur and ignorantist ends, if the brain is thus
conceived not as a separate and desiccated organ, but as the very fluid of life itself.
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