Antisemitism

This discussion of Eliot's and Pound's attitudes towards fascism also raises the issue of their anti-Semitism. Pound was virulently anti-Semitic in his poetry, prose, radio broadcasts and personal letters, especially during the 1930s; Eliot's anti-Semitic remarks in his poetry and prose are limited to a smaller number of instances. While the extent of Pound's anti-Semitism is unquestioned, Eliot's continues to be debated. The anti-Semitic lines of 'Gerontion', 'Burbank with a Baedeker', 'Dirge' (a deleted section of The Waste Land) and After Strange Gods, to take the most notorious examples, have long been the subject of discussion, but the debate intensified with the publication of Anthony Julius's thorough and uncompromising T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (1995). Julius argued that the instances of anti-Semitism could not be separated out from Eliot's oeuvre; rather, they were part of an active, creative 'exploitation of anti-Semitic discourse' that was 'an inseparable part of his greater literary undertaking' (1995: 29). In 2003, when the journal Modernism/Modernity published a debate on the topic between seven leading modernist scholars, five of the seven argued that Eliot and his writings were anti-Semitic.

Looking back from our post-Holocaust perspective, we might think this anti-Semitism was a product of, and evidence of, fascist sympathy. In truth, it was largely independent of the fascist influence, but the fact that it was maintained during the period of fascist atrocities against Jews is relevant and deplorable. It is often, rightly, pointed out that anti-Semitism was extremely widespread in the early twentieth century. But this is no excuse, and in any case Eliot's and Pound's anti-Semitism was not in the mode of casual prejudice: it was a structural component in their ideologies. Pound made Jews a scapegoat in his conspiracy theory of history, identifying them with the banking practices he deplored. Eliot's belief in a homogeneous Christian society led him to state in After Strange Gods that 'reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable' (1934: 20). Although after the Second World War, Eliot regretted 'the whole tone' of After Strange Gods and refused to allow it to be reprinted, he did not retract that sentence, nor the pre-war anti-Semitic poems (Ricks 1988: 47). Similarly, though Pound later referred to his anti-Semitism as 'a stupid, suburban prejudice', he made no adequate or public apology (Carpenter 1988: 899).

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