blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

Ezra Pound on Gender

The following is Pound's Introduction to his translation of
Remy de Gourmont's The Natural Philosophy of Love

"Il y aurait peut-être une certain corrélation entre la copulation complète et profonde et le développement cérébral."

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 sap.

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 ovule.

"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 they fall.

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 form-combining?

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 formé 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, resumable tools.

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 it.

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 bêtise humaine est la seule chose qui donne une idée 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 retentive media.

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 Problème 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.

Return to Ezra Pound