Assigning, Reading, Citing Someone Off Your List of Acceptables

Assigning, Reading, Citing Someone Off Your List of Acceptables March 12, 2019

Bennett Cerf chose not to include poems by Ezra Pound because Pound was a fascist. Some don’t assign now John Howard Yoder or Karl Barth and many others could be mentioned.

What say you? Assign, read, cite or No?

Here’s WH Auden’s response to Bennett Cerf’s decision:

Auden first wrote to Cerf on January 29, 1946, a week after Cerf’s letter appeared in Gannett’s Herald Tribune column:

Dear Bennet[t] Cerf,

It was with surprise and dismay that I heard of the exclusion, at your request, of poems by Ezra Pound from the Modern Library anthology.

I decided not to do or say anything until you had had an opportunity to state your case; now, having read your letter in The Herald Tribune of Jan 22, I feel it my duty to write you this letter.

Let me begin by saying how much I respect you for stating your position so honestly when you could so easily have made it almost impregnable by claiming that the poems in question were fascist in content or in intention, a claim which, however unjust, would be almost impossible to refute in public because of the space such a critical discussion would require. To your honor you have not taken the evasive course but said straight out that your only objection to the poems is that their author is a traitor.

On this issue: “Shall a book be judged by what it contains or by the character of the man that wrote it, or, to use your terms, does a man who has sacrificed any claims to the title of ‘American’ thereby sacrifice any claims to the title of ‘Poet’?”, I have only two points to add to what Mr Gannet[t] and others have already said. Firstly that the question of how good or bad Pound’s poems are is irrelevant (I do not care for them myself particularly); the issue would be the same if some hick newspaper refused, for the same reasons, to print some scribbler they had been in the habit of printing. (Vice versa, of course, if Pound were the greatest poet in the world, it would not entitle him to more lenient penalties for treachery.) Secondly, the issue is far more serious than it appears at first sight; the relation of an author to his work only one out of many, and once you accept the idea that one thing to which a man stands related shares in his guilt, you will presently extend it to others; begin by banning his poems not because you object to them but because you object to him, and you will end, as the nazis did, by slaughtering his wife and children.

As you say, the war is not over. This incident is only one sign—there are other and far graver ones—that there was more truth than one would like to believe in Huey Long’s cynical observation that if fascism came to the United States it would be called Anti-fascism. Needless to say, I am not suggesting that you desire any such thing—but I think your very natural abhorrence of Pound’s conduct has led you to take the first step which, if not protested now, will be followed by others which would horrify you.

Very reluctantly, therefore, I see no alternative for me but to sever my connection with your firm which has done me the, poorly requited, honor of printing my work and from whom I have received unfailing courtesy and kindness.

Yours sincerely,

W.H. Auden

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