Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Pound Encylopedia

I was very pleasantly surprised to receive my copy of The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia (Tryphonopoulos and Adams, eds. [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005]) today.Ezra Pound Encyclopedia cover Pleasantly because I contributed a few entries (on Pound's critical reception 1908-1920 & 1945-1980, on the essay collection Pavannes and Divagations [1958], and on an obscure prose sketch by Eliot called "Eeldrop and Appleplex" [1917]) to the volume and this copy is my reward for those efforts; surprised because this project has been in the works for a long time (I was first invited to contribute in the fall of 1999 and submitted my draft articles in 2001), and I was beginning to wonder if it would ever be published.

In fact, the Encyclopedia and its travails have been on my mind lately, and it occurred to me that such a project really belongs on the web, managed as a wiki or in a similar format. As much as I respect the herculean and often thankless labors of Demetres Tryphonopoulous and Stephen J. Adams in pulling this project together, and as much as I like having a handsome hardbound copy of the book for my shelf, the truth is that as a reference and introduction to Pound scholarship, this book would serve its purpose much better on the web. Like so much scholarly work, the printed book has a very limited audience of potential purchasers: a handful of university libraries and maybe a few individual scholars or enthusiasts (although almost every living Pound scholar—and who else would shell out $125 [list price] for a book like this?—is a contributor and thus got the book gratis like myself). There is a potentially larger reading audience—students, nonspecialist academics, writers, casual readers—but many of these people will never be able to see the book (some may never know it exists) because of its limited distribution and absurdly high pricetag.

And then there is the question of currency. Although Pound is safely dead and much of his life and writings are thoroughly documented, so there should be no significant change in the facts presented, the nature of literary scholarship is to discover new materials, connections, interpretations, etc. A book like this is a (necessarily) static snapshot of the state of Pound scholarship as it exists today (or rather an amalgam of snapshots taken at various points over the last six years). While such a snapshot is better than nothing (and does have a secondary historical value precisely because it is static), it cannot grow or evolve to reflect the growth and evolution of scholarship.

It seems to me that the hundred-odd contributors to this encyclopedia, working together in a wiki-like environment could have produced the content of the book in a fraction of the time it took for it to reach print publication, and an even smaller cohort of editors could review and maintain it. I know wikis pose their own set of logistical and technical problems, but given how suboptimal the current system of glacial publsihing cycles and minimal distribution already is, I don't see how this format could be any worse (and might well be significantly better).