From: - Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine on behalf of Stephan Chodorov
Subject: in search of "paideuma"
It has never been clear to me what Ezra Pound means by "paideuma" -- a word
he received from the anthropologist Leo Frobenius in the 1920s. Pound's
own definition is intriguing but obscure, yet the concept is obviously
important to him. Embedded in the Wikipedia entry on Frobenius is this:
With his term paideuma, Frobenius wanted to describe a gestalt, a manner of
creating meaning (Sinnstiftung), that was typical of certain economic
structures. Thus, the Frankfurt cultural morphologists tried to reconstruct
"the" world-view of hunters, early planters, and megalith-builders or sacred
kings. This concept of culture as a living organism was influenced by the
theories of Oswald Spengler.
I recently came upon an out of the way essay on Frobenius. Herewith some
excerpts. These are drawn from Leo Frobenius: The Demonic Child. a
monograph by Janheinz Jahn. It appeared first in German in Internationales Afrika
Forum. 9. (1973), 524-36. and the next year in English as a publication of the
African and Afro-American Studies and Research Center of the University of
Texas at Austin.
Jahn (1918 - 1973) wrote extensively on African culture and literature, and
translated many African, Caribbean and Afro-American works into German.
Leo Frobenius: The Demonic Child is a sensitive appreciation (despite its
title); it was his last work. It was translated into English by Reinhard Sander.
The footnotes indicate that the quotations are from several different
(Frobenius (1873 - 1938) explored Africa starting in 1904, and wrote many
papers and books on his journeys and findings up to shortly before his
The monograph quoted here includes a map showing his many routes.)
(from p.13 - 14)
Cultures are to him living organisms. "Culture lives and dies, arises anew
and travels through cultural spaces on its own terms, as if man were not
there. Who indeed is only the tool for its formation.." "Cultures live, give
birth, and die." But Frobenius goes further than Oswald Spengler, the
author of The Decline of the West; he sees something behind culture: the essence
of culture. This essence in its turn has a soul: the paideuma.
Scientifically, such things can neither be understood nor proven; one can only feel one'
s way into them: "Cultural thinking must be led by the desire for a feeling
of unity." Hence his works do not set out to be scientific and are "in no
way an account of specific cultures; they are rather meant as an attempt to
make the reader live and feel himself into the soul, into the paideuma of
the essence of culture."
This paideuma defies not only human understanding, but also human taming.
It is like fate, if not fate itself. It creates structures as it wants to
and carries out "pendular movements.." Some time in the remote past, the
pendulum had swung from West to East, and now it was swinging the other way..
In the Pacific it created a "highly mythological culture," then on the
Asian continent a "highly religious one." Then in Central Europe a "highly
philosophical one." And finally, in Western Europe a "materialistic culture."
In the Eastern Mediterranean it (the soul of culture) culminated in the
liberal arts -- among which one should also include Greek philosophy. In Rome
it expressed itself through a social organization, and in England through
the the psychology of world economics.
(Does this get us any closer to the meaning of "paideuma" ?)