It should not be necessary to argue at any length that the slogan “Make It New” is the most durably useful of all modernist expressions of the value of novelty. In certain accounts, such as Gay’s Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, these three words are assumed to sum up most of what modernism stands for: “In short, modernists considered Ezra Pound’s famous injunction, ‘Make It New!,’ a professional, almost a sacred obligation.” Scholars as eminent and yet as utterly different from one another as Richard Rorty, Frank Lentricchia, Jackson Lears, Fredric Jameson, and David Damrosch have used this phrase to make various points about modern life, art, or literature. Some of these citations are vague and atmospheric, even anonymous, as the slogan is often used without specific reference to Pound. But this is perhaps an additional tribute to his influence, as the slogan has become so ubiquitous as to have lost its trademark status, like Kleenex or the Xerox copy. The actual genealogy of the phrase “Make It New” has been established by Pound scholars and is well known to those among them who specialize in Pound’s relation to China, but it is so often misdated and for that matter misquoted (tagged with a spurious exclamation mark) that its genesis is worth recounting in some detail. The crucial fact to begin with is that the phrase is not originally Pound’s at all.
more from Michael North at Guernica here.