Blaser, Robin. The Violets: A Cosmological Reading of a Cosmology. Claremont: Process Studies, pp8-37, Vol. 13, Number 1, Spring 1983
Robin Blaser may be the most credible poet/scholar to comment about Charles Olson’s prime source, Alfred North Whitehead. It is interesting to note that this essay appeared not in a literary journal, but in one on the study of process. This is key, because Blaser, as a working Open Form poet, understands the critical nature of an understanding of Olson is in the process he adapted from Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, among others and articulated in his essay Projective Verse. In fact Blaser boils down Olson’s poetics to two main points, those being stance and ethos. He also recognizes that in the poetry and poetics of the most important poets, Olson included, there is, in Blaser’s words, “a spiritual chase” (8) that is in their arguments, essays and poetry in general, a cosmology and epistemology is being weaved into the work over and over again. He points out that: “Whitehead’s sense of reality as process…stands to correct both materialism and idealism in their command over us” (9). He also shows Whitehead’s forerunners in the process mode of thinking, leading back through Hegel, Lotse, Schelling, Herder and Liebnitz and through his Jesuit friends to Neo-Confucian Li and Chu Hsi, which is understandable. Chinese culture, until the 20th Century, was based very much in an holistic cosmology. It might be said the best of Western culture can be traced back to the three teachings of Chinese culture, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
Extensive examination by Blaser of Olson’s papers, and the notations on Olson’s copies of Whitehead’s books, especially Process and Reality and The Aims of Education allows him to get into the mind of Olson and make sense of how he was able to give Whitehead’s theories the most noble tribute, by way of USE. Blaser is able to help us translate: “a metaphysics back into poetry, there to re-tie us to the real” (24). Violets are a recurring theme in Olson’s poetry, perhaps influenced by William Carlos Williams in Williams’ poem referring to Einstein, and while the natural world remains basically the same as eighty years ago, (Mt. St. Helens may erupt, but twenty years later new life is thriving), the old spiritual forms which “held” the real together for hundreds of years have come loose. Blaser knows Olson’s process poetics, are his cosmology, are sourced in most notably in Whitehead and are a modality for escaping the personal cost of life in a mechanistic, control-oriented culture.
Bram, Shahar. Charles Olson and Alfred North Whitehead: An Essay on Poetry.
Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2004.
I have not seen a better summary of the critical nature of the impact of Whitehead’s philosophy on Olson’s poetics, which are his cosmology. In this well-designed essay, Bram quickly lays out some critical points about what poetry is to Olson:
…poetry is not a poem: the name of an object, a finished aesthetic object, the outcome of a process is negligible. Rather, the poem is poesis; the process of creation and the poem are, at most, two names or two perspectives for contemplating the same activity, the creativity of a human being in the world; (12)
Olson argues that Whitehead “only refines and corrects the most ancient myth-cosmos” and “Olson’s poetic act constitutes a critique of prevailing norms and a proposal for an alternative ethos, which he actualized as a poetics. The poem is an act and a call to act, the building of a new (re-newed) identity for the individual and the community; (12)
“every place, according to Olson, is an opening place, and can serve as a gate inward that can be used to return outward, after further growth. (14); and most importantly:
“Olson does not adopt the scientific worldview and its concepts metaphorically” (15). This last point can’t be understated, and Olson may have been TOO committed to process. Much of The Maximus Poems turns out to be field notes and jottings which, for other poets, would be not more than material for new poems. Olson leaves them all in so his process is completely transparent and Bram concludes his introduction with the notion that The Maximus Poems has “an acute sense of failure in the concluding section of the poem” (17). (In the Blaser essay he says Olson felt he needed another ten years.)
Another place Bram gets to matters rarely discussed by Olson critics, or anyone else, is the notion of the field. Michael McClure told me this is a concept that Olson got from Robert Duncan and Olson does call his Open Form composition process Composition by Field, sort of as a subtitle of Projective Verse. As Bram points out, the concept of field denotes “a dismissal of the traditional perception of space” (20). He used Albert Einstein as his scientific source to relate the importance of this branch of physics from the 1947 book The Evolution of Physics: “A new concept appears in physics, the most important invention since Newton’s time: ‘…the field…it is not the charges, nor the particles but the field of space between the charges and the particles which is essential for the description of physical phenomena’” (20). Newton’s concept of an empty world and matter being similar to billiard balls bouncing off each other misses the pocket with 20th century advances in field theory. Fields became the fundamental variables. This notion, combined with Whitehead’s concept that the universe can be perceived as a single physical system, among other concepts, provided the philosophic grounding for what Olson had intuited with the notion of projection. Applied to poetry, words become more than signifiers, or sound. They are units of energy. They act in relation to other words in the field that is the poem. The energy they emit likely corresponds to the kind of resonance a certain thing may have, it’s own energy, the energy of a forest stream, a freight train, a lover’s kiss. The poem is a dynamic, energetic field and as such a place of enactment and encounter” (23).
The limits of Cartesian thinking have been well documented, though we still live in a very Newtonian/Cartesian culture of competition and domination. The chapter on Descartes to me seemed like beating a dead horse, but this is 30 years after Olson’s death and I have studied this old paradigm and the emerging one extensively. I did find some interesting tidbits in the chapter on Fluency, such as how Whitehead “bestows a new, more “open” content on the concept of causality: the macroscopic process is conditioned by the past, but is open to changes suggested by the present with its new ‘prehensions.’ The subject re-enacts the world and grows with it” (83). This notion may be the most critical one for those who believe that developing a discipline in an Open Form process allows a deepening on one’s consciousness. Bram also points out Olson’s notion, out of Whitehead, that the poem is an organism, and that “we have the ability to create, which is to narrate, which is the ability to bloom” (85) is also critical for the notion of individuation through Olson’s method, or others based on, or similar to, it.
There are many other salient points, but I’ll refer to the last of them under two basic headings. The first is the notion that what ails us did not begin with the apple that fell on Newton and the paradigm we associate with him and Rene Descartes. In Olson’s view the separation of myth and logos, starting with the pre-Socratic philosophers, with the autonomy of thought (intellect) leading away from the concrete, and that of experience in favor of abstraction; the separation of the ontic and epistemic levels (revealed versus concealed; subject versus object); Olson suggests this is when the decisive split happened in Western culture.
The second of these last two notions is called the “Stance.” His stance is USE. To dig for this information and create a process out of a cosmology that rectifies the split in Western culture that Olson suggests goes back to 450 BC. Using the demotic, the concrete, applying it to one’s community (polis) using a process that does not seek to describe, but enact, these are all aspects of the brilliance of Olson’s poetics. Bram lays them all out in terms of their primary source in the cosmology of Whitehead more clearly than has even been done.
Hawkins, David. Power Vs. Force. Sedona: Veritas, 2004.
This is one of the most critical books of our time. While the science in it may be subject to scrutiny, the consciousness model it illustrates can be used as a metaphor with great benefits to the reader. His basic premise is that there is a difference between Power and Force. Power is associated with the whole while Force with the partial. Hawkins says: “On examination we…see that power arises from meaning…it is always associated with that which supports the significance of life itself…(whereas) Force must be justified” Power requires no such justification. (108). As an example of Power he suggests the example of Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent resistance. Compare that with the policies of George W. Bush, especially the justification of the war in Iraq and you can clearly see what Hawkins is getting at. He says Force always creates counterforce.
Central to our thesis, Hawkins likens Force to a movement, whereas Power is a field. Gravity may be understood as a Power in Hawkins definition. Its power moves all objects within its field, but it does not move. To elaborate on the critical nature of meaning, Hawkins says: “Force has transient goals; when those goals are reached there remains the emptiness of meaninglessness. Power, on the other hand, motivates us endlessly” (110). “Victory over others brings us satisfaction, but victory over ourselves brings us joy” (111).
Hawkins understands that the key to the lack of evolution is that society looks to correct effects, instead of causes. (This is at the core of our health care “system.”) And in a passage that strikes me as eerily similar to Olson’s notion of Projective Verse, Hawkins cites the main obstacle to man’s development is the lack of knowledge about the nature of consciousness. He says: “If we look within ourselves at the instant-by-instant processes of our minds, we will soon notice that the mind acts much more rapidly than it would acknowledge. It becomes apparent that the notion that our actions are based on thoughtful decisions is a grand illusion. The decision-making process is a function of consciousness itself; with enormous rapidity, the mind makes choices based on millions of pieces of data and their correlations and projections, far beyond conscious comprehension. This is a global function dominated by the energy patterns which the new science of non-linear dynamics terms attractors” (21). (In Projective Verse, Olson starts with a quote from Edward Dahlberg: “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER” (Olson Collected Prose 240)!
Hawkins’ Map of Consciousness suggests a numerical value for human traits, or emotions, rising from Shame, Guilt, Apathy, Grief, Fear, Desire, Anger, Pride and, at what Hawkins calls the level of “integrity,” Courage. Up from there he cites Neutrality, Willingness, Acceptance, Reason, Love, Joy, Peace and finally Enlightenment. The problem here is the numerical system. He claims to have scientifically tested this through kinesiology (muscle testing) and that this modality can work to measure the fields of anything, including works of Literature, Buildings and other things. This is where Hawkins gets out on shaky ground, in my view, but if one looks at this map as a metaphor, it is extremely useful in terms of understanding how one’s thoughts and actions resonate and how to move up the scale and experience the higher attractor fields of Love, Joy and Peace.
Hill, Steven Fixing Elections Routledge: New York, 2002
A book not central to my thesis, but used as an example of one of the great challenges of American society and the cultural issues behind that, namely our system of elections. This is perhaps the main way the competition/domination paradigm works in our society and is summed up by the notion of Winner Take All, with its operative principles:
“If I win…You lose
If I have representation…you don’t
If I vote for my favorite candidate who has no chance of winning…I’ll help elect my least favorite candidate
If we’re for it…then they’re against it…” (43)
Hill argues for a Proportional Representation system of elections, and understands behind those political divisions are racial and ethnic fears which are driving our political discourse.
Lee, Stephen. Scientific Investigation into Chinese QiGong. San Clemente: China Pathways Institute, 1999.
This book, little more than a pamphlet, seeks to describe the Chinese notion of Qi and the Western scientific data that validates it. He explains that Chinese do not see Qi as a substance: “but rather, as the essence of life, the bridge of consciousness between mind and body, and ‘the eternal now’ in which all activity occurs” (4). This does suggest a field. The most critical passage of the book, in terms of our thesis, refers to the measurement of the magnetic fields of the human heart and brain. This research was done at Syracuse University in 1963 and through the use of a highly sensitive superconducting magnetometer, which he says showed that the magnetic field of the heart was 100 times stronger than that of the brain (12), validating the Olson notion, in my view, that the heart is an integral factor in the power of Projective Verse.
Olson, Charles. Human Universe. (Collected Prose) Berkeley: California Press, 1997.
In this essay, perhaps his most influential after Projective Verse, Olson makes a distinction between the abstraction enabled by language since 450 A.D., or the time of Socrates and the Human Universes of the experience of the human organism and that of his environment. He suggests the distinction is between “language as the act of the instant” as opposed to what he sees as part of the problem with literature and culture in general, and that being “language as the act of thought about the instant” (156). Because of this tendency toward generalizing and abstraction the problems with literature are similar to the other specializations we have in Western culture, exacerbated with Newton and Descartes, that being modes of writing that only incorporate a plane, a part of the whole. Olson says: “It comes out a demonstration, a separating out, an act of classification, and so…it has turned false” (157). Olson believes the language of abstraction has allowed this.
He follows up his assertion from “Projective Verse” by stating form is not isolated from content, suggesting:
“The error of all other metaphysic is descriptive, is the profound error that Heisenberg had the intelligence to admit in his principle that a thing can be measured in its mass only by arbitrarily assuming a stopping of its motion, or in its motion only by neglecting, for the moment of its measuring, its mass. And either way, you are failing to get what you are after – so far as a human being goes, his life. There is only one thing you can do about kinetic, re-enact it. Which is why the man said, he who possesses rhythm possess the universe. And why art is the only twin life has – its only valid metaphysic. And if man is to once more to possess intent in his life, and to take up the responsibility in his life, he has to comprehend his own process as intact, from outside, by way of his skin, in, and by his own powers of conversion, out again” (162).
Olson in this essay, again shows that in Western culture, the advances of 20th century physics and the cosmology of Whitehead are a necessary shift for the culture to embrace to advance beyond the competition/domination model that so cripples the evolution of the species. His studies of Mayan culture are an attempt to illustrate his point and constitute the final three pages of the essay. “Human Universe” is a critical companion to “Projective Verse” which serves as a guide to those seeking an holistic approach to writing and allow the practitioner to take responsibility for his or her own process of evolution.
Olson, Charles. The Maximus Poems. Berkeley: California Press, 1983.
This is Olson’s life work, which must be placed alongside William Carlos William’s epic “Paterson” and Ezra Pound’s “The Cantos” in terms of its significance to North American and world literature. Olson began composing this poem after he established a process for use in creating a poetry with more force (energy) than poetry as it was being written after the abstraction of language (& thought) as discussed above.
In his “Guide to the Maximus Poems,” George Butterick suggests this is more than a poem that includes history, that the form of “The Maximus Poems” is the act of history. In this act of history, Olson reveals his cosmology as his poetics. In the process view of reality, it is the act of writing as an enactment and not a description, as he says in the essay “Human Universe.” What he creates with “The Maximus Poems” is a stance toward reality that values community, or in his words the “Polis,” over profits, and the redemption of pejorocracy or a worsening of government rule aided by a popular or commercial culture that deadens the senses:
By ear, he sd.
But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last,
that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen
when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?
when even our bird, my roofs,
cannot be heard
when even you, when sound itself, is neoned in? (6)
Olson tries to make his point against pejorocracy by invoking the Greek goddess of victory known as Nike, but ironically, the advertisements by the gym shoe manufacturer of the same name at once lessen the impact of his point, and prove it. Central to my line of inquiry, is the poem:
…..tell you? ha! who
can tell another how
to manage the swimming?
he was right: people
don’t change. They only stand more
This is central because for Olson, the writing of the poem is the process that reveals one’s true self, that helps to build a soul, but one has to be open to the non-linear and learn how to trust the sound of the poem as it is sung in one’s head. It is a task that takes tremendous courage, perhaps more than Olson had himself by the end of his life. It is a process antithetical to a dominant culture in which even most poets define themselves with a product mentality: publications, awards, etc. and the situation has only intensified and gained tremendous velocity since Olson died in 1970.
In another strong poem Olson again restates his theme of getting beyond the cosmology of competition:
Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]
I come back to the geography of it,
the land falling off to the left
where my father shot his scabby golf
and the rest of us played baseball
into the summer darkness until no flies
could be seen and we came home
to our various piazzas where the women
To the left the land fell to the city,
to the right it fell to the sea
I was so young my first memory
is of a tent spread to feed lobsters
to Rexall conventioneers, and my father,
a man for kicks, came out of the tent roaring
with a bread-knife in his teeth to take care of
a druggist they’d told him had made a pass at
my mother, she laughing, so sure, as round
as her face, Hines pink and apple
under one of those frame hats women then
This, is no bare incoming
of novel abstract form, this
is no welter or the forms
of those events, this,
Greeks, is the stopping
of the battle
It is the imposing
of all those antecedent predecessions, the precessions
of me, the generation of those facts
which are my words, it is coming
from all that I no longer am, yet am,
the slow westward motion of
more than I am
There is no strict personal order
for my inheritance.
No Greek will be able
to discriminate my body.
is a complex of occasions,
themselves a geometry
of spatial nature.
I have this sense,
that I am one
with my skin
Plus this – plus this:
that forever the geography
which leans in
on me I compel
backwards I compel Gloucester
to yield, to
A strong emotional current comes up near the end of the poem, which also happened to be near the end of Olson’s life. In an untitled poem, the daily disappearance of the sun inspires:
right in my eye
4 PM December 2nd arrived
at my kitchen
at me full in the
the hill it sets
in its burst of late
heat right on me
and as orange and hot
as sun at noonday practically
can be. Only this one
is straight at me like a
beam shot to hit me
It feels like
on me giving me its
message that it is sliding
under the hill and
that I better
hear it say
be hot man
be hot and orange
like I am
this message as
I slip exactly to
West I am burning you man
as I leave I’m even stronger
now just as I
go I am already
cooled that much but still
I turn on you
as I start to
go. But still
hot and red now blaring
on the slope of my disappearance
Now I begin to
go hear me I
have sent you
the message I am
And the emotion in a poem, with too complicated a format to recreate here, chronicles a part of his history and love for his father. (495)
Olson was so committed to his process that many poems are nothing more than notes, or jottings, which for the typical poet would amount to materials that might end up in a poem. It is ALL in “The Maximus Poems,” including Whiteheadian cosmology, Algonquin Indian myths retold and other mythology, but to what effect? In a work cited earlier, Robin Blaser suggests that “The Maximus Poems” was unfinished, with Olson needing an extra ten years to do it justice. Of course, one would suggest an Open Form poem is never complete, only stopped when the author dies. The end of the poem gives us a clue as to what the end was like for Olson:
my wife my car my color and myself
which suggests Olson did not reach the humility he suggested in Projective Verse was necessary to make one of use. He, at the end, was focused on that which he had lost, not what he had gained. If he did indeed “sacrifice every thing, including sex and woman / – or lost them –to this attempt to acquire complete / concentration” (473) then he may have still been based in a Newtonian/Cartesian notion of limitation and not in the paradigm of process and abundance which, ironically, his work continues to foster. But he did sense the direction in which we, as a culture, need(ed) to aim, and the notions of process, polis and ‘istorin – finding out for one’s self – are powerful literary and soul-building tools sharpened by the man who ushered in the post-modern era in literature and used to their best advantage yet in this epic poem.
Olson, Charles. The Special View of History. Berkeley: Oyez, 1970.
This is the second part of the philosophical one-two punch that Olson began with his seminal essay Projective Verse. In that essay he made note of a “stance toward reality” which brings such verse into being. In this document he expands on what that stance is, developed at Black Mountain College where the bulk of his most important thinking was apparently done.
He has two epigraphs to set the tone, one from Heraclitus: “Man is estranged from that which is most familiar” and the Keats quote on Negative Capability: “that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…” (14) He likens Negative Capability to the Einstein’s notion of Relativity and suggests it is a stance in opposition to Power. That power would seem to me to be similar to what David Hawkins calls Force, which stems from the Newtonian/ Cartesian need to control or dominate.
Olson suggests: “…history is the function of any one of us” (17) and is a tool for use, that it not have us “by the throat” as he reminds us Mussolini said when the Allied troops landed at Anzio in World War II. He also cites Herotodus as using history as a verb and translating that as meaning: “To find out for yourself” (26).
Olson does go on a bit about how: “…life is the chance success of a play of creative accidents. It is the principle of randomness seen in its essential application, not in any serial order imposed at random on either chance or accident…but in the factual observation of how creation does occur: by the success of its own accident” (48). The advances in Field Theory, as I have cited before through Sheldrake and Hawkins, suggest that fields attract like energies, so that it is not the random at play, but attractor fields, though they may seem random at first blush.
Olson uses Whitehead’s concept of prehension, both negative and positive, along with Einstein’s use of coincidence and proximity to explain, somewhat torturously that man’s order are “no longer separable from either those of nature, or of God. The organic is one, purpose is seen to be contingent, not primordial: it follows from the chance success of the play of creative accident “ (or of attractor fields) “it does not precede them. The motive, then, of reality, is process, not goal” (49). (My emphasis.)
There is one other passage which I find quite clear and fascinating: “The tenses… of the mythological are never past, but present and future…” (22).
Summarized, Olson’s Special View of History suggests history is not something you’re stuck with, but something you can, and must, use to find out for yourself who you are and how you fit in to whatever tradition/lineage/calling you’re summoned to, and how you act with that knowledge.
Paul, Sherman. Olson’s Push. Baton Rouge; LSU Press, 1978.
In this excellent introduction to Olson’s work, Paul examines Olson’s relations to elder poets, especially Pound, Eliot and Williams and also demonstrates a keen knowledge of some of the components of Olson’s stance which make it so visionary. The first I find worth commenting on is the notion of the nexus of history, process and feedback. Paul says Olson wishes:
…not to transcend history…but enter it and use it. This is possible because history for him is not “accumulation, but change.”
History is not simple addition, the merely linear causality assumed by those who read its course as inevitable decline and accordingly prefer the past to the present, a view Pound expresses in Hugh Selwyn Mauberly:
All things are a flowing,
sage Heracleitus says;
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall outlast our days.
On the contrary, since history is process it course is never single, never inevitable, never foreclosed. Process opens possibility, and history is always prospective, never limited by origin, which, in any case, may be recovered…spatially, in the fullness of time. This is what feed-back proves and why Olson considers it “the law” of history…feedback…is a means of correction, the use of knowledge of past events to foster change in an ongoing process… (22/3).
Here Paul demonstrates why Pound is Modern and Olson Post-Modern. Olson grasped the advances in quantum physics and the cosmology that were sympathetic to those findings to move beyond where Pound was even while utilizing the best of Pound’s advances in poetics.
Paul also extends the interesting last point we made about Olson’s Special View of History above, that being the present. Olson’s notion of the present, Paul suggests: “…is the present world, the actual familiar world of things from which…we have long been estranged; it is also presence. The present is a “human universe,” the possibility opened again by modern science…and confirmed for him …by extant ways of the Mayas” (33).
On Projective Verse, Paul again shows a deep understanding of its merits: “Projective Verse is not only a poetics of presentation, but a poetics of present experience, of enactment. It replaces spectatorism with participation, and brings the whole self – the single intelligence: body, mind, soul – to the activity of creation. Dance …is a correlative of this poetics; and so are action painting and jazz, which poets at this time turned to because they offered the instruction they wanted. “There was no poetic,’ Olson says of this time. ‘It was Charlie Parker.’ Charlie Parker reminds us that Olson, more than any of his predecessors stresses breath” (39).
Of Whitehead, which there is much of use in this work, Paul reminds us that an: “…actual entity…becomes itself by prehending other objects” (126) among other notions. Paul knows, as Olson does, that the key to survival of the species is an open, matriarchal, consciousness, beyond dominism and the restraints of the Newtonian/Cartesian paradigm. With that Paul, quoting Olson, says in the epilogue: “’man is either going to rediscover the earth, or leave it’” (253).
Ray, Paul, Anderson, Sherry. The Cultural Creatives. Harmony: New York, 2000.
Based on research done for corporations to better market products, this book is an incredible resource for people who feel alienated by dominant culture values and don’t feel as if their own values are shared by other people. These people are one of the three subcultures Ray and Anderson began to recognize after 13 years of market research on the values of American consumers. The three subcultures are: “Traditionals,” which is described as a group of people who tend to lean backward with their worldview and live in reaction to the Modern, secular worldview; the “Moderns,” a group with a life stance of Standing Pat with the status quo; and the “Cultural Creatives,” or the planet’s new counterculture, with a life stance of leaning forward and using feedback to go beyond the worldview of the Moderns. They suggest the birth of this new subculture happened about the time of the founding of Esalen, an educational center for the exploration of human potential founded in California in 1962. The authors believe that once “Cultural Creatives” recognize how many people share their world view, which I would suggest is holistic and organismic, then powerful change through market forces and the systems it effects, will be possible.
Saffo, David. Charles Olson, Martin Heidegger, and Ontic Immediacy: a Phenomenological Interpretation of poem-in-the-world. Hangman #4 https://www.ovf.com/ha/h-ngm-n/429.htm
Saffo uses Martin Heidigger’s notion of Da-Sein (there-being) as the mind and the object (or situation) as a unified phenomenon and that the poetics of Charles Olson parallel Heidegger’s theory of “a unitary phenomenology” (1). Quoting from Olson’s essays: “Human Universe,” “The Special View of History,” and “Projective Verse,” the last of which demonstrates his great understanding of the key to Olson’s poetics. He suggests: “one way Olson finds to guard against the habit of descriptive discourse is to mimic the body’s biological process of rapid apperception” and goes on to say: “Thus his poetic discourages interference from the ego-subject of the poem, and stresses reliance on the object’s (or situation’s) existence. A ‘being-in-the-world’ interacting with an object may enact the experience with a ‘poem-in-the-world.’” Thus changing the poetics of an individual also changes the individual’s philosophical stance toward reality as well. Olson places importance on the actual object and not the individual’s description of it.
I have not yet seen a better understanding of why Olson’s poetics work so well to allow content to change in the projective act, deepening the practitioner’s experience of being, which Saffo calls: “Ontic Immediacy,” “which stresses the role of the body’s senses—always already measuring the degree and duration of each stimulus—as the foundation of the being’s intellectual and emotional present.”
Upledger, John. Cell Talk. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2003.
In many ways this is a delightful book, especially the anecdotes, but in other ways a book too difficult to read for someone without extensive knowledge of physical human systems. Upledger is best known for the creation of a system of healing known as “Cranio Sacral Therapy,” which uses light touch to first connect with and then manipulate spinal fluids to aid a homeostatic process of healing by releasing emotional traumas. I especially resonated with the authors’ concepts regarding the experiential nature of consciousness and the inability to use Newtonian science to prove the nature of consciousness.
von Hallberg, Robert. Charles Olson: The Scholar’s Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.
This work focuses primarily on the poetic theories of Charles Olson, done by a writer who recognizes the critical nature of Olson’s contribution in that area of North American literature. von Hallberg recognizes that Olson’s placed emphasis not only on the content of his poetry, but also the way language “under the control of a system with its own dynamics – shapes the subject matter” (22). Again we are reminded of how Olson said in “Projective Verse” how the content does change in this system of poem-making. von Hallberg also recognizes the participatory nature of Olson’s poetics in which the poem is not something one reflects on as much as engages with, inviting response and how Olson veils statements made in his work and that this: “apparent obscurity demands participation” (32).
The main facet of Olson’s connection to Whitehead and Heraclitus is in his belief, confirmed by these philosophers: “…that reality is an unceasing process which undermines all static achievements. Hence, all preconceived forms…all closure, is unfaithful to reality. Olson engaged this mater in moral terms: in order to fulfill its moral obligation, art must commit itself – no matter the painful uncertainty – to process, to open form.” And von Hallberg recognizes this commitment to the unknown: “..encourages repetition, parenthesis, and apposition. Because nothing can be stated exactly and finally, one must try to say something once, be dissatisfied at the incompleteness of expression, try to say it again more completely, be again dissatisfied, and so on, in theory at least, ad infinitum” or until death ends the process (72). With that in mind, von Hallberg understands that The Maximus Poems are not “the result” of Olson’s labors, “they are his labors” (73).
In von Hallberg’s section focusing specifically on Whitehead’s philosophy and how it influenced Olson, we get this key bit:
Each actual entity is, in Whitehead’s system, a process, first a process of becoming itself and then of becoming every other actual entity. According to his interpretation of the theory of relativity, no two actual entities are unrelated; each actual entity ‘feels’ every other actual entity. His term for this ‘feeling’ is prehension. One actual entity can prehend another positively or negatively: if positively, one actual entity transmits itself – and thereby extends its life – to another; if negatively, Whitehead would say that one actual entity ‘decides’ not to feel the other actual entity, not to form itself out of the energy of the other. The peak of the process of concrescence – the point at which the actual entity has become itself but has not yet dissolved into other actual entities – he terms “satisfaction” (86)
In this quote we see part the source for “Projective Verse.” I am thinking about the line: “But if he stays inside himself and is contained within his nature as he as participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share” (Olson Collected Prose 247, emphasis mine). What is omitted from the content? Those things which are eliminated are done so, in Whitehead parlance, through negative prehension, which can be described as intelligence. Does this mean that the evil is left out of the poem? No, but I think the manner in which it is handled. Does the evil consume one, our allow the practitioner to fall into the trap of being governed by what disturbs him? I think the projective act takes us to deeper levels of understanding, or meaning, of being.
Further along with von Hallberg and again in the realm of Whitehead we see the further definition of reality, which Olson understood and incorporated into his concept of poem-making and of being: “Action and motion, in Whitehead’s philosophy, supplant the Aristotelian concept of matter as substance; in Whitehead’s system there is no such animal as a thing…” Whitehead and quantum physics, conceive of a thing itself as what it does and von Hallberg suggests: “At the center of the object, therefore, is no nucleus of tangibility, but instead a system of relationships” (96). The notion that inside an atom is a lot of space has been confirmed by quantum physics, and thousands of years before by Taoists. von Hallberg also points out Whitehead’s notion, endorsed by Olson, of concrescence, in which the past is alive in the present, but the present is not a dilution of the past: “…because the process of concrescence includes an element of novelty that can make for progress” (103). Also in this section von Hallberg points out the difference in worldview between T.S. Eliot and his source in Spengler and Whitehead (Olson’s chief philosophical source) which is quite relevant to our mode of inquiry, seeing that Eliot’s view is bleak, while Olson’s is more hopeful, but the Olson poem “The Kingfishers” states Olson’s take on that better than I can here.
There is so much to comment on, because von Hallberg’s scholarship combined with his understanding of Olson’s contribution, is remarkable. He even understands that, though Olson in “Projective Verse” speaks of “humilitas,” “…he is humble only when he takes the part of the documenter” (198).