Art as experience: a Deweyan background to Charles Olson's esthetics.
One of the major modern philosophers whom Olson can fruitfully meet in dialogue is the pragmatist John Dewey (1859-1952). Although there is no mention of Dewey in Olson's published work, in the sources for his work identified by Butterick and Maud, or in the critical literature (aside from one significant contribution by fellow poet Robert Duncan, discussed below), Dewey was, during the Great Depression when Olson was in his twenties and acquiring his intellectual proclivities, a towering figure in American philosophy and education and one of the most prominent left--leaning intellectuals. For a young man whose political, pedagogical, and esthetic interests had a populist and pragmatist flavor, exposure to Dewey would have been unavoidable. In early 1931, at the same time as the appearance of the "Objectivists" issue of Poetry (edited by Louis Zukofsky), Dewey gave the William James Lectures at Harvard (published in 1934 as Art as Experience), formulating a full-fledged pragmatist esthetics that is in many ways consonant with Objectivist poetics. (5) Olson did not attend Dewey's lectures nor did he read at the time the issue of Poetry that launched the Objectivist movement, but his debt to Objectivism has been long established. Likewise, his explicit reliance on Alfred North Whitehead's 1929 Process and Reality has received ample treatment. (6) In order to assess fully what Olson took from the poetry and theory of this period, one would need to supplement Zukofsky's poetics and Whitehead's processoriented philosophy with Dewey's esthetics. In addition, an understanding of Dewey is imperative for gauging Olson's crucial role as final rector of Black Mountain College, an institution modeled specifically on Deweyan principles of education.
Most basically, though, Dewey can be seen as the signal pragmatist precursor for Olson's attempts to unite art and experience in a more holistic model of culture than the hierarchical and alienated one that prevailed after World War II. Like Dewey, Olson emphasized the importance of direct experience over received knowledge; valued the rough, unpolished quality of vernacular creation over the normative esthetics of cultural institutions; believed in the pedagogical effectiveness of both experience and art; and saw artistic form as arising out of fully engaged experience. The essay that follows explores in particular three topics that bring Olson and Dewey into dialogue: 1) the gains to be made by including Art as Experience within the Objectivist background out of which Olson's poetry and poetics arose; 2) the meanings that these (and other) thinkers give to the concept of "experience" and how its loss and attempted recapture governs their work; and 3) their shared conviction that experience can only be reclaimed through a new attention to the senses, which belief has influenced not only a number of poets who came after Olson but also the entire movement of performance art.
The main purpose of Art as Experience is to break through the social barriers that keep art confined to the elite spaces of the museum and the concert hall. Dewey proposes to bring art back into the purview of vernacular culture by restoring "continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience." (7) Decrying the tendency to put art on a pedestal, he argues that it can only be understood if we "begin with it in the raw," (8) that is, if we see what captures the attention of ordinary people. In the early 1930s attention was solicited by "the fire-engine rushing by; the machines excavating enormous holes in the earth; the human-fly climbing the steeple-side; the men perched high in air on girders, throwing and catching red-hot bolts." (9) To ascertain the "sources of art in human experience," Dewey counsels, one must notice not only these sensational events but also
how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowds; ... the delight of the housewife in tending her plants, and the intent interest of her goodman in tending the patch of green in front of the house; the zest of the spectator in poking the wood burning on the hearth and watching the darting flames and crumbling coals. (10)
This description of early-twentieth-century experience sounds like a precis of the subject matter of poems written around this time by the Objectivist poets William Carlos Williams, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Lorine Niedecker, and Zukofsky. Williams, for instance, catches the urban drama of "the fire-engine rushing by" in "The Great Figure":
Among the rain and lights I saw the figure 5 in gold on a red firetruck moving tense unheeded to gong clangs siren howls and wheels rumbling through the dark city. (11)
The poem, which provoked a famous painting by Charles Demuth (I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold ), places the reader inside the loud, brilliant, wet urban scene and offers a series of adjectives--"moving," "tense," "unheeded"--that describe simultaneously the motion of the fire truck rounding the corner and the viewer's emotional experience of the spectacle. Another poem, "At the Ball Game," begins with a similar insight to Dewey's regarding the intimate relationship between the ballplayer's grace and the mood of the crowd. Williams too insists that the esthetic can be found "in the raw":
The crowd at the ball game is moved uniformly by a spirit of uselessness which delights them-- all the exciting detail of the chase and the escape, the error the flash of genius all to no end save beauty the eternal--.... (12)
Dewey also shares in an Objectivist esthetics with his notion that form occurs, both in nature and in art, not through the application of a template to a waiting substance but instead when active forces achieve a balance. Observes Dewey, "There is in nature ... something more than mere flux and change. Form is arrived at whenever a stable, even though moving, equilibrium is reached." (13) In art as in nature, "Order is not imposed from without but is made out of the relations of harmonious interactions that energies bear to one another." Form is achieved, Dewey insists, by the successful incorporation of resistance and tension into a capacious whole. In this sense, the artist "does not shun moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total." (14) By a concerted "overcoming of factors of opposition and conflict," (15) nature, and likewise the artist, can create what Zukfosky calls "an object." (16) He labels such a creation "objectification" and says that it occurs when all of the tensions within a work of art are resolved into a "rested totality": "This rested totality may be called objectification--the apprehension satisfied completely as to the appearance of the art form as an object." (17) This notion of form as a resolution of tensions plays a major role in the esthetics of both Dewey and Zukofsky. Olson picks up the conviction that meaningful form arises only within what he and Williams call a "field" of active forces, but Olson is less concerned than the others with reaching equilibrium. (18) His notion of the projective, encapsulated in Robert Creeley's maxim, "FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT," (19) favors a form that seeks to harmonize the interaction of energies but does not necessarily achieve a "rested totality.
II: The general belief that experience shapes form, which Olson shares with Dewey and Zukofsky, derives from two historical points of conjunction. The first is the tradition of organic form that comes to prominence initially in the American Renaissance. For this tradition, encapsulated in aphorisms like Emerson's "Ask the fact for the form" and Louis Sullivan's "Form follows function," artistic form proceeds not from a premeditated model but from the exigencies of the work's creation. In his 1956 "Notes on Poetics Regarding Olson's Maximus," written when he joined Olson at Black Mountain College, Robert Duncan aligns Olson's epic The Maximus Poems with this tradition, maintaining that it participates in an American poetic lineage whose "striding syllables show an aesthetic based on energies." (20) Duncan's first example of this organic esthetic comes from the opening lines of Emerson's "Hamatreya":
Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint, Possessed the land which rendered to their toil Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood. (21)
After citing this heavily accented paean to labor, Duncan turns to Dewey, noting, "Art as Experience points to the difference 'between the art product (statue, painting or whatever), and the work of art'." (22) Duncan illustrates this conception of art as work or energy through another citation from Art as Experience: "'Order, rhythm and balance simply means that energies significant for experience are acting at their best'." (23) This description of form as energy in circuit bears a remarkable similarity to Olson's delineation in "Projective Verse" (1950) of the way that experiential energy operates in an "open field" poem: "A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader." (24)
Duncan adduces Emerson and Dewey as Olson's precursors, he explains, "to show that in American philosophy there are foreshadowings or forelightings of Maximus. In this aesthetic, conception cannot be abstracted from doing; beauty is related to the beauty of the archer hitting the mark." (25) Like Dewey, Duncan insists that experience as it informs art is active and not passive and that it strives toward accuracy and functionality. (26) Conceived of in this energetic way, experience, Duncan feels, is the hallmark of American esthetics. Claiming in Poundian terms that the United States has its own arete or special virtue, Duncan locates a signal instance of it in The Maximus Poems, where, as in other representative American works, art finds "its source in the act, the intellect actually manifest as energy, as presence in doing." (27) By including Olson in the philosophical purview of Emerson, Duncan places him within a functionalist esthetic in which experience takes on the foundational weight that would be borne by tradition in European culture.
In addition to the American pragmatist tradition invoked by Duncan, the second historical connection that Dewey and Olson share is their participation in the modern revaluation of experience. There is a new emphasis on experience in the modern world that begins, as with many social perceptions, in the recognition that something heretofore taken for granted has been lost. As Martin Jay notes in Songs of Experience, his magisterial history of the vicissitudes of the concept of experience during the past four hundred years, experience "is a signifier that unleashes remarkable emotion in many who put special emphasis on it in their thought." (28) In his 1936 essay "The Storyteller," Walter Benjamin laments famously that experience, as the currency of human culture that is transmissible from one generation to another, has "fallen in value. And it looks as if it is continuing to fall into bottomlessness." (29) He ascribes this precipitous decline in the value of experience to World War I, from which "men returned from the battlefield grown silent--not richer, but poorer in communicable experience":
For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechanical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse--drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body. (30)
If the forces set in motion by World War I drastically devalued experience, it suffered a second, even deeper plunge into bottomlessness during the next war. With the harnessing of industrial might for systematic destruction in the Holocaust, the Dresden firebombing, and the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nations that fought World War II literally atomized human experience. The mute condition in which people returned from that war persisted throughout their lives; this wounded silence has never stopped spreading, so that post-traumatic stress disorder envelops the planet as perpetual smog. Olson wrote about the damage sustained by human experience shortly after the war in early works like the poem "La Preface" (written 1946) and the essay "The Resistance" (1953). In "La Preface" he records the "writing on the wall" in a concentration camp as though it were the markings discovered incised in a Paleolithic cave:
"I will die about April 1st ..." going off "I weigh, I think, 80 lbs ..." scratch "My name is NO RACE" address Buchenwald new Altamira cave With a nail they drew the object of the hunt. (31)
In "The Resistance," named of course after the anti-fascist insurgencies in European countries, he describes the atomization accomplished by the war and proposes that the human body has become the only remaining locus of resistance to mechanized annihilation: (32)
When man is reduced to so much fat for soap, superphosphate for soil, fillings and shoes for sale, he has, to begin again, one answer, one point of resistance only to such fragmentation, one organized ground, a ground he comes to by a way the precise contrary of the cross, of spirit in the old sense, in old mouths. It is his own physiology he is forced to arrive at. (33)
Like Benjamin, Olson notices that the only thing that remains after the demolition of experience caused by modern warfare is "the tiny, fragile human body." If there is any chance for experience to emerge again as a cultural force, he asserts, the immitigably vulnerable atom of the human body will be its basis--an atom that must build up social molecules with painstaking care because it has become unmoored from the hapless detritus of culture that surrounds it. (34)
This emphasis on the body as the last remaining "ground" capable of generating experience results in Olson's advocacy of the sense organs as primary sites of knowledge production. In "Projective Verse" he commands, "ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION," (35) insisting on the acuity of sense perception over ratiocination. In "Human Universe," he makes clear how the senses generate experience, art, and action:
[T]he proposition here is that man at his peril breaks the full circuit of object, image, action at any point. The meeting edge of man and the world is also his cutting edge. If man is active, it is exactly here where experience comes in that it is delivered back, and if he stays fresh at the coming in he will be fresh at his going out. (36)
And in "Proprioception" Olson argues that our internal perception of organs and muscles ("SENSIBILITY WITHIN THE ORGANISM / BY MOVEMENT OF ITS OWN TISSUES") (37) joins with sense perception to encompass our entire, embodied psyche. In this way, he again joins Dewey by insisting that experience is not subjective but rather involves active participation in the world. "Instead of signifying being shut up within one's own private feelings and sensations," Dewey announces, experience "signifies active and alert commerce with the world; at its height it signifies complete interpenetration of self and the world of objects and events." (38) This is precisely the "stance" toward reality that Olson advocates in "Projective Verse," in which the self must stand with, not aloof from, objects and events. To this end, he advises "getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the 'subject' and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature (with certain instructions to carry out) and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects." (39)
III: In "Human Universe," Olson attributes the ability to maintain sensory alertness and to view the self as interpenetrated by objects and events to the Mayans whom he meets on a research expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula and whose glyphic writing he values so highly. "[T]he hieroglyphs of the Maya disclose a placement of themselves toward nature of enormous contradiction to ourselves," (40) Olson asserts. The Mayans were able to keep "attention so poised" that "they invented a system of written record ... which, on its very face, is verse, the signs were so clearly and densely chosen that, cut in stone, they retain the power of the objects of which they are the images." (41) Because of this focused attention, the present day Mayans, Olson finds, "still carry their bodies with some of the savor and the flavor that the bodies of Americans are as missing in as is their irrigated lettuce and their green-picked refrigerator-ripened fruit." Dewey too (with a similar temptation toward primitivism) proposes that in tribal people experience retains its luster; this can make them models for the sensory acumen that leads to action and art:
the savage ... is as active through his whole being when he looks and listens as when he stalks his quarry or stealthily retreats from a foe. His senses are sentinels of immediate thought and outposts of action, and not, as they so often are with us, mere pathways along which material is gathered to be stored away for a delayed and remote possibility. (42)
From Dewey's perspective, there is neither art nor experience without maximum sensory involvement. Olson and Dewey agree on the need for a repudiation of categorical thinking and technical manipulation and for a compensatory return to the senses, so that "that with which [we are] most familiar," in Olson's terms, can become the basis for a new civilization in which experience occupies a central place. (43) "There is no limit," Dewey avows, "to the capacity of immediate sensuous experience to absorb into itself meanings and values that in and of themselves--that is in the abstract--would be designated 'ideal' and 'spiritual'." (44) And in an Emersonian aphorism, he reiterates the infinitely absorptive quality of the senses: "Nothing that a man has ever reached by the highest flight of thought or penetrated by any probing insight is inherently such that it may not become the heart and core of sense."
Although Dewey merely hints in Art as Experience at the process by which "immediate sensuous experience" can "absorb into itself meanings and values" that have been cordoned off as "ideal" or "spiritual," Olson directly contrasts bodily experience with the bankrupt intellectual and spiritual life of Western culture. In "The Resistance," he counterposes the human body as the "answer, ... intact and fought for, the absolute of his organism in its simplest terms, ... this house where his life is," to what he calls "the fraud" of religion: "This organism now our citadel never was cathedral, draughty tenement of soul." (45) Olson makes reinhabiting the body as the "house where [human] life is" a fundamental task, demonstrating in his poetry, letters, and essays how direct perception can open up the most far-reaching mental recognitions. When the ideal and spiritual are conceived as transcending the body, they veil the perspicuity needed to encompass the entire range of possible experience. In "Human Universe" Olson complains, "we do not find ways to hew to experience as it is" (46); we should not, he asserts, "be led to partition reality at any point, in any way"--that is, to separate what we think we know from what we experience. The demand to "hew to experience" is a stringent one because it disallows any knowledge not tested by individual investigation. The impact of this rigorous mandate upon the New American Poetry of the 1950s and 1960s was extensive. It put Olson at the heart of a radically new pedagogy, just as Dewey had been at the turn of the century.
The effects of Olson's pedagogy can be seen immediately in the North American poets who began publishing in the 1960s and 1970s. Poets such as Jerome Rothenberg, David Antin, Clayton Eshleman, and Susan Howe, for instance, have imbibed Olson's precept and example, hewing to experience as a testing ground for original research into the most recondite cultural material. Following in his footsteps, these poets have extended the reach of their investigations into time and space far outside the American present. Rothenberg's reinvigoration of Jewish, avant-garde, and tribal methodologies in his own poetry and in his groundbreaking anthologies; Antin's verbal testing of postulates in linguistics, science, and engineering in his invented form of the "talk poem"; Eshleman's descent as poet and translator into Upper Paleolithic caves and into the Underworld depicted by European and Latin American poets and artists; and Howe's diving as a "library cormorant" into the archives of antinomian thought in England, Ireland, and the U.S.: each of these decades--long journeys into a time and space behind the denuded contemporary world has offered a model of poetry that brings what might be seen as "ideal" and "spiritual" into the realm of sensuous experience. (47) After Olson, each of these poets has created an art of experience that employs vernacular language, with its sensuous rhythms and intimate diction, as a vehicle to bring into present culture the fruits of their scholarly and physical excursions. For all of these poets, vernacular language becomes the alembic in which what they have found can be amalgamated with experience. Like Olson, these poets have joined in the Deweyan project of making experience the ground of new cultural possibilities for an atomized world.
Alongside these poetic offspring, Olson and Dewey have been major forces behind the creation of the many varieties of performance art that became prominent from the 1960s through the 1980s. The earliest performance art, Happenings, for instance, began with a famous event designed by John Cage at Black Mountain College in 1952, in which Olson participated. (48) Allan Kaprow, the main theorist of the Happening, "took his stance" in 1949 when he annotated heavily a copy of Art as Experience. (49) Over time, Kaprow developed an esthetic in which "art is a participatory experience": "In defining experience as participation, Kaprow pushed Dewey's philosophy--and extended his own measures of meaningful experience--into the experimental context of social and psychological interaction, where outcomes are less than predictable." (50) In sum, Jeff Kelley claims, "John Dewey is Allen Kaprow's intellectual father." (51) Happenings grew directly out of painting and assemblage; other forms of performance art derived from dance and theater, focusing especially on the place of the body in individual and social experience. Through his essays and his dance play Apollonius of Tyana, written at Black Mountain College in 1951, Olson provided an important impetus for an art based on the body. (52) In The Knowing Body: Elements of Contemporary Performance and Dance, Louise Steinman invokes Olson several times, claiming that Olson, "in a beautiful essay titled 'Proprioception,' influenced a whole generation of artists when he declared the fundamental necessity of the integration of physiology and psyche. In his essay he remarks 'that one's life is informed from and by one's own literal body, the gain being that movement or action is home.'" (53)
This return to the body as the locus for performance art by practitioners such as Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, and Laurie Anderson and for a variety of healing arts such as the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, and hatha yoga gave rise to a new philosophical category, somaesthetics. As formulated by the contemporary philosopher most influenced by Dewey's notion of experience, Richard Shusterman, somaesthetics endeavors to revive somatic awareness as the foundation of philosophy as a way of life. (54) Shusterman contends that Dewey brings the tradition of pragmatism to a peak by making a "vigorous case for self-conscious somatic reflection in the realm of concrete practice." (55) Shusterman also points out that Dewey's own conception of the body was directly influenced by his "work and friendship with the somatic educator F.M. Alexander," inventor of the Alexander Technique of postural alignment. He concludes,
Dewey provides what is probably the most balanced and comprehensive vision among twentieth-century somatic philosophies, because he appreciates the value of reflective somatic consciousness along with the primacy of spontaneous, unreflective bodily perception and performance, while also providing conceptual clues for understanding how the reflective and unreflective can best be combined for improved use of ourselves. (56)
The emphasis upon improved use matches perfectly Olson's pragmatic insistence on the efficacy of the concepts and methods he develops. In "Projective Verse," for example, he counsels poets to "USE USE USE the process at all points." (57) Olson and Dewey are such fruitful sources for subsequent poets, artists, and thinkers because they care less about being "right" than being "useful." Espousing an essentially projective relationship to the body, to experience, and to democracy, they urge readers to forge new arts to fit constantly changing times. Bringing Olson into conversation with Dewey allows us to see not only how informed Olson's thinking was by Deweyan concepts (and by pragmatism in general), it also helps make discernible the outlines of the legacy of Olson and Dewey in a range of poetry and performance art flourishing in the second half of the twentieth century. At first glance it may seem surprising that pragmatism would appeal to an avant-garde American poet who, in pursuits that are often recondite, can appear anything but pragmatic. (58) Olson is not alone, however, among postwar experimental poets who value pragmatism: Lyn Hejinian devotes much of her volume of poetics, The Language of Inquiry (2000), to William James and to James's student Gertrude Stein, and Susan Howe meditates obsessively on the life and work of Charles Sanders Peirce in her Pierce-Arrow (1999). (59) Complementing these pragmatist/avant-garde duets, Olson's advocacy of art as experience yokes him decisively with Dewey. If we were to imagine, in turn, a fountainhead behind the stream of pragmatist philosophers linked with avant-garde poets, it would have to be found in the primal dyad of Emerson and Whitman.
Stephen Fredman, University of Notre Dame
(1) Robert von Hallberg, Charles Olson: The Scholar's Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978).
(2) Butterick's research on Olson's sources appears most prominently in A Guide to The Maximus Poems of Charles Olson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978) and Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 10 vols., eds. George Butterick and (vols. 9 & 10) Richard Blevins (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1980-90). Maud's source research appears in Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996); Charles Olson, Selected Letters, ed. Ralph Maud (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Ralph Maud, What Does Not Change: The Significance of Charles Olson's "The Kingfishers" (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998); and Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff: A Modern Correspondence, eds. Ralph Maud and Sharon Thesen (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1999).
(3) The measuring of Olson against other major figures has barely begun. Early in the scholarly engagement with his work, he was brought into conversation with Martin Heidegger (whom he hadn't read) in the criticism of William Spanos and Paul Bove. See for instance William Spanos, "Charles Olson and Negative Capability: A Phenomenological Interpretation," Contemporary Literature 21.1 (1980), p. 38-80 and Paul Bove, Destructive Poetics: Heidegger and Modern American Poetry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980). A brilliant forthcoming book on the projectivist poets places Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, and Susan Howe into a sustained dialogue with Gilles Deleuze: see Miriam Nichols, Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010).
(4) As happens with other forceful and ambitious thinkers, Olson readily created followers and even disciples--who sometimes anathematize approaches to his work not explicitly sanctioned within it. Although the approach I am advocating militates against a disciple's adherence to the "word" of the master, I hope that Olson's advocates see the necessity for bringing him into larger conversations than he has been invited to join over the past twenty years.
(5) Dewey, Art as Experience can be found in John Dewey, The Later Works, 1925-1953, vol. 10: 1934, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.
(6) Robert von Hallberg was the first to unite Zukofsky's poetics and Whitehead's philosophy as parts of an Objectivist background to Olson (von Hallberg 1978, 82-125). See also Don Byrd, Charles Olson's Maximus (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1980), p. 48-53. I have attempted a brief definition of Objectivism, with reference to Whitehead, in Stephen Fredman, Poet's Prose: The Crisis in American Verse, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 88-89, and another brief description of objectivism as a tradition consonant with pragmatism in Stephen Fredman, The Grounding of American Poetry: Charles Olson and the Emersonian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 30.
(7) Dewey, Art as Experience, p.9.
(8) Ibid., p. 10.
(9) Ibid., p. 11.
(10) Ibid., p. 11.
(11) The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams; Vol. I, 1909-1939, eds. A Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan (New York: New Directions, 1986), p. 174.
(12) Williams, The Collected Poems, p. 233.
(13) Dewey, Art as Experience, p. 20.
(14) Ibid., p. 21.
(15) Ibid., p. 20.
(16) Louis Zukofsky, "An Objective," Prepositions +: The Collected Critical Essays (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 12.
(17) Zukofsky, p. 13.
(18) The metaphor of the field is central to Olson's experiential poetics, which he alternately calls "projective verse" and "COMPOSITION BY FIELD." Charles Olson, The Collected Prose, eds. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p., 239. This metaphor, seemingly derived from physics and mathematics, has been discussed by many critics. Daniel Belgrad, The Culture of Spontaneity: Improvisation and the Arts in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), indirectly connects Dewey to Olson through the intermediary of the painter Robert Motherwell. Motherwell attended a lecture series by Whitehead at Harvard in 1937 and explicitly tied Whitehead's philosophy with Dewey's Art as Experience. Belgrad argues that what Motherwell saw in Whitehead and Dewey as an "energy field model of modern physics appealed to poets and artists alike" p. 122. He then goes on to cite William Carlos Williams's essay "The Poem as a Field of Action" (1948) and Olson's "Projective Verse" (1950) as evidence of the contemporaneous poetic appropriations of this model (pp. 122-23). Peter Quartermain, in Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), adduces William James as an important precursor to field esthetics, noting that in 1910 James defined consciousness as "'a field composed at all times of a mass of present sensation, in a cloud of memories, emotions, concepts, etc'" p., 19. Most recently, Anne Day Dewey, in Beyond Maximus: The Construction of Public Voice in Black Mountain Poetry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), argues that Olson's "field" also represents a model of social engagement and political action for poets.
(19) 19 Olson, The Collected Prose, p., 240.
(20) Robert Duncan, Fictive Certainties: Essays by Robert Duncan (New York: New Directions, 1985), p. 68.
(21) For the cadence of a section of his contemporaneous "A Poem Beginning with a Line by Pindar," Duncan borrowed the "striding" rhythm of this passage and used it to condemn the treachery of American presidents. Robert Duncan, The Opening of the Field (New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 63-64.
(22) Dewey, Art as Experience, p. 167.
(23) Ibid., p.189.
(24) Olson, The Collected Prose, p. 240.
(25) Duncan, Fictive Certainties, p. 68.
(26) See Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), pp. 8-10, for a discussion of the importance of functionality to Dewey's esthetics. In The Grounding of American Poetry, I have argued for an Emersonian tradition in American poetry to which Olson belongs.
(27) Duncan, Fictive Certainties, p. 68-9. Sherman Paul, in Olson's Push: Origin, Black Mountain and Recent American Poetry (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), comments on Duncan's "fitting connection" of Olson with Art as Experience (p. 273 n67) and aligns Olson's concept of "polis" with Dewey's attempt to create democratic community through conversation: "a fundamental notion of American social psychology, succinctly expressed by John Dewey: Democracy [polis] begins in conversation" (p. 251, Paul's insertion).
(28) Martin Jay, Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 1. Benjamin Friedlander has drawn on Jay's exposition of the evolution of concepts related to experience to give a trenchant overview of the career of Olson's main interlocutor, Robert Creeley. Benjamin Friedlander, "What Is Experience?" in Form, Power, and Person in Robert Creeley's Life and Work, eds. Stephen Fredman and Steve McCaffery (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010), pp. 203-31.
(29) Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 84.
(30) In Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience, trans. Liz Heron (New York: Verso, 1993), Giorgio Agamben, Benjamin's Italian translator, starts off with this same quotation from Benjamin. He uses it as a touchstone for invoking the contemporary disappearance of experience: "The question of experience can be approached nowadays only with an acknowledgement that it is no longer accessible to us ... Indeed, [modern man's] incapacity to have and communicate experiences is perhaps one of the few selfcertainties to which he can lay claim." Commenting on Benjamin's evocation of the destruction of World War I, Agamben says, "Today, however, we know that the destruction of experience no longer necessitates a catastrophe, and that humdrum daily life in any city will suffice," p. 1.
(31) The Collected Poems of Charles Olson, ed. George Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. 46.
(32) Olson dedicates "The Resistance" to Jean Riboud, who was a member of the French underground and was imprisoned in Buchenwald. The Collected Prose, p. 414.
(33) Olson, The Collected Prose, p. 174.
(34) If Louis Menand offers a correct etiology in The Metaphysical Club (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001), then pragmatism too arises as an intellectual movement out of the devastation of war-in this case, the American Civil War.
(35) Olson, The Collected Prose, p. 240.
(36) Ibid., p. 162.
(37) Ibid., p., 181.
(38) Dewey, Art as Experience, p. 25.
(39) Olson, The Collected Prose, p. 247.
(40) Ibid., p. 163.
(41) Ibid., p. 159.
(42) Ibid, p. 25.
(43) Olson offers an aphorism he attributes to Heraclitus, "Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar," as an epigraph to a series of lectures he gave in 1956 at Black Mountain College. Charles Olson, The Special View of History, ed. Ann Charters (Berkeley: Oyez, 1970), p. 14.
(44) Dewey, Art as Experience, pp. 35-36.
(45) Olson, The Collected Prose, p. 174.
(46) Ibid., p. 157.
(47) See, for example, the following texts by each writer: Jerome Rothenberg, ed., Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe & Oceania, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Jerome Rothenberg, Triptych: Poland/1931, Khurbn, The Burning Babe (New York: New Directions, 2007); David Antin, Talking at the Boundaries (New York: New Directions, 1976); David Antin, What It Means to Be AvantGarde (New York: New Directions, 1993); Clayton Eshleman, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003); Clayton Eshleman, The Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2008); Susan Howe, The Nonconformist's Memorial (New York: New Directions, 1993).
(48) See Martin Duberman, Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (New York: Anchor, 1973), pp. 370-379.
(49) Jeff Kelley, "Introduction," in Allen Kaprow, Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. xi.
(50) Kelley, "Introduction," p. xviii.
(51) Kelley, "Introduction," p. xxvi.
(52) Apollonius of Tyana in Selected Writings of Charles Olson, ed. Robert Creeley (New York: New Directions, 1966), pp. 133-156.
(53) Louise Steinman, The Knowing Body: Elements of Contemporary Performance and Dance (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1986), p. 12.
(54) Richard Shusterman, Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Shusterman borrows the phrase "philosophy as a way of life" from Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, ed. Arnold Davidson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
(55) Shusterman, Body Consciousness, p. 11.
(56) Ibid., p. 12.
(57) Olson, The Collected Prose, p. 240.
(58) Richard Poirier places earlier poets, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens, into dialogue with pragmatist philosophy (especially with Emerson and William James) in Poetry and Pragmatism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).
(59) Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Susan Howe, Pierce-Arrow (New York: New Directions, 1999).
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|Publication:||Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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