Olson’s Project

In October 2010 I was invited to the Charles Olson centennial celebration in Gloucester, MA and participated on a panel called “Olson’s Project.” My comments relate to my work as a hypnotherapist in that they attempt to articulate the “big picture” – the driving impulse I am following as I pursue this line of work.

I’m aware of the tendency to read in Charles Olson whatever one desires to read in Olson.

Whether it be to find metaphors embedded in his work that seem to convey the whole of his world view:

Mappamunde –
Human universe –
Reality as process: space myth fact object

Like the coastline of Gloucester’s harbor (which Olson saw from his window), with its deposits of moraines and drumlins formed by glaciers that scoured the region during the last Ice Age, the mappamunde of passing time and its geological impressions is remarkably like the mappamunde of perceptions that shape our experience of the world.

“You take it from there” – as Olson said.

But it’s hard to arrive “there” when given only seven minutes to speak on “Olson’s Project.” How to avoid what Olson hates most about panels– that is:

…selecting from the full content some face or it, or plane, some part…For any of us, at any instant, are juxtaposed to any experience, even an overwhelming single one, on several more planes than the arbitrary and discursive which we inherit can declare. (HU,55)

That said, I offer you a juxtaposition to another apt metaphor in which to think about Olson’s project, which is one we might all claim as well:

In the early 90s you might recall the race to crack the genetic code,  and that two groups of scientists – one from a UK corporation called Celera Genomics and the other from the US based National Human Genome Research Institute — revealed a map showing the “structure of DNA: life.” But you also might recall that what they mapped was only (still an incredible achievement)–  but only the 10% of DNA, the code relevant to the building of proteins. The rest they dismissed as “junk” because it was not relevant to this scientific breakthrough. It was – as they said — just random stuff left over from the progress of evolution.

As Olson said: “The egoism of creation is: order.”

But a group of Russian scientists weren’t content with this dismissal of 95% of the genetic code and so assembled a team of bio physicists, molecular biologists, embryologists and linguistic experts.  Here is a quote that summarizes their findings:

“Their research revealed that the supposed junk DNA that has been completely neglected and forgotten by western mainstream science, was no redundant leftover of evolution at all. Linguistic studies revealed that the sequencing of the codons of the non-coding DNA follow the rules of some basic syntax. There is a definite structure and logic in the sequence of these triplets, like some biological language. Research further revealed that the codons actually form words and sentences just like our ordinary human language follows grammar rules.

Scientists have conducted much research on the origins of human languages and the origins of the grammatical rules that are so essential to all human languages; however they have always failed to find the source. But now for the first time in history the origins of language may be surprisingly attributed to DNA. The language of the genes is much, much older than any human language that was ever uttered on this globe. It is even conceivable that the DNA grammar itself served as the blueprint for the development of human speech.”

Let me now jump to yet another juxtaposition, so eloquently written by Don Byrd:

“The connection between the Way and the method are everywhere present…. The inner structure of language recapitulates the inner structure of the world. The poem is a product of vector forces being brought into phase with one another.”

And phase in Hugh Kenner: “the language of science which is the language of poetry”

As we continue the conversation with Olson:

“All that matters moves! And one is out into a space of facts and forms as fresh as our own sense of our own existence…
The mortal makes the measure work.

Robert von Hallberg’s essay on the connection between Olson and Whitehead shows how both thinkers were pressed with the urgency to remap the entire human framework of how we “think” about truth. They wanted to challenge the Cartesian notion that truth is either “out there” in eternity (Plato) or “in here” through self-examination (Socrates).

von Hallberg writes that “Olson envisions a human universe in which man exists feelingly in the same space and time with the objects of his perception.”

Olson:

In what sense is
what happens before the eye
so very different from
what actually goes on within…

I put this juxtaposition of ideas from disparate sources out there because the integration of consciousness with the material world is central to both Olson, and to my own way of thinking about the permeability of language, thought, action, and genetics.

We don’t need psychoimmunobiology to read Olson (he’s swimming in his own metaphors) but I do think that there is something instructive in Olson’s project –it’s not purely intellectual. It is instructive in how to survive in our own being to the extent that we become an agent of interchanging – and ever-changing forces.

Call it what is “out there” when it is realized that it is “in here.” Or, as Don Byrd writes, call it “God and the World…where God is not a final cause or creator but a principle of continuation which is no sooner manifest than it becomes a new beginning.”

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