Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I would first of all like to thank the OlsonNow organizers for extending the event into the web, as the coast is not easily accessible to everyone. Since the floor is open, I would like to follow up on Benjamin Friedlander's welcoming and witty remarks with a few questions (not rhetorical) and observations.

I think it was Don Byrd who wrote that for those who embark on a study of Maximus it is easy to feel that one is falling under the influence of a "cult leader." I gather that this is more or less identical to the concern about charismatic authoritanianism expressed above (also: has Olson's "whiteness" been examined carefully? in a later interview he speaks of "my palearctic people"..., etc.), and I wonder if it doesn't point to a dilemma implicit in the outlined categories. Can one follow Olson's example (collaborative archiving, etc.) while also navigating one's way through Olson's own archive? Does one need to re-read Olson's library in order to read Olson in order to follow his example? Doesn't each of these projects demand more time in its own right than any one of "us" has? But why split the work of "poets" from the work of "scholars" given Olson's own example?

My own tentative answer would be that for the (w)holistically or transdisciplinary minded (I count myself among them), specialization seems anathema, and I think that Olson's "curriculum for the soul" has much to recommend it. But Olson recommended studying cybernetics, which allows us to see the necessity (for a modern society, at any rate) of what a systems-theoretical sociology calls "functional differentiation." Perhaps one only sees the big picture by focusing on the smallest detail--the human cell, for instance, which furnishes the model (or figure, if you prefer) of autopoiesis which Luhmann adapts from Varela (Olson, according to the Last Lectures, also looked closely at the processes of "evagination" and "mytosis" [sic]).

Let me put this another way: what does it mean to specialize--as either poet or scholar--in a syncretic, holistic cosmology?

For what it's worth, my own sense of Olson for some time has been that he was the Derrida that America never produced--an astute critic of logocentrism (so much "trash of discourse") who didn't extend that critique to phallogocentrism. I'm less certain of that now (as witness the above reference to "evagination" --something more and other than postwar male avantgarde annexing); in any case, I remain open to other arguments and it doesn't mean that I value Olson any less. His distinction in "Projective Verse" between the "pressures of the breath" and the "acquisitions of the ear" bears for me an uncanny resemblance to Bakhtin's theory of the clash of inner and outer speech, for instance, and there seems to me an at least proto-ecological ethos legible in Maximus Volume III (the most interesting part of that project, to my mind).

Thanks again to all who make this project possible. I look forward to future events.

Kevin Marzahl
Bloomington, IN
30 May 2006

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