Lost Nymphs and Mythogeography


The stream we live along after cutting under the road creates this small pool.  Then it heads through the old mill sluice.

A small site like this could have been the setting for a story about a nymph. I imagine the pool where Echo spied Narcissus not to have been much larger.

In many ways our collective cramp of consciousness has stripped us from our imaginative engagement with reality.  But the engagement with the landscape can be reclaimed.

As Charles Olson wrote:

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
buzzed

Countering Tendency

Field of sunflowers...
Image by Kel Patolog via Flickr

Regardless of your field, ruts deepen. And eventually they will cause you to get stuck.  The subtlety whereby habitual actions can blind us to creative options can be surprising, and options exist at every point along our journey.

If leaving from point a, I follow my tendency and automatically head in direction b, I’m ignoring the fact that I could have gone another way. While 359 other degrees of direction are theoretically available to me, limiting my choices to the four or twelve options analogous to the directions on a compass is more realistic (too many options can cause a different type of paralysis).

Often our tendency is to assume the most direct route is the most desirable. The problem with such an assumption is that only the most desirable route is the most desirable route, regardless of length.

Recognizing the entire field of one’s endeavors is an idea Charles Olson applied to his poetics.  As he explains in his essay Projective Verse:

“From the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION – puts himself in the open – he can go by no track other than the one the poem under his hand declares, for itself.  Thus he has to behave instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined.” Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”, in Selected Writings, pg. 16

Olson’s practice of writing, which can be carried over into different fields of action, was to maintain an awareness of three distinct forces at play while he wrote: typos, topos, and tropos.  Time and time again this triad emerges in his notebooks as well as in the marginalia of the books he read.  And like a captain of a ship in the middle of the sea that needs to recognize the winds, the currents, and seasonal variations and patterns, Olson attended to the typology of the emerging work (note: archetype), to the topography or manner in which the emerging work related by extension to the world, and to the particular twist or turn that seemed to be cast in the manifestation at hand, for as we find upon further investigation “tropism (from Greek, tropos, to turn) is a biological phenomenon, indicating growth or turning movement of a biological organism, usually a plant, in response to an environmental stimulus.”

(hmm…I didn’t expect this arc to emerge when I began…cool.)

Olson and Appropriation

Olson v Olson, with Kit Kat
Image by Ben.Harper via Flickr

“Either your experience is of no content, of no change, or it is of a perceptible amount of content or change.  Your acquaintance with reality grows literally by buds or drops of perception.  Intellectually and on reflection you can divide these into components, but as immediately given, they come totally or not at all.”  in Robin Blaser, The Violets, quoting Whitehead (PR II. II.II, 68, Olson underlining)

The time I spent digging through the Charles Olson Archive was focused in two directions: expanding my field of inquiry through Olson’s reading and getting a handle on Olson’s practice.  Over Olson’s shoulder, as it were, I encountered Jung, Whitehead, Corbin, Kerenyi, Peirce, James, Kirk, Sauer, and Havelock.  And each encounter contained lively annotations that demonstrated for me how one could literally wrestle with a text, make “use” in the pragmatic sense of one’s finding, and follow insights into one’s own work.    From what I saw in Olson, I can confidently say that the postmodern movement never quite practiced appropriation with the depth of Olson plummeted through his library.

Olson learned his practice reading into Melville’s library and tracing what he found there into Moby Dick.  See, appropriation is a vehicle for transformation, not just a re-arrangement of external pieces.