Inactual Olson

My understanding is that papers from the Olson conference mentioned here a few days ago will eventually be published in The Worcester Review. Carla Billitteri of the NPF editorial collective presented work in progress on “The Politics of the Inactual in Charles Olson’s Poetics” (the title in the program was a little different). Here’s her opening paragraph:

Olson discounts the very idea of nation throughout The Maximus Poems, and makes his case by ways of his own and other voices. Thus, for instance, in the concluding lines of a personal poem, “December 18th,” Olson indicts the idea of nationhood citing Melville’s Redburn: “We are not a narrow tribe of men … we are not a nation, so much as a world.” Nations, with their supposed — or, in so many cases, enforced — homogeneity of race, culture, ethnicity, and religion, are abstract “universals,” the product of “the big, false humanism” he systematically and relentlessly attacks in all his writings. Opposed to the coercive and homogeneous reality of nations is the fluid and heterogeneous reality of the polis. As envisioned by Olson, the polis is an imaginary construct that does not belong to any recognizable historical past, although the city of Gloucester is offered as a possible — but failed — model for such polis. “Gloucester,” Olson writes, “is heterogeneous and so can know polis / not as localism” — but Olson also makes clear that global capitalism breeds heterogeneity, and that this heterogeneity multiplies — rather than transforms — the capillary oppression of the nation-state, particularly the oppression of minority ethnic groups. Thus, the heterogeneity Olson finds in Gloucester partakes of these actual historical realities, but the polis does not, precisely because Olson’s polis is an imaginary construct, an inactual reality.

Here’s hoping all the work from the weekend sees print soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s