English 165

Special Topics: American Postmodernism--Olson and the Black Mountain School

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2009 Campion, John
Campion, John
TTh 12:30-2 121 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

The Maximus Poems of Charles Olson; class handouts


This course will look at the development of American Postmodernism (in poetry, painting, music, dance, etc.), focusing on the artistic and institutional influence of one of its founding figures: the poet, Charles Olson.

In many ways Charles Olson provided the essential elements of a genuine American Postmodernism. His view of the individual and its relationship to the universal offered a unified field of meaning and coherence--profoundly contrasting with the existentially alienated humanity exposed by European schools of thought. Through his leadership at Black Mountain College, he brought together and provided the intellectual context of some of the most influential thinkers and artists of our time, John Cage, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Walter Gropius, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Motherwell, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, among many others).

The class will examine Olson’s understanding of a ‘Human Universe’ and the nature of ‘reality’ itself coupled with his attempt to unify the philosophical rupture between theory and praxis and the artistic split between form and content. We’ll see how his technique of projective verse helped register ideas about geography, knowledge, economics, myth, ecology, politics, the hermetica, and the self. Since his thought was informed by so many sources and contexts, it necessarily opens this course up to many diverse areas of consideration and of student orientation.

We’ll try to experience and understand how Charles Olson’s phenomenological work in poetry was made as a living thing and not merely a map showing us how to see and how to do it--although it does.

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