Charles Stein and George Quasha in Vancouver

[Part 4]


MAUD: He died just at the right moment, didn’t he, to avoid the seventies?

QUASHA: In that sense, yes. But it’s really important, therefore, to be able to separate what is a kind of essential fruit in Olson from a kind of Olson angle on everything. The world’s full of bullies because that’s how you got heard. Certain kinds of personalities got heard when others didn’t. So what? The fact is that there is a vision there that has got an integrity and a power for us. To go back to The Special View of History at this point is to ask the question about all these areas that Olson is very vulnerable in, like, for instance, the feminist position on Olson. He’s extremely vulnerable on that point, and that’s not an easy thing to discuss, and it shouldn’t be simply defended. It’s not a question of just defending Olson against a certain grossness in his approach to certain questions. But in what sense was he not feminist or feminist? You may find that those attitudes have a lot to do with the personality style and certain areas of his life that went unexamined. And you have to at least take into consideration that the discussion of issues relative to feminism were not particularly articulate around then.

COPITHORNE: They were relatively articulate when they were allowed to be heard.

QUASHA: By him, you mean?

COPITHORNE: By him and his followers. I’m sorry to interrupt, but I did hear articulation and I heard it being shut down.

STEIN: The stories are awful and they’re undeniable. The question is, in spite of that, is there still something of use?

QUASHA: You have to see where he wasn’t ready or able to hear it, where it didn’t come in the right door for him or something. It’s a whole context; it’s an entire field of things. The world has shifted in that respect now.

MAUD: He believed that Zeus was not a woman, and a woman couldn’t be Zeus.

COPITHORNE: I suppose, Ralph. But what does that mean though?

MAUD: It means there are differences.

BOWERING: Well, in the olden days . . . Let’s go back to Pound and anti-Semitism.

QUASHA: The feminist issue has become a problem for many women in appreciating Olson or being able to make use of Olson. It would be nice if one could have a clear enough discussion that would remove some of the blockages because: Is Olson his opinions? Is Olson his limitations? Is Olson Tom Clark’s Olson? If Tom Clark’s Olson is your Olson, then that’s that as far as I’m concerned. Are we going to go through history and take each person in terms of their limitations and then throw them out because they didn’t make it in whatever issues are most powerful for us right now? Not to trivialize any issue, but what’s the gain in Olson’s thought? It’s so important to recognize what that gain is because it’s so enormous.

STEIN: The truth is that if you can’t read Olson because you experience it as male address and it excludes you, that’s a fact. There isn’t any argument with Rachel DuPlessis; no argument with her. That’s her experience, that’s how she sees it. She needs to get those same ideas she’s got to push them out from Marianne Moore and Pound, fine. For a lot of people they don’t deliver it, and I don’t actually see that they deliver the same thing for her; but that’s her business. And Susan Howe, say, is very interesting in that she is obviously getting a tremendous amount and still is able to articulate her difficulties. That’s important. And I don’t feel I’m in any position to know anything about anybody else’s — particularly women’s — connection or not. The connection is a matter of reality. I remember Olson saying, like, you know: “If you give a kid a cookie, either it makes it or it doesn’t. And you know when it doesn’t.” There’s no politics there. It’s a fact. So there’s no defense there whatsoever. But what’s interesting is that there are people for whom something moves past that.

COPITHORNE: I’d rather just forget — you know, leave it for the time being, unless we really want to do it, because each case has to be addressed as each case.

QUASHA: Of course it does.

STEIN: The way I think of it is that if you have ever received a charge, it’s a problem that can’t go away. You can’t make it easier for yourself by adopting some position on it. You’ve got the problem. I’m a Jew; I owe an enormous debt to Pound. That’s a problem. I’m a Jew; I owe an enormous debt to Heidegger. I’m a Buddhist and I have a debt to Aleister Crowley. Crowley is as bad as they come in every possible way, and I learned an enormous number of things from him when I was involved with that material. I have sympathies pretty much on the left of politics, and I don’t like an awful lot of the people that I love. I have to live with that. There isn’t any way out.

But if you have the other view of Olson’s politics — this Connecticut poem ends with “the initiation / of another kind of nation.” And obviously you can hear that a couple of ways. You could hear it very simply as he wants a nation with different politics, different principles, different people in power, or something like that. But I don’t quite hear it that way. I heard it as another sense of what the scale of the human community is. In other words, it’s going on a kind of ontological level not just at the surface, the political level. And the thing that interests me in all this — maybe the question isn’t even just Olson, it’s a question of language and creativity in our time in general: there seems to be remaining possibilities for possibility. It’s as if you — a shtik of mine — you almost have two modalities of taking the real, and they are set seemingly against each other: possibility/actuality. And it’s as if there were two ways of taking the real, one in which facts are dead, finished, closed, known; the other in which facts are the current terms of possibility, they are that out of which possibility is generable. And it’s a mode of shifting a certain angle. There are these sites in Olson where he seems to be, you know: “All men are the glories of Hera by possibility.” Enyalion. ‘When is possibility there? That’s the positive side in his darkness because he is suddenly seeing that the sign of politics is the creation and projection of possibility. Then that changes the site of the whole concern with the fact of the material, because the fact of the material is now not what it looked like in, say, the early part of the twentieth century when you’re trying to overcome late nineteenth century romanticism in every possible way, so there is objectivity, facticity, formalism and all the different strategies, both philosophically and literarily, to get out of the shmush of Swinburne or whatever the name of the enemy is, Alexander Blok. There’s a step from that to Olson and Duncan, a step to that, because the question for both of them, that discovery of the charge of imagination, burrows into fact much deeper, digging right in.

I live underneath

the light of day

I am a stone,

or the ground beneath

My life is buried,

with all sorts of passages

both on the sides and on the face turned down

to the earth. . .

That concrete material side is the side of the source, everything has been turned upside down, He does get this very much from Jung and Yeats really, Jung’s idea that the archetypal dominance of an age is changing so that what was spiritual in the Middle Ages is now material, that the projection of the archetypal force will be found in that, so that’s your politics of matter. But at our point there’s no longer a dichotomy between factuality and possibility except as a mode of taking reality: the mode of taking possibility is not the contradictory of facts, it’s an entire stance, because for factuality even the future is dead. For possibility the past (meaning our concrete past but also everything that’s other) continues to be alive. Once you’re no longer involved with accepting a particular cosmological or ontological framework in the way it insists upon itself, once you’ve just jiggled that a little bit, suddenly all kinds of possibilities turn out to be alive. I think that’s another way of taking what the relationship to Olson might be. You have to deal, of course, with the parts of him that close things down and make things impossible. But what else is there? What is there that continues to project?

QUASHA: It’s not that I want to excuse, ever, anything. I won’t excuse it in myself. But I say that in Olson there are places where he didn’t get conscious and there are places where he did, and where he did, nobody got that conscious about those things and in that way: that’s what’s so extraordinary. Yeah, you can find it elsewhere, but there’s something about the way he cuts through, there’s something that is really special in the best sense in The Special View of History that is different from anything else: that we see things not by quantity but by their intensity of being. I don’t think anybody said it the way he said it there.

[Tape proceeds with Charles Stein temporarily not in the room.]

MAUD: George, you’ve had a long relationship with Charles Stein, haven’t you? Do you get along?

QUASHA: We have an ongoing dialogue, where we’re fundamentally very different kinds of people, so we modify and correct each other. We’ve written a lot of stuff together, we’ve written all these things on Gary Hill together, and we developed a method, a dialogical method. We started out calling it “dialogical criticism” many years ago. . .

[Stein enters]

MAUD: We’re talking about you, Charles.

STEIN: I suspect.

QUASHA: They were enquiring into our relationship, so I thought I would spill the beans. Basically, we started by recording — we’re the most completely recorded relationship in history. We have probably thousands of hours of conversation at every stage. What we have done is, the best of the stuff in recent years we transcribe it, and think it further, like the Gary Hill books which come out of our relationship with Gary, because the dialogical relationship extends to him. (He lived in our house, next to me, for six years.) The point is that we were able to develop these discussions, transcribe them and develop them into a method by which we could generate text. The text would arise out of this that we both could accept. In the process of doing that we’ve had to learn how to give up a certain aspect of ego. You might think of it as giving up a certain aspect of maleness, like a surrender of a certain part of yourself that wants to control and wants it to be your idea or whatever. It’s a work, a work inside a certain kind of space of connection. Even though Olson’s work seems very male in that respect, he’s a kind of a monologist — the same with Duncan, by the way. They had different styles. I spent a lot of time with Duncan and while Duncan’s the monologist you’d think he wasn’t listening. He’d be talking a mile a minute, non-stop, nothing’d stop that train, that train just keeps on going, and then fifteen minutes later he’d quote you exactly what you’d said, and he’d comment very precisely on it. He was completely in dialogue with your presence. I think there’s a sense in which what I heard in Olson’s voice on the phone that day, that’s something more fundamental than how we are in our personal relationships that personal relationships could learn from, and that is: how we are in dialogue with listening itself, listening to reality, listening to the world, listening to the poem. In a way Olson brought into consciousness listening itself for what it actually is: possibility. I don’t think meditation is anything other than listening. I don’t think anything that’s of value is anything other than a certain kind of breakthrough in your ability to hear more. I think that’s what poetry is about. The poet primordially taught people to listen because he listened in such a way — the oral poet, as you know from Lord and oral studies would always be working with the response of the audience. In that context, that’s dialogue. That’s meaningful dialogue, that’s where something is being carried into its archetypal possibility, and at the same time it’s very immediate and concrete.

STEIN: There’s hardly an Olson poem that doesn’t occur in the space between himself and a whole range of other utterances. The ones we were looking at before are a case in point, even, like you were saying, you could have the quotation quoting Olson, and imagination of Olson. But very unique and amazing structures emerge there that are only possible because this voice that seems to be in a cartoon of “projective verse” only concerned with projecting itself in fact is the most incredible listening that language has ever produced, really, in the sense of how it finds its own occasion for utterance inside listening to something else, other language.

MAUD: Well, I’m glad we talked about Olson. I’m pleased we kept to that subject in spite of the fact that I know you could have talked about lots of other things. On behalf of the people present, I thank you.

BOWERING: Let’s have a round of applause. [Applause]

TESSA (child): Why are you clapping?

MAUD: We’re clapping because George told us to.

McGAULEY: To say thank you, for something wonderful.


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