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Some Notes on Olson's Maximus
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The pre-Socratics had also the question of nominalization to deal with. Parmenides of Elea gives a good sense of it:

The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is, as to which it is uttered . . .

All of "Tyrian Businesses" seems to me much involved by this question, as this quotation will illustrate:

There may be no more names than there are objects
There can be no more verbs than there are actions . . .

And, too, the use in this section of Maximus of a particularizing vocabulary (e.g., "futtocks, we call 'em" or "the honey in the lion, the honey / in woman . . .") forces thought to specific terms—much against a progress of easy, generalized understanding. Words, here, are forced to be seen specifically.

This character of language—and the use of language—is much to be found throughout Maximus , and as well in the writing before it. One such instance in earlier work is the first part of "ABC's," like this:


b l ac k

eat a peck of storage batteries 'fore I die . . .

All meaning is local to an instance, wherefrom it derives, but also, whereto it returns. If a writer promotes a sense of language that floats in a middle way, neither here nor there, he is reasonably to be suspected. It becomes clear that this emphasis is one Olson shares with Williams ("No ideas but in things . . .") and with Pound who has given much emphasis to the problem of terminology, an aspect of nominalization. (It is Pound who tells of Santayana, that he had said, it doesn't so much matter what books they read in college, say, so long as they read the same books—and thereby have means for a common reference for terms. That we greatly lack at present, and our society tends to give prizes to those who can think up new 'terms' for old ones, not really changing anything at all but further confusing the so-called issue, a bothersome kind of euphemism.)

"Letter 5" in Olson's Mayan Letters is another reference for this question—and a very useful one for those who have means to check it. There Olson says the problem is "to bring any time so


abreast of us that we are in this present air, going straight out, of our selves, into it . . ." In fact, that might well serve as a sense of the purpose in The Maximus Poems themselves, and it is no fluke that such a thing had been on his mind. He felt then (March 8, 1951) that a too simple "nomination" and/or name-reference as part of a traditional use of 'history' would fail to realize that, as he saw it, the shift had become "substantive" (i.e., he broke free of 'great men' to consider the question of maize, as in Carl Sauer's work)—a parallel to what scholars in the allied fields of anthropology, archaeology, geography, physics, etc., had already begun to document toward the end of the 19th century. I.e., the world had been prior to its reference in historical texts, where too often its use was simply "the passage of time & time's dreary accumulations by repetition . . ." A man writing had now to find his 'names' in terms that would free them for use now —not simply leave them caught in the trap of the 'past.' The reference, in that way, could no longer be a question of memory.

I find myself hammering at this for several reasons, as (1) the use of historical materials in Maximus will not be realized until one understands that they are being brought into a context of the present —no one is 'going back' to them, nor is there any question of the 'good old days'; and (2) that just as Mencius can say, how is it far if you think it, so Olson: how is it past, if you think it. All that can inhabit the present, is present. That is why, I think, such documents as John Smith's "The Sea Marke" or the list of what the fourteen men left at Stage Head had for provisions are given literally—to see as of now , else we see nothing sufficiently of that literal ground we occupy, a place accomplished by men. In that there may well be much of time , perhaps, yet those men are there too, and by no simple trick of language—we do not finally have to remove ourselves to a future, in which we will all be dead, to understand that fact. All is, as it is, where it is, when it is—and the dead in that respect do bury the dead, altogether.

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Some Notes on Olson's Maximus
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