some quotes from Keats and Olson

picked these up from Tom Clark’s Charles Olson biography, The Allegory of a Poet’s Life.  It’s the last unread English language book I have in my apartment now, apart from a pediatric medical reference book, which doesn’t really count because it’s more of a reference book.


“They are very shallow people who take every thing literally.  A Man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory– and very frew eyes can see the mystery of his life– a life like the scriptures, figurative– which such people can no more make out than they can teh hebrew Bible.  Lord Byron cuts a figure– but he is not figurative– Shakespeare led a life of Allegory: his works are the comments on it–”  John Keats to George and Georgiana Keats, Feb. 14, 1819.


“These places and persons as things and spots are all inside any one of us… the whole world and all experience is, no matter how real, only a system of metaphor for the allegory (Keats called it) a man’s life is.  Charles Olson to Robert Duncan, Aug. 24, 1955.


“One does have a life to life, exactly that much.  And… because it is that much and it is one’s own, it has a scale.  That is, it isn’t more of the same, or so much ‘humanity’ and all that, any of the counters now offered…  How to say it, so that it is abundantly clear.  It isn’t at all unlike Keats’ proposition that a man’s life (he was speaking of Shakespeare and his plays) is an allegory.”  Charles Olson, The Special View of History.


This characterization of biography as allegory is interesting in that it hints at the existence of some deeper text upon which biography as allegory relates to/ comments upon.  What might that deeper text be?  Maybe the set of all ideals, all desires– a sort of utopia text that may be partially revealed or hinted at through right action.  Perhaps this is where justice lives in politics.

Perhaps this is what Pinar hints at in his piece in praise of study.  That is, biography is somehow the key that accesses and opens up this revolutionary practice.  Or was it Rorty who emphasized that biography is at the root of such struggles.  Maybe both.  God I gotta take better notes!


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