Phenomenology of History and Body-Subject in Charles Olson’s Poetics

Document Type : Research Paper


Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Foreign Languages, Central Tehran Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran


Postmodern American poetry pioneered by Charles Olson, with its combination of the (pre)historical and the personal, provides a dynamic platform for phenomenological analysis. This research scrutinizes Olson’s poetics from the perspective of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. “Perception” and “body-subject” are the key concepts in Merleau-Ponty’s thought utilized in analyzing Olson’s first major poem, “The Kingfishers”. In the present study the researcher attempts to answer these questions: What is Olson’s approach to contemporary identity and history? And how does he reread American identity in relation to ancient history? The  concept of body-subject is a nexus of myths, contemporary and ancient history, (un)conscious mind, and archetypes trying to achieve perception through the torrents of objects. However, perception cannot be obtained without body’s intermediation and its senses. Olson conceives of perception as an embodied and unstable phenomenon that is exposed to sensory data. It is fragmented due to the impact of vague memories, contemporary American history, European mythology, and ancient Southeast Asian and Latin American cults. A phenomenological study of Olson’s poetry reveals that postmodern perception is a composite of historical, mythological, and embodied impulses.


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