One of my favorite people, um, ever is Charles Olson — poet, amateur anthropologist, rector of Black Mountain College back when BMC was quite possibly the coolest place to be in the country. (Olson reportedly said, “I need a college to think with” — something that I often feel myself whenever I take a stab at thinking about the New Liberal Arts.)
Olson’s essay/manifesto “Projective Verse” helped build the bridge between modernist and postmodern literature — in fact, Olson’s sometimes given credit for helping formulate the whole idea of the postmodern.
One of Olson’s most important contributions to American letters is his book Call Me Ishmael, a wonderful, idiosyncratic but authoritative critical take on Herman Melville and Moby Dick. Here, for example, are the first few sentences:
I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.
Olson himself was a giant — 6’8″ — and knew a thing or two about spelling things large. (If you want to read more, I highly recommend picking up Olson’s Collected Prose — it’s all really, really good.)
Now the University of Connecticut is digitizing Olson’s notes on Melville — which would be cool in its own right, but 100% cooler insofar as Olson’s notes bring back a world that doesn’t exist anymore:
Olson was one of the first scholars to consider the importance of Melville’s reading and marginalia.
In the 1930s, Melville’s surviving literary manuscripts, letters, personal papers and journals, and reading library were still, for the most part, in the possession of the family and a few institutional or private collectors. The most substantial collection of Melville materials unaccounted for at that point