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Physics EnvyAmerican Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After$
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Peter Middleton

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226290003

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226290140.001.0001

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Projective Verse

Projective Verse

Fields in Science and Poetics at Midcentury

(p.89) 3 Projective Verse
Physics Envy

Peter Middleton

University of Chicago Press

The chapter begins with a discussion of what Charles Olson called his “joy of science,” arguing that this arose from an interest in how science and poetry might collaborate. In order to understand the complexities of his relations with the sciences, especially physics, the discussion then centers on a thick description of the importance of physics in the literary culture of poetry around 1950 or mid-century, as it is called, to indicate a time span from the late 1940s to the early 50s. Starting from the publication of “Projective Verse” in a small magazine, the chapter shows just how widespread was poetic interest in the sciences at that time. Olson’s interest in a field poetics was stimulated by misleading news that Einstein had produced a unified field theory. The chapter then sketches the main characteristics of the mid-century atom as presented by nuclear physics, and shows how physicists represented their discipline in terms of the unknown and the uncertainty of knowledge. Other disciplines, including Norbert Weiner’s cybernetics, Quine’s holistic critique of logical positivism, and René Wellek and Austin Warren’s literary theory, engaged in an epistemological competition for a share of the epistemic authority invested in physics.

Keywords:   Charles Olson, mid-century, nuclear physics, atom, projective verse, field, epistemological

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