There is comfort in knowing my presentation topic revolves around the mind’s ability to recognize wholeness amongst disparate pieces. Tonight, I’ll be presenting Gestalt therapy, founded by Fritz and Laura Perls and Paul Goodman, and how we might begin to see its principles at work or in conversation with Olson’s oeuvre.
There is much, too much, to be said about Gestalt psychology. Though it’s important to mention its distinction from Gestalt therapy, its founding psychologists (Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Köhler) might lend some foundations of perception where we can begin.
In Bruce E. Goldstein’s Sensation and Perception (the textbook used in my own undergraduate Psychology of Perception course), he discusses Max Wertheimer’s initial interest in perception that defies sensation. This query began when he bought a stroboscope (some kind of toy) on a train platform in Frankfurt. This toy creates “an illusion of movement by rapidly alternating two slightly different pictures.” Wertheimer deemed this phenomenon “apparent movement” because no stimuli actually caused movement in these individual static images. The “sensation” was (falsely) perceived rather than experienced. The author uses the example of scrolling marquees to illustrate a modern application of apparent movement. We perceive words “moving” through space though the actual stimuli consist of individual lights flickering in a patterned configuration. Wertheimer then questioned the organizing constructs of the mind.
(This might be a concept we could consider or, in my opinion, contrast to the Brakhage films Tim shared with us. “Movement” seems to be a less accurate term there than primitive sensation. Rather than a continuity emerging from the flickered images/frames, his work seems to resist the connective impulse – the “apparent movement” – implicit in the mind.) We’ll look briefly at Gestalt psychology tonight, but here are some of its (very loosely summarized) principles, which I imagine if you search for images of these principles, you’ll recognize most of those that appear:
Emergence: Perception of the immediate whole rather than the parts.
Reification: Perceived shape/construction is more complex/spatially refined than actual stimuli.
Multistability: The ability to “flip” between two perceptions of one stimulus. (M.C. Escher!)
Invariance: Recognition of shapes/objects despite manipulations of scale, rotation, placement.
Grouping Laws (or Prägnanz): Closure, Similarity, Proximity, Symmetry, Continuity, Common Fate
From this “apparent movement” and the consequent definitions of Gestalt’s principles, I’m reminded of Notes on Poetics (toward Projective Verse II), specifically how we could apply the perceived object, the perceived sensation, as the poem. And perhaps not only the poem, but its impetus, its field, and the projective:
For example, the physical. One is able today to mark where sensations are qualitative and that feelings are not so, they are the 4/5ths which lie under, they are – what ‘physical’ won’t say – geometric. By that I mean structures as things are to the heart of themselves, and connected with each other, not simply impinging by rubbing on distance of surface from one another (where so much of imagery stays, as love or affrightment of superficies, reaching arms, etc., branches) when we are drawn driven torn thrown by forces of grab and refusal as strong & blind as what shakes the heart of the sun. One can call these things by name, strictly place them, offer them as sources of substance & act in poems. (29)
Perhaps in naming Olson acknowledges the whole, the composition that surpasses its quantities, the Gestalt. Perhaps in the spatial arrangement of “any smallest part of a word” with its other words, the poet produces a wholeness.
There is a spatial element in any smallest part of a word as well as a temporal element: you measure its ‘time’ (as accent/pitch/speed in relationship – or, ‘rest’) but it matters how you cut, even cut the syllable, you have the particle of it as such, as particle, measurable quantum. They ‘weigh’ in time (duration); they also occupy (occur) as any thing they are felt, as they are heard. (31)
Moving from these founding principles into Perls’ (and Goodman’s) Gestalt therapy, we might find a way to think about the I, the perceiver, the sensate affect of Olson’s work.