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The texts and teachings of Paul A. Olson: Literary scholarship, uses of myth, and an activist life

Robert M Gibney, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Paul Olson retired from his professorship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2006. This project studies the trajectory of Paul’s career and attempts to understand how his intimate involvement with national educational reform and other community building projects relates to his more traditional literary study and scholarship. ^ The researcher claims that part of this relationship lies in Paul’s efforts to read myths—myths alive in the past as well as those alive today. His reading of the myth of the Wisdom tradition forms an intellectual foundation upon which his career has been built. Rigorous examination of the western Wisdom myth led Paul to recognize competing mythologies, namely the myth of scientific progress as set down by Sir Francis Bacon in his New Atlantis. ^ Paul’s literary and cultural criticism places the onus on the reader to reexamine the myths about “western culture” that create a false binary among scholars and artists, particularly those in the fields of American Indian Studies and Ecocritical studies. This binary appears as scholars in both fields mistakenly attack Wisdom thinkers as part of the “western tradition” which laid the groundwork for atrocities like colonization and environmental devastation. The researcher then points to two contemporary authors whose texts could be used to teach a seminar on myth: Wendell Berry and Leslie Marmon Silko. Berry and Silko each articulate a clear understanding of how the Baconian myth of scientific progress affects various cultural and environmental spaces and each, within their writings, proposes new myths. These authors shed fresh light on an old myth, that of the Wisdom tradition, which has been systematically subsumed by uncritical faith in techno-scientific progress. ^

Subject Area

Biography|Literature, American|Native American Studies

Recommended Citation

Gibney, Robert M, "The texts and teachings of Paul A. Olson: Literary scholarship, uses of myth, and an activist life" (2007). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3271920.