Have been thinking about similarities between innovations of chaos theory & poetries of innovation. For Steven Strogatz chaos theory offers six points of innovation (to which I would add a seventh). Chaos theory:
- asks unusual questions
- shifts focus from laws of nature to their consequences
- uses computers in a radical way
- emphasizes a complex view of nature (≠ reductionist)
- is interdisciplinary
- paints a topsy-turvy picture of the world
- makes use of diagrams
It occurred to me that all of these points are also true for poetry, at least those poetries that might be called (linguistically) innovative, avant-garde, conceptual, whatever. So in what ways is each of these points true for innovative poetry?
- asks unusual questions: this seems like sort of a no-brainer. Although it seems dull to me to think of art as asking questions, it does seem to be inherently constitutive of at least a part of the practice. Also ‘unusual’ is normative & would be a word I would avoid in this case. ‘pataphysics, however, is perhaps the science of asking unusual questions; the science of the possible. Christian Bök, who wrote a book about the influence of ‘pataphysics on modern poetry, is a great asker of these kinds of questions.
- shifts focus from laws of nature to their consequences: okay this point may be less obviously applicable to poetry; but perhaps it still could work if one thinks of poetry as experimenting with different perceptions, trying out possible possibilities of laws of nature, instead of simply trying to understand them.
- uses computers in a radical way: here one could radicalise Strogatz’s statement about the radical use of technology and suggest that chaos itself is technological. Think of fractals and complexity theory where complex patterns & processes are formed and can be calculated on the basis of simple patterns of chaos (chaos here meaning not general disorder, but deterministic unpredictability: unpredictability that follows certain rules). Language itself (as Louis Armand’s work shows) in this sense is also technological: unpredictable yet determined by rules, systematic, viral (Burroughs). And conversely technology is also poetic, it belongs,’ to bringing forth, to poiesis: it is something poetic’ (Heidegger). Even if language in itself is technological, poets have never been able to actually employ/apply technology/science to such an extent as is being done today. The most radical example of this, I would say, is Christian Bök’s Xenotext project. Only a few weeks ago he announced that he has succeeded in implanting a short poem into a bacterium. Language is now literally (or perhaps one should say materially) made viral.
- emphasizes a complex view of nature (≠ reductionist): points 4 to 6 again seem sort of self evidently the case for innovative poetry (not necessarily for more traditional forms).
- is interdisciplinary: there are of course many examples of interdisciplinary poets. the interdisciplinary work of poets/composer Rozalie Hirs is particularly striking. She has created various electro-acoustic compositions that combine poem, voice, music. A beautiful example is Pulsars, a composition using (if I remember correctly) the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation that pulsars ( highly magnetised, rotating neutron stars) emit, in conjunction with poetry (I love this work because it is beautiful to listen to & has a crazy science fiction feel, yet at the same time a sort of radically immanent inverse Romanticist scream).
- paints a topsy-turvy picture of the world: this is a basic characteristic of poetry; Emily Dickinson’s, “tell all the truth but tell it slant”
- makes use of diagrams: Strogatz mentions this last point but not as an innovation of chaos theory. Diagrams are useful to illustrate chaos theory to people who don’t understand maths (like me, I think I have dyscalculia). Paul Mullarkey, however, in Postcontinental Philosophy, argues that diagrams (the diagrammatic) are an innovative & fundamental part of a lot of contemporary philosophy. Mullarkey claims that diagrams enable new and different ways of thinking to language. Deleuze & Guattari famously make frequent use of diagrams (I believe it was Guattari who influenced Deleuze in this respect). Other examples are Lacan & Badiou. So regarding poetry, I am with those who feel that a poem is a diagram, a constellation, a spatial phenomenon. Mallarmé for example; or Emily Dickinson, two name just two relatively random names out of so many. Thinking of poems as diagrammatic is one step toward thinking an ecology of the poem. An (to use Timothy Morton’s words) eco-mimesis that approaches the poem as immanent to, enmeshed with all of its possible, variegated elements. The poem not just as bare language on the page, but also as a spatially situated object of experience with tone, timbre, ambience.
These points of similarity between chaos theory & poetry are unsurprising perhaps if one thinks of both chaos theory & poetry as ways of making sense of (the order/sense that arises all around us out of) chaos. Perhaps exploring the entanglement of chaos & poetry can deliver new perspectives on the aesthetics of chaos & the chaos of aesthetics. Oberiu!