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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Recombinant Poetics

On March 4, Ben Williams wrote:

"I look forward to someone's post on the pleasures of randomness... in
1973, the Belgian psychologist Gerda Smets asked subjects to view
abstract designs... She found a sharp peak of brain response when the
redundancy--repetitiveness of elements--in the designs were about 20
percent... The 20 percent redundancy effect appears to be innate.
Newborn infants gaze longest at drawings with about the same amount of

The pleasures of randomness... are well known to any lover of modern art
from Kandinsky to Cage (or Hantai, or a thousand others). Art has long
been conceived as a field of catalysis for subjective energies, and a
lot of work on that basis has been successful. I have no doubt that
anyone willing to make something of good hypertext fiction can develop a
degree of self-emancipation, Kant's "free exercise of the faculties,"
which has been such a strong point of twentieth-century art.

On the other hand, does anyone else shiver at the notion of artworks,
hypertexts and so on being calculated to provide the perfect 20 percent
repetitiveness? In other words, the perfect amount of possible order to
keep a person fascinated with his or her own freewheeling faculties?
Individualization could then become complete in the cultural sphere,
getting rid of the desire to communicate anything at all. If one today
observes the treatment, for example, of liquid elements, drinks with ice
and so on, in contemporary billboard advertisements, it becomes clear
that the communication of recipes between artists, psychologists, and
publicists is still healthy anyway. That perfect 20 percent of virtual
order suggests all kinds of innate or at least infantile fantasies,
which cling to the name of a product in the absence of any other
symbolic vector...

This is not in any way to disparage hypertext fiction (or Cage, or
Kandinsky, or Hantai). Just to suggest that in this age of extreme
communication, every approach has its social-political resonance. It's
often forgotten that the early twentieth-century artists developed
abstraction and indeterminacy as a form of transgression, which focused
attention on the social tie precisely by overstepping the limits of
convention. Today most procedures of radical abstraction have their
functional niche in the general engineering of consciousness.
Personally, I find that plunging back into the heavily determined world
of social relations is the best way to whet my appetite again for all
that great modern art. Of course there's no accounting for taste...

Brian Holmes

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