Fields Of Meaning/Becoming

When we discuss the engaging aspects of Recombinant Poetic works, we need to seek a concept that can help us understand the operation of how meaning emerges in a complex virtual time-based space. In 1958 Usenko first published his book The Field Theory of Meaning , written to examine textual meaning. More recently, Roy Ascott began to outline an approach to meaning in the arts in a paper called "Toward A Field Theory for Post-Modern Art." . In it he states:

I would like to look at the attributes for a new paradigm for art, a field theory that would replace the formalist modernist aesthetic. It takes as a focus not form but behaviour; not an information model for sending / receiving of messages in a one-way linearity but the interrogation of probabilities by the viewer; it looks at a system in which the artwork is a matrix between two sets of behaviours (the artist and the observer) providing for a field of psychic interplay which can be generative of multiple meanings, where the final responsibility for meaning lies with the viewer. (Ascott, 1980, pp. 51-52)

The notion that meaning is contingent on context, and that context can be generated through viewer interaction, is central to Recombinant Poetics. In Recombinant Poetics, a computer-based mechanism can act as a conduit of exchange between the author of a media-world and a participant or interactant. Such a media-world presents a set of potentials of interaction. Such interaction generates an engagement with an environment populated with media-elements as outlined above.

Recombinant Poetic systems seek to explore fields of "psychic interplay." Where Ascott points toward the notion of psychic forces at play, one can also approach the notion of fields from an energy perspective. A slightly different perspective to the notion of the field was proposed from a post-structuralist perspective by Steven Heath, in relation to film theory (*See Steven Heath Process and Operation ). This relation is here articulated by TAM, BURGOYNE FLITTERMAN-LEWIS who state:

One film theorist who took very seriously the post-structuralist critique of first-phase semiology was Steven Heath. Besides presenting Metz's work for an Anglo-American audience, Heath also criticized certain aspects of that work from a Lacanian-Kristevan perspective. Heath called for a shift in attention away from the text as the interweaving of codes to a view of text as "process" and "operation." both Steven Heath and Ben Brewster found Metz' notion of the codes somewhat too restrictive, and out of keeping with the idea of cinema as a langage without langue. Heath therefore redefined codes, in a somewhat looser way as "system of constraints" or "system of possibilities" bearing on both paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations...Heath suggests that the system constructed by the analyst will always be inadequate, always leaving gaps, losses, producing "waste," or in the Lacanian terms, EXCESS. Heath used the term excess to refer to manifestations of the imaginary within the symbolic which betray or point to the menacing plurality of the subject and more broadly to all aspects of the text not contained by unifying forces. (STAM, BURGOYNE FLITTERMAN-LEWIS, 1992, p. 52)

It is notion of "process" and "operation" that is potentially actualised within Recombinant Poetic works. We must note that the complexity that is delivered within a work of film can only vaguely relate to the complexity made manifest through interaction with the plethora of media-elements and processes described above (of which digitized film presented as digital video, is just one). Thus we are seeking to apply this concept of "process" and "operation" in an emergent manner, to the reading of recombinant poetic works. It is the nature of Recombinant Poetic environments to potentially produce a state of advanced plurality. In fact it is one object of the techno-poetic mechanism to experientially explore such states. Again we are in the position of seeking to articulate the reading of a new kind of space, thus much film theory proves quite limiting in its approach. This limitation can be traced to relations predicated on interactivity, as well as to behavioural relations that are potentially explored in ReP works.

The film theorist Christian Metz attempted to develop a theory related to the "reading" of the cinema built from the perspective of textual discourse. There are many aspects of his approach I find problematic in terms of seeking units of signification instead of seeing signification growing out of a "field" of interrelations. Yet Metz did manage to make the following observation, as quoted by STAM, BURGOYNE, FLITTERMAN-LEWIS talking about post-structural film theory:

In Language and Cinema Metz tended to oscillate between a more neutral notion of TEXT as any finite, organized discourse intended to realize communication, and a more programmatic avant-garde deconstruction sense of text. But unlike the Tel Quelists, Metz does not generally use the word "text" to separate out radical avant-garde films; for him all films are texts and have textual systems. There exits a clear tension in Language and Cinema consequently between a static, taxonomic , structuralist-formalist view of textual systems, and a more dynamic post-structuralist Barthesian-Kristevan view of text as productivity, "displacement," and "écriture," Influenced by the Kristevan critique of the Saussurean paradigm (a critique not only indebted to Derridean critique of the sign but also to BakhtinÕs translinguistic of Saussure), Metz describes the moment of filmic parole as the dissolution of the very systematicity he has elsewhere emphasized. "The system of the text is the process which displaces codes, deforming each of them by the presense of the others, contaminating some by means of others, meanwhile replacing one with another, and finally- as a temporary "arrested" result of this general displacement- placing each code in a particular position in regard to the overall structure, a displacement which thus finishes by a positioning which itself destined to be displaced by another text." (Metz 1974, 103)

It is this latter more dynamic view of the text as a "non-finalized" perpetual DISPLACEMENT that constitutes the more dynamic pole in Language and Cinema. (STAM, BURGOYNE FLITTERMAN-LEWIS, 1992, p. 51)

As Stam, Burgoyne, and Flitterman-Lewis point out, such a quote is problematic in terms of the entirity of Metz' project. Although the body of his research differs greatly from my project, I believe the above quote by Metz can be seen to be related to aspects of what we will discuss as in relation to The Field Theory of Meaning (Ushenko, 1958) published in 1958. My use of the term "fields of meaning/becoming" should be seen to encompass all media-elements available for engagement within a virtual environment exhibiting non-closure. The techno-poetic mechanism I have created for this project becomes a vehicle of media complexity exploring language, image and sound relations within a time-based spatial context. Such a computer-based mechanism presents a polyvalent/polysemic space for the construction and exploration of poetic content. Recombinant music, spatial text, juxtapositions of computer-graphic "objects," images, digital movies, as well as attached "behaviours" all function as relative "fields of meaning." Such fields act upon one another, and form this recombinant polysemic field of fields. Notions related to "fields of meaning" have been discussed by a number of authors from different disciplines. A very early formulation of The Field Theory of Meaning was developed by Andrew Paul Ushenko in a book published posthumously. He states:

I. Physical and Phenomenological Fields. A physical vector field is an expanse, or spread, of tension, each region of which acts on an appropriate material test body with a definite strength and in a definite direction. An acting field force is a vector because it has both a magnitude and a direction. If forces or vectors are distributed among different regions of a field with different magnitudes or directions, the field as a whole exhibits a definite pattern of tension. (Ushenko, 1958, p. 79)

Ushenko was dealing specifically with "sentences." In the preface to Ushenko's book Stephen C. Pepper, observed the following:

Ushenko does not propose to find the meaning of a statement by considering the acts or beliefs of the author, but only by considering the references of the theoretically anonymous sentence itself... He points out that isolated words are ambiguous and become univocal and clearly informative only when they are embedded in sentences, when they are embedded in a field of meaning along with other words which mutually modify on another's potential ambiguities in a joint context. (PEPPER in USHENKO, 1958, preface)

I seek to extend this notion of the field into an environmental context populated by media-elements. Each media-element in a ReP work functions as a "field of meaning" and thus exhibits a kind of force that influences other chosen elements explored during interaction. Yet, I would state that the user of the system also brings their active participation in the interpretation of the environment. Thus the mind-set of the user represents another field that comes into the equation. When one attempts to be clear about how one engages with such complex media environments, the term "fields of meaning" can be employed to address aspects of this complexity. Thus the reading or understanding of a Recombinant Poetic environment will be experienced by a vuser, as the sum or balance of the "forces" exerted by the various media-elements brought into relative proximity. It must be noted that such an environment is time-based and is not fixed, thus the sum of these "forces" is cumulative and/or transitory in nature, based on the activity within the environment by an engaged interactant over time. Brian Massumi, functioned as translator of the english edition to Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus . He has subsequerntly written a "users guide" to the work. In it he makes the following observation: "Meaning is Force:"

This gives us a second approximation of what meaning is: more a meeting between forces than simply the forces behind the signs. Force against force, action upon action, the development of an envelopment: meaning is an encounter of lines of force, each of which is actually a complex of other forces. The processes taking place actually or potentially on all sides could be analyzed indefinitely in any direction. (Massumi, 1992, p. 11)

In Recombinant Poetic works, media-elements are often chosen for their polyvalent nature, thus an individual element may exhibit a set of divergent forces enfolded within one "media-object," or "modular media variable" in relation to alternate contexts of juxtaposition that arise through interaction i.e. a pun has more than one meaning, contributing to an environment of "forces" moving simultaneously in different directions. Thus the complexity of the "reading" of these forces can potentially become problematic, especially when multiple examples of elements exhibiting a plurality of readings are simultaneously explored in relation to one another. Yet it is this complex space that can become resonant in a work of art.

In the book, An Evolutionary Architecture by John Frazer, writing about emergent examples of virtual architecture, he describes another perspective on the employment of the notion of the "field." Frazer articulates the following:

The idea of the field is not foreign to mainstream science, which uses the concept to explain gravitation, electromagnism and other phenomena that can be perceived by their effect on matter, yet can not be explained in terms of matter. Field phenomena are exhibited in objects with holistic properties, such as a magnet or a hologram. A field is always whole. If a magnet is broken in two, each half will produce it's own magnetic field. If a hologram is shattered , each fragment will depict , not a shard of a three-dimensional image, but a complete two dimensional image. A field is mutually tied to the material in which it is manifested. The history of the form is the history of the field. Every type of material form in the universe, from subatomic particles to the universe itself, is conjectured by [Rupert] Sheldrake to have an associated field which guides its formation and maintains its structure. (Frazer, 1995, p. 112)

It is this holistic quality of a virtual environment that separates it from past poetic forms. Such an environment is "always whole," and each "fragment" is both a whole in itself, functioning as a modular media-element, and well as part of a larger whole. The notion that the "history of the form is the history of the field" is central to the experience of my techno-poetic discourse mechanism. We can also trace such notions of oneness and connectedness to a number of spiritual disciplines.

The question is: are these actual forces (as in physics) or metaphorical forces, drawing a poetic analogy from physics? N. Katherine Hayles has chosen to elucidate a contemporary notion of "fields of meaning." In her book The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century , Hales approaches the use of "fields" as abstracted from physics, directly related to those suggested by Ascott. She states:

The field concept, as I use the term, is not identical with any single field formulation in science. For the men and women who work with the various scientific field models from day to day, they have specific meanings and applications. The term "field concept," by contrast, draws from many different models those features that are isomorphic, and hence that are characteristic of twentieth-century thought in general. The only way to approach a satisfactory understanding of the field concept is to examine and compare a wide range of phenomena that embody it... Perhaps most essential to the field concept is the notion that things are interconnected. The most rigorous formulations of this idea are found in modern physics. In marked contrast to the atomistic Newtonian idea of reality, in which physical objects are discrete and events capable of occurring independently of one another and the observer, a field view of reality pictures objects, events and the observer as belonging inextricably to the same field; the disposition of each, in this view, is influenced- sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly, but in every instance- by the disposition of the others. (HAYLES, 1984, Preface II)

Both Ushenko in terms of a kind of "physics of meaning" and Hayles in terms of a "metaphorical" physics, are relevant to this research. The techno-poetic mechanism created for my project experientially enables the examination of the interpenetration of elements... elements that are "interconnected," yet are simultaneously modular and interchangeable. This interconnection happens both on the level of meaning and on the level of pure energy functioning to propogate that meaning. Thus both the literal and metaphorical physics of meaning are important to the project.

The mind set of the vuser as well as their choices in terms of interaction and navigation are also central to how meaning arises within such a mutable context. Thus the notion that "a field view of reality pictures objects, events and the observer as belonging inextricably to the same field; the disposition of each, in this view, is influenced- sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly, but in every instance- by the disposition of the others." is central to my project. Hayles later states:

Another aspect of the field concept, one that figures importantly ... is the notion of self-referentiality of language. Because everything in the field view, is connected to everything else by means of the mediating field, the autonomy assigned to individual events by language is illusory. When the field is seen to be inseparable from language, the situation becomes even more complex, for every statement then potentially refers to every other statement, including itself. (HAYLES, 1984, Preface II)

In terms of Recombinant Poetics, one must come to understand "fields of meaning" not only in relation to language, but also in relation to complex, emergent media structures exploring language, image, and sound relations. The qualifying aspects of each "element" is never fixed - it forms an expanding field of ongoing potential or meaning/becoming. "Recombinant Poetics" can only be born of a complex assemblage of techno-poetics that encompasses a set of divergent researches. Textual language is to some degree limited in its ability to reflect upon the complex nature of electronic media. One can describe a hyper-link but it is infinitely more informative to experience it.

It is the inability to get at the complexity of these combinatorial inter-relations through textual language that drives this project and the necessity to create a techno-poetic mechanism. All of the ideas embodied in the techno-poetic mechanism, briefly described above, are intimately linked to language and yet gain resonance through a relative positioning to language, from the proximity of the experiential interactive electronic environment. Thus language is used to "point" at certain relations and the techno-poetic mechanism is used to experience them. This project seeks to make experiential those instances where language breaks down in its ability to reflect upon complexity. Only the enfolded relations of an operative electronic environment of image, sound and text, can begin to embody and display this complexity of media interrelations. It is both a felt realm and a realm of intellectual discourse. Such a techno-poetic mechanism functions as a meta-language system.

How might we here re-see the notion of environment/context in terms of energy "flows," and approach the notion of a "reciprocal precondition between expression and content" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, pps241-242) in terms of an enfolded set of energies functioning on different levels of abstraction and codification. We say that each environment or context is comprised of an enfolded set of energies, ranging from the pure energy of light and sound, to energy as a carrier of codified information of authored elements, to the energy of computer codes, to the energy of computer monitors and sound systems, to the energy of hardware interface, intermingling with the enfolded energies and codes that characterise the user of such a system. The entire process functions through a series of translations and interminglings of enfolded energy states.

I will elucidate this extended use of the term "field" in relation to my transdisciplinary research. I explored such notions of the "field" in a number of poetic works and artistic statements beginning in 1980. **

Duchamp's hyper-shifting pictorial/linguistic interrelations as exemplified by the Large Glass and related Green Box Notes form an interesting precursor to such research. "Pataphysics," of interest to both myself and to Duchamp, is also relevant in the background to this research. This term was coined in 1911 by Alfred Jarry in Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustrol , Pataphysician in which he states "Pataphysics will explain the laws governing exceptions." (Shattuck,1965) It is an entirely playful physics but within it one can witness the paradigm shift in physics in the quantum field which gives plausibility to Jarry's poetic realm. Nick Herbert states, in a chapter entitled The Uncertainty Principle Protects Wave/Particle Coexistence ,

An instrumental barrier seems to exist which prevents probing the quantum world deep enough to resolve the wave/particle question in favor of one or the other modes of being. (Herbert, 1985).

It was the analogy of this paradoxical study of the characteristics of light - being alternately a wave and a particle, that led me to the exploration of poetic elements that could take on different meanings based on their substitution in alternate contexts. Thus the notion of the "field" became central. N. Katherine Hales suggests:

The Twentieth Century has seen a profound transformation in the ground of its thought, a change catalyzed and validated by relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and particle physics. But the shift in perspective is by no means confined to physics; analogous developments have occured in a number of disciplines, among them philosophy, linguistics, mathmatics, and literature... The essence of this change is implicit in the heuristic models adopted to explain it. Characteristic metaphors are a "cosmic dance," a "network of events" and an "energy field." A dance, a network, a field - the phrases imply a reality that has no detachable parts, indeed no enduring, unchanging parts at all. Composed not in particles but of "events" it is in constant motion, rendered dynamic by interactions that are simultaneously affecting each other. (Hayles, 1984, p 15)

Where Hayles sees no discrete elements making up the field, Recombinant Poetics seeks to invoke the paradox addressed by Herbert above, where the environment can either be seen in terms of waves or particles depending on how one is observing it. One can look at individual media-elements as presented in a menu system within my techno-poetic mechanism, or one can view a constructed world of interrelations generated from those individual elements. The mechanism does represent a "network of events" as well as a changing "energy field." It is important to address this wave/particle notion in that elements of image, sound, and text included in ReP works are modular and "particle" like, yet they function more like "waves" in terms of their intermingling.

In terms of energy fields, the layers of authorship in my techno-poetic mechanism: The World Generator / The Engine of Desire , enables a focused procedural set of energy artefacts presented as elements in the system. The economy of means - condensations -- puns etc. are vehicles of this compressed energy and thus when unpacked reveal various spokes or layers of meaning.

If there are "States of Meaning" what are they exactly? An intermingling of fields is central to an understanding of Recombinant Poetics: the user of the system represents the sum of all past contexts as embodied in memory, in various states of remembrance from the vague to the clear. This becomes a vast field. We could call this the "field of knowledge" or "mind set" of the user of the system, This field intermingles with the computer-based set of image/sound/text fields during use. Each person will view the work from their own "field" perspective - a child may see it as a game or environment of play, etc. The operative potential of the computer system enables the vuser of the system to experience contextualisation, decontextualisation and recontextualisation within the environment. During this process the vuser experiences various states of meaning as exemplified through the system; from the overtly ambiguous to the crystalline. An accumulated experience of context informs the overall "reading of the environment." Words, Images and sounds all present their own potential meaning fields, informing and qualifying each other, forming a time-based field. In terms of the postmodern world of Simulacra and Simulation by Beaudrillard the computer environment is both a "real" environment as well as a virtual one. Thus the kind of relations that arise through juxtapositions within this environment are relevant to the larger environment of computer based intellectual exchange. What can we say about the emergent meaning that arises in such a recombinant environment?

We can think of this virtual world as an operational logic diagram. Yet this logic is a multi-valued logic, exploring a compression of different logics.

  1. an aesthetic logic including:
    1. a sonic logic
    2. a pictorial logic
    3. a linguistic logic
  2. a logic of nonsense
  3. a psychological logic
  4. a physiological logic
  5. a machinic logic
  6. a logic of virtual mechanisms and/or conceptual machines
  7. a logic of economy
Thus, just as diagrams come to inform situations external to their viewing, so to can the images, sounds and texts presented in Recombinant Poetic environments. The experience is compressed or layered in such a manner that different vusers will walk away with not only different experiences, but also different levels of experience, depending on the field of knowledge they bring to the work. Each field constitutes a domain of potential. Where Ushenko suggests that the lone ambiguous figure is meaningless i.e. a single isolated word, I would suggest that it paradoxically suggests both meaninglessness and all possible readings as defined by the dictionary definition. It is the inter-functionality of the signifiers, as well as their time-based acretion of meaning/becoming within my techno-poetic mechanism, that constitutes the sum of the inter-signifying fields.


A video work entitled One Around Which / Field Theory: A Substitution Trajectory in Relation To Subatomic Particle Observation (Congruent [Circular Architecture]) (1980), as well as a series of descriptions of works for catalogues etc. using the term "Fields of Meaning" in a descriptive manner. back