Ushenko's Field Theory Of Meaning
I will suggest that as the vuser of a Recombinant Poetic system, we become one with that system and intermingle with it. Thus the outcome of the interaction is a result of what we bring to the situation in terms of our mindset "field" and what the initial author has translated into the system in terms of combinatorial possibilities and aesthetic processes; another set of fields. This differs from Ushenko's concept of a kind of opposition between the "object" and the "percipient." Ushenko intimates:
The dynamics of the exhibition, i.e. the enactment, is two-directional. On the one hand we face the external object; on the other hand the object confronts us. The outward direction of perception, from the percipient to the object is met an opposed by the inward direction, from the object to the percipient. Unlike a memory image which is with us, along with other resources with witch we face things, the external original thing is independent of percipients and, to that extent is against us. The complementarity of being with and against us, is the dual set of direction in an enactment of externality. (Ushenko, 1958, p. 21)
In his book, The Field Theory of Meaning, Ushenko tries to directly map the vectors of physics onto meaning processes. This has very interesting ramifications but unfortunately he died before bringing these concepts to a full understanding. I will below speak about the ramifications of some of his concepts.
In terms of combinatorial environments, where the nature of context is in flux, there is an interest in poetic ambiguity. A number of factors contribute to this continuous state of shift. The experiential ReP work, entitled "The World Generator / The Engine of Desire" has revealed that each layer of content found within a work incorporating language, image, or sound elements becomes a potential shifting, accumulated field of focus. In ReP works, this shift is heightened by employing chosen poetic elements that exhibit a specific ambiguity, although such ambiguity can be said to be characteristic of language use in general. Historically we can point to Saussure as initiating the discussion related to the arbitrariness of the sign as described in his Course of General Linguistics compiled by students of his. In recombinant poetic works the "sign is arbitrary." (Saussure, 1983, p.67) The signifier may stay the same but the signified will shift in relation to context. In terms of change over time, Saussure states "whatever the factors involved in [the] change, whether they act in isolation or in combination, they always result in a shift in the relationship between the signal and the signification." (Saussure, 1983, p. 75) This "shift" is enhanced by employing poetic media-elements that exhibit specific ambiguity, thus I am not only exploring the qualities of textual shift as referred to by Saussure.
Recontextualisation of chosen and/or authored linguistic signs, leading to alternate readings, forms one example of the principle which enables the viewer to explore recombinant fields of meaning. Various aspects of condensed potential content are activated during navigation. In relation to this phenomena of shift, Andrew Brown contributes an interesting observation in his reading of Roland Barthes' autobiography: "Barthes himself refers in the text to the process of making an index: it involves working on and with names, revealing their arbitrariness, their limitations, and their power to frame reading and writing." (Brown, 1992) The nature of reframing or shift employed in recombinant poetic works has led me to formulate the concept of "oscillating meaning." Yet such framing is employed in an extralinguistic manner within my techno-poetic mechanism.
In Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen talk about a relation between the visual image and writing as expressed by Barthes which is also relevant to this discussion.
We want to treat forms of communication treating visual images more seriously then they have hitherto been treated. We have come to this position because of the overwealming evidence of the importance of visual communication, and the staggering inability on all our parts to talk and think in a way seriously about what is actually communicated by means of images and visual design.
In doing so, we have to move away from the position which Roland Barthes took in his essay 'Rhetoric of the Image,' (1977). In this essay (and elsewhere, as in the introduction to Elements of Semiology, 1967) Barthes argued that the meaning of images (and of other semniotic codes, like dress, food, etc.) is always related to, and in a sense, dependent on, verbal text. By themselves, images are too 'polysemous', to open to a variety of possible meanings. To arrive at a definite meaning, language must come to the rescue. Visual meaning is too indefinite, it is a 'floating chain of signifieds'. Hence, Barthes said "in every society various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs; the linguistic message is one of these techniques." (Barthes, 1977, p. 39) He distinguished between an image-text relation in which the verbal text extends the meaning of the image, or vice versa. As in the case, for example, of speech ballons in comic strips, and an image-text relation in which the verbal text elaborates the image, or vice versa. In the former case which he calls relay, new and different meanings are added to complete the image. In the latter case, the same meanings are restated in a different (e.g. more definite and precise) way, as in the case of , for example, when a caption identifies and/or interprets what is shown in a photograph. Of the two, elaboration is dominant. Relay, said Barthes, is 'more rare'. He distinguished two types of elaboration, one in which the verbal text comes first, so that the image forms an illustration of it, and one in which the image comes first, so that the text forms a more definite and precise restatement or 'fixing' of it (a relation he calls anchorage). (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996, p. 16)
It is quite obvious that the notion of "anchorage" in the age of the hyper-link and virtual space, the morph etc., is no longer adequate to address the un-fixity of the recombinant sign. The metaphor of surfing often employed in the discussion of cyberspace navigation, is about mobility, passage, linkage, processes of association, 'lines of flight'(see Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.21) and "relay." I am not suggesting that I want to destroy the precision of language-image relations. On the contrary I seek to observe their actual complexity, in relation to mutability in techno-poetic environments. In terms of media-elements within environments that are mutable or reconfigurable, no single media-element is potentially more important than another. In fact, various hyperlinks, virtual proximities, and/or trajectories through media, as chosen by an interactant, can potentially (if not willfully) shift the "anchorage."
Thus, content is always potential content in such works, arising during use. The notion that poetic elements carry a series of alternating potential meanings, is central to the poetic strategies employed in my recombinant works. Ushenko presents two differeing kinds of literature in his book The Field Theory of Meaning; a "Literature of Knowledge," one that seeks to alleviate ambiguity as well as a "Literature of Power," one that embraces such ambiguity. The following is an example of what Ushenko sees as problematic in his "Literature of Knowledge" - a form of scientific nomenclature:
To begin with examples, we obviously cannot specify-and, therefore, do not understand- the meaning of such a word as "vice," since such words are in different contexts with altogether different meanings. The word "vice" may mean a vise, i.e. a tool for holding an object tight, but it may mean a fault or depravity, and it may mean what is mean by the phrase "instead of." It would not help us to observe that such a word as "vice" is a homonym which telescopes within the same visual pattern several different words, each of which is a carrier of a distinct unambiguous meaning. In the first place, unaided by context, the reader cannot tell which of the several alternative meanings he is supposed to choose. And, second, even if an arbitrary choice were allowed- in disregard of the already accepted requirement for objective and communicable meanings- the choice would not provide for an altogether ambiguous word. (Usenko, 1958, p. 29 - 30)
In counterdistinction to Ushenko, I am very much interested in the nature of ambiguity as a poetic vehicle. I am also interested in how meaning is emergent over time, within particular contexts. By intentionally loading a system with a resonant selection of specific ambiguous words, each with multiple potential meanings, one can experientially observe how the meaning is emergent in relation to context with a ReP work. This functions as an artistic constraint. Instead of saying this word is meaningless, I would say that it simultaneously carries all of its potential meanings in a state of suspended animation. It is this nature that enables Usenko to list his different potential readings of the word. If it was meaningless, he could find no such definition. Thus as a context arises, we search through our memory of useage patterns, and apply that which is most appropriate. It is human nature to try to find meaning within an exchange. This is the nature of association and understanding.
In terms of pictorial elements, I am intentionally loading the system with computer-graphic objects that will suggest alternate readings of particular juxtaposed words over time, thus an emergent, time-based context of potential meaning is generated. It is important to recognise this in terms of the cut / copy / paste world of postmodernism. Snippets of information are constantly encountered in hypertexts. We do not begin with the assumption that they are meaningless, we seek the construction of the context to narrow the meaning - to specify it. This is especially true in the employment of pun which "vice" can potentially function as.
Usenko above is talking about his "literature of knowledge," one that seeks to alleviate ambiguity. He later speaks of the "Literature of Power" which is more in line with my project:
But I would rather wave the point in order to call attention to the fact that the ambiguity of a pun, which is a species of aesthetic ambivalence, is not the objectional ambiguity of a single informative word. The objectionalble ambiguity is a cause of mental confusion. The words of a pun are used with with a definite meaning in the sense that they are used with a definite double meaning. The mind grasps both components of a double meaning without confusing them. (Ushenko, 1958, p.36 & 37)
It is this sense of multiple meaning that I am interested in, which shows Ushenko to be slightly contradictory in terms of his discussion of fields of meaning. It is the operative nature of the media in ReP works that enables the viewer to experientially generate context. Ushenko states:
In the literature of power there is much to be said in favor of the extreme contextualists position. In the course of reading a poem context may compel us to revise our original understanding of certain lines.(Ushenko, 1958, p47)
It is this very aspect of observing the nature of context construction that Recombinant Poetic mechanism seeks to make observable in an experiential manner.
Where Usenko speaks of the sentence as a unit of meaning he is takling about " Literature of Knowledge." and not about the "Literature of Power" as he calls it. In poetic space a single word can carry potential meaning. In fact if we are to make an analogy to atoms, then I would suggest that even letters can carry potential meaning arrived at in the mind of the viewer. We can look toward Saussure for an example of this. Saussure recognised in a formal manner the ambiguity inherent to the use of language. His studies into the anagram, suggest that the letters of a word, when reorganised through external processes, can have bearing on the layering of meaning in an individual term. This, we most note is a re-combinational, time-based organisation. Thus if we are to take the "Field" analogy from physics, I think it necessary to extend the analogy to subatomic realm. The question is, how do we deal with the fact that the word is always either energy or matter. We are then speaking about both an actual field in Physics layered together with and propogating a conceptual field in Linguistics. One could ask how these two different kinds of fields intermingle with each other. Such a question is outside of the scope of this paper.
It is my contentention that all language depends on context for understanding. In the use of language, it is not only the notion that we "revise" our understanding - we actually augment or layer it with previous understandings derived from alternate contexts. We could say that thought is a kind of summing and cross referencing of the useage of all words, images, sounds and sensations from all past contexts or patterns of use that are made available to us through memory. Ushenko suggests the following:
In a literary piece, at any rate, a dynamic image does not vanish into nothingness but escapes the specification test of objectivity through fading out of focus but not without reverberations in the successors to imaginal prominence which, therefore, whould be said to preserve its presence even though in a virtual or attenuated mode." (Usenko, 1958, p.135)
This notion of a persistance of "presence" takes on an interesting role in the volatile electronic environment that characterises Recombinant Poetics.
"With this conclusion I want to establish the analogy between the transformation of ambivalent being into unambiguous perceptual manifestation, on the one hand, and the transformation of the ambiguous words into the meaning of the statement, on the other. In both transformations, initial ambivalence or ambiguity goes with the excess of alternate sets of content, and the unambiguous result is obtained by the omission of alternatives or elimination of excess." (Ushenko, 1958, p.143)
Recombinant Poetics seeks to experientially manifest situations in which the properties or nature of this "excess" can be examined. It is the my contention that such excess is common to communication and thus the study of how it arises is central to a contemporary understanding of the function of language in differing contexts or contexts augemented by additional images, sounds and/or additional qualifying language. I find this especially relevant in regard to the fact that such "excessive" languge is commonly used in poetic construction. To this end Ushenko says the following:
Even ambiguity is in order provided it is contextually controlled and, therefore, causes no confusion; in an exposure of depth and complexity the text of a poem invites alternative interpretations to be played against one another. In short, in a setting of art, the contextually controlled dynamic concreteness of concepts is most conspicuous. (Ushenko, 1958, p.162)
It is this very nature of exploring the "contextually controlled dynamic" of a work of art which is extended via my computer- based mechanism. Thus moving through a series of meaning states the user of the system can witness how complex meanings are emergent through personal interaction with the context as well as through chance mediation and pre-programmed processes. One can metaphorically invoke Heisenberg here where the observer effects the observed. This can be taken on a subtle level or on the level of human understanding in terms of what the vuser brings to the conceptual / physical experience of such an environment.
Association and play by the viewer is central to the process of exploring the techno-poetic mechanism. As media-elements are combined, both in real time and through temporal arrangement, a depth of experience is generated. I have constructed this resonant depth as a set of potentials through a specific loading of the fields; it is completed within the experience of the viewer as they conceptually bridge, disrupt, position and navigate through exploration of the techno-poetic mechanism. Meaning/becoming in this work of art is temporary, mobile, contextual.