More meandering thoughts
What follows are some quotes from Douglas Hofstadter’s book ‘I am a Strange Loop’ (2007, Basic Books, New York)
These serve to illustrate a point of departure for some thoughts that I had during the week we worked at Jerwood… they are from Chapter 4, Loops, Goals and Loopholes.
He discusses mechanical systems which rely on feedback – he gives several examples, focuses on the flush toilet (familiarity is always a good thing):
“Why does this move to a goal-oriented – that is, teleological – shorthand seem appealing to us for a system endowed with feedback, but not so appealing for a less structured system? It all has to do with the way the system’s ‘perceptions’ feed back (so to speak) into its behavior. When the system always moves towards a certain state, we see that state as the system’s ‘goal’. It is the self-monitoring, self-controlling nature of such a system that tempts us to use teleological language.” 52
He also notes that when the mechanisms through which feed back is fed become more hidden/complex, we shift to more anthropomorphic terms… not only is the system goal-oriented, it is ‘wishing, desiring’…
‘The presence of a feedback loop, even a rather simple one, constitutes for us humans a strong pressure to shift levels of description from the goalless level of mechanics (in which forces make things move) to the goal-oriented level of cybernetics (in which, to put it very bluntly, desires make things move).” 53
“Feedback – making a system turn or twist back on itself, thus forming some kind of mystically taboo loop – seems to be dangerous, seems to be tempting fate, perhaps even to be intrinsically wrong, whatever that might mean.” 57
Another connection (from a different train of thought, not unrelated to this project, but not directly related either) that also tickled my brain – mirrors, objects which represent something back to itself – create a circularity of self-reception in a very narrow channel. What is interesting here for me is a pre-conscious feedback loop that mirrors create; we are so de-sensitized to their magic, that we automatically adjust to the phenomenon of visual feedback they create and accommodate the extra layer without acknowledging it in any explicit way. Particularly their ubiquity in dance training helps to suppress, or cover over, a more honest reaction to the weirdness they represent (no pun intended). There is no immunity that develops but like so many very familiar experiences, we no longer question the phenomenon – so the information and the medium of its propagation, in fact, the whole feedback cycle becomes implicit, buried in our everyday or ontic experience of them.
I imagine this to also be a similar process to Process – this way we, as dance artists, automatically enter into a feedback loop with the other bodies in the space, with the ambient noise/temperature/textures of the space. So, already, before we have really begun to do much, we are playing in a loop. We are loops, also interacting with other loops, like enormous interactive 3-dimensional Venn diagrams.
(This may also all seem terribly obvious – I suppose that is part of the point I am trying to make…)
Hofstadter considers our fascination/fear/anthropomorphisation of these as the superficial aspects of a deeper primal and irrational superstition… Which leads me to wonder if ‘cycle’ is somehow laid down in our bones – the archetype of human being as primarily agrarian being, we know that cycles are important, and from years far outweighing the most recent where technology has superseded natural cycles, or attempted to, we also know cycles as rough templates. We know them to be reliable to an extent… although mostly wholesome in their reliability, the possibility of change is constant and the very personal, potentially tragic consequences it contains perhaps inevitably leads us to imagine cycles as capricious beasts as well as beneficent waves…
And of course, meta! Language talking about itself talking about itself, reasoning reasoning about itself…
Key verbs: doubling back (on itself) engulfing (itself)
‘The point is that among my earliest memories is a relishing of loopy structures, of self-applied operations, of circularity, of paradoxical acts, of implied infinities.” 60
(and this must have been young Charlotte…! )
Implied infinities – nice alliteration – and tying back into journeys, or re-joining the cycle already begun… there is a reference in the ‘next’ chunk of writing, to the Salisbury clock, to maybe remember implied infinites when we arrive at that station via this writing… that we are all carrying on and on and on…. going back and back and back…temporal stretching… In Infinitum, regardless of our meeting point(s).
Some questions that came out of the above were:
Something happens or doesn’t happen which triggers/doesn’t trigger an event, a narrative of the cycle – so standing on the tube, trying to avoid being squashed by a rogue rucksack, I start thinking of our little structures as systems and does the system have a goal? Do our loops, specifically our movement loops, have a goal?
What wants to be seen?
And then – anthropomorphizing the material… does the dancing want to be seen? Do the pathways want to be seen? And finally, my strong sense from inside this is that the relationships want to be seen. And what does being seen feed back? And my thought, as it often is in art, that all this other stuff we get busy with, the content, the thing that tickled Charlotte’s brain and set the whole thing moving as a process, as a piece of work, is just there to support the relatedness of us, here, now, doing this stuff… our relatedness to the content, to our process… to each other, dancing/making/witnessing…this is sufficient. For me, in fact, I’m satisfied with how we are doing what we are doing and would rather do more of it and not reach anything at all if reaching something means we stop.
Lateral motion, oblique angles, pursuing tacit information… we hang up a goal to satisfy that end of the goal/process equation, or at least I believe it is part of the Western mind-set, but we can also do it consciously, fully believing it and also fully believing in its own goal to be a goal and not process (see how I folded the goal back on itself… ah the loops, they loop)… so that process can just truck along, doing its thing and we don’t mistake process for goal, vice versa or even fall into common trap a which is that the goal is the only thing we can pursue/is able to sustain our pursuit… process is equally and totally differently up to the task, it just needs a strategy which doesn’t rest on goal/desire/destination.
If my destination is x…
The thing I’m doing/engaging with to get there is something related, connected, but not a thing – so I’m not going to call it y, as I think that misleads us on a fundamental level. The play around x is my process of x. And then I have increasing ripples/mirrors around this – if I fall into Trap A, which is to conceptualise or objectify play-around-x, then this becomes another destination y. Or I can take out x and just have play-around-x. If the play-around-x got me somewhere, not necessarily x, then it is a useful mechanism. It might also be that the x was just a reason to play. And that it isn’t x that is my interest per se, but just the stuff that having x in my life led me towards. What it feels to me is that we are moving increasingly towards this – being drawn/interested/somehow fed by the traces left when removing the thing that led us where we were initially going. These seem to be arousing the most interest and energy. Which really doesn’t mean that x can be just anything. x has to be worthy of pursuit to create an honest engagement. But x becomes more and more of a space-holder – if we reach x, I think the colours become a little less lively and the flavours stale. But we wouldn’t actually ever reach x. I reckon we would find it had changed into something else over the course of our travel.
Having said that, it is a very good thing that we are working with this time/journeying business, because we’ll never reach the end point on that line… and it is entirely entirely looping back on itself – making journey the content, or loosely put, the destination of the project, or the x, has the effect of foregrounding the journey of journey, of folding back to the Process of process.