Conceptual Foundations of IVANHOE
always so as to increase the number of choices. The aesthetical imperative: If you desire to see, learn how
von Foerster, Observing Reality
IVANHOE is a project to begin realizing a set of new
ideas about textuality and semiotic fields. I say "realizing" because the central idea of IVANHOE is an
educational environment that has to be designed and operated.
We've been exploring and rehearsing the design of
IVANHOEıs software for a couple of years.
Recently, miraculously, we've come into the resources -- the money -- that
will let us execute our plans. A
forthcoming issues of Text Technology
will be devoted to essays on the project by everyone involved in its
development. These essays will
represent IVANHOE as an educational game of interpretation, an interactive
digital environment for studying cultural materials, an online annotation tool,
and a device for enlisting computer technology in the service of critical
thinking -- especially thinking about literary and other aesthetic works.
Each of these descriptions would fairly characterize
important features of IVANHOE. But
the project can be usefully approached from the slightly different perspective
of the history of the book and theory of textuality. This point of view is important to preserve because IVANHOE
emerged (a) at a significant point in time in the The history of
textuality, and (b) as an explicit
move to force a rethinking of some basic received ideas about literary works
and how we engage them in a critical way.
First of all, IVANHOE is a program of reading
traditional works of culture and the documents that instantiate those
works. We believe that digital
tools offer special advantages for implementing the project, but in fact
IVANHOE can be (and has been) undertaken quite well in a purely paper
environment. IVANHOE was first
implemented in a gaming mode by Johanna Drucker and Jerome McGann and it has
since been "played" as a "game" a number of times. But IVANHOE need not be organized as a game, it could just
as well be a space for imaginative play, a kind of multiple-user toy. Finally, because those who originally
conceived IVANHOE were most interested in how to read and rethink imaginative
works and documents, the project
has to this point been tested exclusively with literary works: Ivanhoe itself, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, The Turn of the Screw, two stories by Murakami, and The Four Zoas. In the
case of the last of those works, IVANHOE was run as a collective research
Before considering the ideas that underlie and get put
into action through IVANHOE, it will be helpful to begin at a phenomenological
level -- with a mental picture of what it looks like to play or implement a
session of IVANHOE. A group of
people, two at a minimum, agree to collaborate in thinking about how to
reimagine a particular work, say Ivanhoe. The agreement is that
each person will try to reshape the given work so that it is understood or seen
in a new way. The reshaping
process in IVANHOE is immediate, practical, and performative. Thatıs to say, the interpreters
intervene in the textual field and alter the document(s) by adding, reordering,
or deleting text, and by marking patterns of relation that these interventions
generate. The interpretive moves
are meant to expose meaningful features of the textual field that were
unapparent in its original documentary state. Interpreters will also look for ways that their
interventions might use or fold in with the interpretive moves of others
working the collaborative session of IVANHOE.
Some analogies may be helpful. IVANHOE's interpreting agents approach
their work much as performers or conductors approach a piece of music, or the
way a director approaches a play.
The performance in these cases fashions an interpretation of the
original work, and the result is what Gertrude Stein, in a slightly different
sense, called "Composition as Explanation". Performative interpretations of all kinds -- translation, for
example have much in common with IVANHOE. Book artists and illustrators work along similar
interpretive lines, and we have many cases where authors themselves illustrate
or design the embodiments of their own textual works, thereby glossing them
with intervening sets of interpretive signs. Some notable figures integrate text and visualization into a
composite or double work -- in England one thinks immediately of Blake, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward
Lear, Lewis Carroll. Or consider
how "The Matter of Arthur" or "The Matter of Troy" are conceived and
elaborated. A set of legends
centering in the Trojan war and in King Arthur multiply as versions and
variants that expose fresh ranges of meaning resting latently in the materials. The interpretive transformations that
unfold in a session of IVANHOE seek to exploit a logic of interpretation of
IVANHOE is not like a "creative writing workshop",
however. Its textual
transformations get executed in a frame of reference focused on the
significance of the changes in relation to the originary textual field and
the changes that oneıs collaborating agents make to that field. The
presence of the initial state of the text(s) is always preserved because the
point of IVANHOE is to study that field of relations as it provokes or licenses
its readers to reimagine its implications and textual possibilities. Interpreters are expected to keep a
journal in which their interpretive moves are justified and explained in
relation to the originary work and/or the moves made by the other agents.
Though they have much in common with Oulipian
exercises, IVANHOE's textual transformations promote what Coleridge called
"Aids to Reflection". If it should
be seen as "A Userıs Manual", as I think it should, the users have been
imagined from the outset as students and scholars.
Foundations of IVANHOE
IVANOE is thus a proposal for reading and thinking
critically about textual fields, especially traditional works of literature and
culture, in the historical context of the late 20th century, when
such works found themselves in a collision with born-digital textualities. The volatile convergence of these two
semiotic machineries has made
possible a new set of parameters for studying and using expressive
forms, paper-based as well as digital.
IVANHOE is not, however, a new "theory" of textuality. It is a practical mechanism -- a kind of
laboratory -- for experimenting with these ideas and refining our understanding
of them, and of their relevance to the general inquiry they have set us upon.
Here is a list of the ideas that have regulated the
development of IVANHOE. We will
take up each of these topics and gloss its pertinence to the work of the
1. The textual field is a Baktinian space
2. In textual space, a equals a if and
only if a does not equal a
3. Textual fields arise codependently with
4. Textual forms are generated by
algorithmic and autopoietic devices
5. Interpretive action is always
6. Interpretation of a textual field proceeds
at an inner standing point
7. Textual fields are n-dimensional
of these ideas is heavily invested in the others, and we do not want to think
of them as forming a serial or hierarchical set. They are in a sense redundant expressions of a single
proposal for thinking about textuality and fields of discourse. We have arranged them in this
particular sequence strictly for rhetorical purposes, to help clarify the
experimental domain that IVANHOE marks out for itself.
textual field is a Bakhtinian space (heteroglossia). We
begin here because Bakhtin's critical revision of formal and structuralist
models of textuality is well known and broadly dispersed in literary and
cultural studies. Focusing on the
socio-linguistic dimension of textuality, Bakhtin demonstrated how texts are
immersed in a complex "discourse field" of conflicting, competing, and
overlapping "languages". Critical
analysis can show how any given text folds multiple expressive forms into an
organized set of dominant and indominant features. Language users inherit linguistic codes of many kinds from
different sources, and while certain of these exert primary control in the
organizing of meaning, latent and recessive linguistic forms are deeply
imbedded in the discourse field. Bakhtin's method is to show the structure of these
heteroglossial forms in particular works and to demonstrate from his case
studies some general principles about discourse fields and their dialectical
Because Bakhtin's method is fundamentally oriented
toward classical philology, his work does not factor into its analysis any
critical reflection on the phenomenology of his own criticism. While his own critical "method" is thus
more flexible than the non-historicist "formal methods" he opposes, it too,
like the latter, does not incorporate a "critique of enlightenment" into its
procedures. Like classical
science, Bakhtin's method proposes that, given ideal conditions, it could
expose the entire linguistic truth of any
textual space, a equals a if and only if a does not equal a.
Bakhtin's work prepared the ground for a more fundamental reassessment
of textuality. Any given natural
language text (so-called) will be marked by the presence of different language
games. Imaginative texts work by
exploiting these multiple expressive agencies while expository texts, which
pursue an informational goal, seek to minimize ambiguity. The most extreme cases of the
latter would be the formal languages written for computers. The latter propose to construct sign
systems that close coherently upon themselves. They are systems where a=a. But in any mother tongue, while the value of a (syntagmatic
or semantical) always has a known range of normalcy, it remains open to random
change and is thus strictly unpredictable. This is the message that Humpty Dumpty gives to Alice, who
was raised to think and speak in normal Victorian ways. Of course Victorian Alice, being both a
child and a girl, has the curiosity of a subaltern person. That curiosity -- Pierce called it
"abduction" -- sends her through the looking glass where she can begin to
reimagine the world.
languages are created as a function of natural language -- a far richer and more
powerful sign system than digital signs precisely because, in fact, a does not
equal a, as any glance at a dictionary will immediately reveal. Indeed, the two most ambiguous and
meaning-flexible words in the English language are the simplest, the articles
"a" and "the". Textuality is, like
light, fundamentally incoherent.
To bring coherence to either text or to light requires great effort and
ingenuity, and in neither case can the goal of perfect coherence be attained.
paradox involved in this principle is, like all paradoxes, only apparent and
logical. It arrests our attention
simply because the principle of identity is taken as axiomatic in every
discipline of knowledge we employ.
It can be shown logically that the principle of noncontradiction is
self-contradictory -- a demonstration that was apparently first made by
Nagarjuna in the fifth century.
Far from a being equal to a, we know on the contrary the truth of the
following conventional idea: that "nothing is what it appears to be".
order to know anything, however, we have to propose the useful fiction that
a=a. From this conscious
intellectual move we can proceed to execute the primary critical act: we can
draw a distinction, from which further sets of distinctions can then be
non-selfidentity of objects in a discourse field is not, however, primarily a
logical function -- or at any rate does not immediately (phenomenologically)
strike us as such. Semiotic and
linguistic forms are incoherent because they have to be marked in order to be
perceived at all. The marks are
acoustic, calligraphic, typographic, digital; they are phonological,
ideographical, alphabetical; they are semantic and syntactic. Each of these forms of distinction cuts
the textual field and divides it from itself according to some assumed point of
view and set of protocols. The
textual fields that we know are fields that have been marked for knowing in
particular ways. D. G. Rossetti
wanted to represent this phenomenon in a pictorial image. He called the work -- which he never
carried beyond an initial sketch -- "Venus Surrounded by Mirrors, Reflecting her in Different
elementary forms of textual markup listed above are commonly deployed in
instrumental ways so that we use them without thinking about them, or even
being aware of their presence.
This functional transparency
promotes the (useful) illusion of seamlessness and coherence in textual
fields, and of the ultimate illusion that objects in the field are
self-identical -- indeed, that they are"objects". Poets and book
artists, on the other hand, regularly introduce second-order markup in order to
expose the dynamic complexity of the textual space -- to strip away the text's
"veil of familiarity", as Shelley called it, and reveal it as a "dome of
These kinds of move disrupt the self-transparency of
the first-order markings and drive the textual field toward its natural state
of incoherence. Or to put the
matter more accurately, they construct second-order illusions that expose the
functioning presence of the first-order illusions. (An analogous process occurs when quantum physicists mark
their field measurements for "renormalization".) Text illustration or -- as in Mallarmé's Un coup de dès --
deliberated typographical form introduces this second, non-transparent sign system
into what would otherwise be read as a purely linguistic field. The resulting composite or doubled work
gains a marked increase in self-reflexive form, creating a textual field that
is able to comment upon itself.
Certain of D. G. Rossetti's double works -- most particularly his
arrangement of sonnets and painting known as The Girlhood of Mary -- comprise an explicit manifesto for this kind of
self-reflexive semiotic field.
is a simple example to illustrate
Brown's point. A mark made
randomly -- for instance, from a meteor striking the earth -- draws no
distinction. Indeed, the gash in
the earth is not a mark at all.
Only when the gash has been marked as a sign do we see the emergence of
a mark. To give any "cause" for
the gash -- to say, for instance, that it was made by a meteor -- is already to
have marked it with meaning. The
marked field thus arises as a codependent function of some agency that makes a
Like biological forms and all living systems, not
least of all language itself, textuality is a condition that codes (or
simulates) what are known as autopoietic systems. These systems are classically described in the
one says that there is a machine M
in which there is a feedback loop through the environment so that the effects
of its output affect its input, one is in fact talking about a larger machine M1 which includes the environment and the feedback loop
in its defining organization.
(Maturana and Varela, AC
a system constitutes a closed topological space that "continuously generates
and specifies its own organization through its operation as a system of
production of its own components, and does this in an endless turnover of
components" (Maturana and Varela, AC
79). Autopoietic systems are
thus distinguished from allopoietic systems, which are Cartesian and which
"have as the product of their functioning something different from themselves"
(Maturana and Varela, AC 80).
this context, all coding systems appear to occupy a peculiar position. Because "coding. . .represents the
interactions of [an] observer" with a given system, the mapping stands apart
from "the observed domain" (Maturana and Varela, AC 135).
Coding is a function of "the space of human design" operations, or what
is classically called "heteropoietic" space. Positioned thus, coding and markup appear allopoietic.
machines of simulation, however, coding and markup (print or electronic) are
not like most allopoietic systems (cars, flashlights, a road network,
economics). Coding functions
emerge as code only within an
autopoietic system that has evolved those functions as essential to the
maintenance of its life (its dynamic operations). Language and print technology (and electronic technology)
are second- and third-order autopoietic systems -- what McLuhan famously,
expressively, if also somewhat misleadingly, called "extensions of man". Coding mechanisms proteins, print
technology -- are generative components of the topological space they serve to
maintain. They are folded within
the autopoietic system like membranes in living organisms, where distinct
components realize and execute their extensions of themselves.
general frame of reference is what makes Maturana and Varela equate the
"origin" of such systems with their "constitution" (Maturana and Varela, AC 95).
This equation means that codependency pervades an autopoietic structure
components of the system arise (so to speak) simultaneously and they perform
integrated functions. The system's
life is a morphogenetic passage characterized by various dynamic mutations and
transformations of the local system components. The purpose or goal of these processes is autopoietic --
self-transformation and self-maintenance -- and their basic element is not a
system component but the relation (codependence) that holds the mutating
components in varying states of dynamic stability. The states generate measurable codependency functions both
in their periods (or basins) of stability and in their unique moments of
the horizon of textuality, autopoiesis measures the codependency of those
entities conventionally named "the work" and "the reader". Barthes's injunction "From Work to Text" was an initial move
to break the positivist analysis of the textual condition by marking the object
of interpretation not as an empirical object but as a sign system. The legacy of such a view is concretely
realized in the discipline of Cultural Studies, where the distinction between
an empirical object and its interpretation is not a procedural assumption but a
central problem and focus of attention.
forms are generated by algorithmic and autopoietic devices. An
algorithm is a step by step procedure to bring about some intended result or
function. Cook books and
instruction manuals exhibit algorithmic forms in natural language. Like computer algorithms, their
immediate horizon is allopoietic.
But to observe this is immediately to see that when any given allopoietic
function is resituated in a larger systemic context, its autopoietic character
begins to emerge. Cook books and
instruction manuals are autopoietic maintenance functions within higher-order
cultural formations. Thus we see
that the distinction between allopoiesis and autopoiesis is functional, that
the two processes themselves stand in a relation of codependency.
works emerge from and feed back into the agencies that name and preserve them
as such. The works and the
agencies are codependent -- a
relation signaled in the following
famous lines: implicitly at the linguistic level, explicitly at the
"Not marble, nor the guilded monuments
princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme."
is merely one of countless declarations about the autopoietic character of
poetry and artistic work.
The lines are themselves, moreover, a procedural move in a complex code
that maintains itself by having itself continuously modified and
rewritten. A host of commentators,
exegetes, and instructors attend upon these lines, including ourselves at this
moment, refusing their extinction, executing Shakespeareıs code, and pointing
out that these scripts recode an instructional line whose origin is dateless,
whose recodings perpetual. The
most celebrated precursor texts in Ovid and Horace are themselves at once signs
and agents of the process.
In this sense we must be ready always to move "From
Text to Work" since the sign system of any phenomenon is so widely
dispersed: by no means to be
identified with some particular text we see on some particular page. That text locates only an instantiated
moment -- itself highly volatile -- of an autopoietic "work" generated from the
double helix of its production history and its reception history.
cook books and instruction manuals, poetry and other forms of imaginative
textuality comprise high-order signal codes. Poetryıs autopoietic character is a commonplace among its
commentators: "poetry makes
nothing happen", it affirms nothing and denies nothing, or (perhaps) it builds airy nothings and creates virtual, self-subsistent
worlds. In this precise sense we
also say, have always said, that it holds a mirror up to life. A magical mirror, like Lewis Carroll's,
or like the mirror in Cocteau's Orphée. For living systems are
On the other hand, because art and poetry function in
a larger (human) world, to say that they make nothing happen is plainly
untrue. To expose for reflection
an operating autopoietic structure is itself an allopoietic function. These functions are always in play,
however, most prominently in forms of satire. Swinburne's famous Poems and Ballads (1866), that hornbook of aestheticism, has as its
product something different from itself.
Swinburne wrote the book to make a public stir, which it succeeded in
doing. Even the supremist of
fictions, like the poetry of Stevens, make pledges of allegiance to a cause --
Mallarmé called it poésie pure --
that is surely directed at something other than itself. The history of the emergence of
aestheticism -- of any artistic
movement for that matter -- measures the allopoietic functions being executed in the codes of a supervening autopoietic
The algorithmic structure of poetical textuality is
most aggressively articulated in a Byronic line of work that emerges with Poe,
gains greater explicitness in nonsense writing and the outrageous experiments
of Lautréamont and Jarry, and culminates in Roussel, OULIPO, and the vigorous
tradition of procedural writing of the late twentieth-century. We set these writers apart only because
they call explicit attention to something that is universally the case: that a
literary work codes a set of instructions for how it should be read. Unlike machine and program codes,
however, these codes decipher to an indeterminate number of precise
outcomes. They represent exactly
what Jarry called "a science of exceptions".
IVANHOE is the name of this project partly because it
so dramatically illustrates the operation of this kind of coding, and partly
because it hasnıt been a name to reckon with since the nineteenth-century, when
it was regarded as "the epic of its age", as Balzac remarked. When Ivanhoe was published it birthed a reception history that
spread in endless commentaries and mutated into theatre, popular and serious
rewritings, music, art. It was a
book with many lives hidden in its codes and waiting further realization. Nothing illustrates this fact so well
as its moment of immediate reception.
An instant success, the book brought as well a corps of sympathetic
readers to complain that the story had come out wrong. The final marriage should have been
between Rebecca, not Rowena, and Ivanhoe.
And of course it is perfectly true that this outcome
is coded as an imaginable possibility in the book. The criticism exposed Scott's version of the story as one
that was chosen, but that might not have been. When Johanna Drucker and I first played IVANHOE, my textual
transformations were all directed to recasting the book so that, in the end,
Rebecca and Bois-Guilbert end up together. This (clearly Byronic) reading of the tale responds to
codings that are present, if unexploited and even resisted, in the Ivanhoe Scott published. Reorganizing the book so that this outcome emerges brings a
critical explication to Scott's work.
Many other features and elements in the book might be imagined as part
of an interpretive assessment of its tensions and complexities, and the same
thing is true for any aesthetically coded work.
action is always performative/deformative. The broad practice of
literary and cultural theory during the past half-century did much to restore
this kind of performative approach to critical work. Barthes and his successors did not have to struggle against
the empirical historicisms that so plagued Nietzsche. The service economics of nineteenth-century philology had
been supplanted in the academy by a different nineteenth-century model derived
from Coleridgeıs idea of the clerisy and subsequently modified to a more
secular Arnoldian form. This
creature, the famous New Criticism, was Barthes -- and Theory's -- point of
When the academy set the interpretive essay at the
center of its critical agenda, it
reified the integrity of "the poem itself". Like the historicist practices it was replacing, this
procedure marked critical reflection as a spectator's game. The case of Freudian and psychoanalytic
criticism, so central for twentieth- century modernism, is exemplary here. It took the startling work of Lacan to
show that psychoanalytic method had more in common with astrology and midrash
aggadahıs superb imaginative flights from the word of God than it did with
science; and that it would be most accurately used as a stimulating imaginative commentary upon elusive and
imaginary materials -- ultimately, as a reflection on the discourse of ideology
fashioned within the space of ideology itself.
Between Philosophical Investigations and Of Grammatology a great shift had taken place in the concept of
criticism. No longer tied to a
system (Kant, Hegel) or even to a set of ideas (Arnold), criticism now seemed
better pursued as a reflective or rhetorical practice: provocative strategies
of thinking rather than an exemplary body of thought. This philosophical turn had an enormous impact on literary
and cultural studies. Nonetheless,
positivist ideas about textuality have remained strong. Nowhere is this fact more clear, or
perhaps more suprising, than in the cultural study of digital media, which is
regularly celebrated as the convergence of a dynamic medium with a dynamic
reader -- in contrast to traditional text, which is represented, by contrast, as
inert. A digital environment with
hyperlinks is called "active" and a website like amazon.com appears to talk to
its customers and anticipate what they want. To the degree that any dynamic interaction between human and
machine actually occurs in a digital space, however -- an unlikely event at best
it differs from the interaction between a book and a reader only in the speed
with which information is transacted and exchanged. Book space, like digital space, is a field of simulations,
and in each case the machine -- the book and the computer -- is capable of
connecting itself to a host of related, equally complex information networks.
In one obvious and crucial sense the book-machine may
license far greater flexibility, range, and speed for a reader than digital
space offers to its users, so linked to visualizations as digital tools
currently are. The visual
constraints of book technology have coded its space as primarily a space of
imagination -- in the most technical sense -- whereas digital space is being
coded primarily in sensational terms.
Because a persistent romantic ideology assigns a kind of transhuman
value to imagination, this difference produces works like The Gutenberg
Elegies. The IVANHOE project sees no reason to resist the resources
of either machinery. Indeed, one
of the projectıs chief aims is to build an interface where these two
information technologies can be made to interact and reflect upon each other.
In that frame of reference, IVANHOE proposes that
Barthes' theoretical orientation to textuality be critically assimilated to the
approach of another dialectician of texts who emerged in the same period:
Galvano della Volpe. Although both
were in debt to Marxist dialectics, Barthes' roots went to structural
linguistics, while della Volpe's were philological. In della Volpeıs view, the agency of the reader would always
be checked and constrained by the heteroglossia of the texts under
examination. The reader's
part, according to della Volpe, was to produce an interpretation of a given
work -- he called it a "quid" -- which would then be tested for its adequacy as
an account of the work being interpreted.
A successful interpretation would clarify salient lines of interpretive
failure and thereby feed back into a new set of interpretive moves.
What joins Barthes and della Volpe is their shared
understanding that interpretation makes an active move upon the textual
inheritance. This was a common
theme in a period that saw the emergence of deconstruction, various
hermeneutics of suspicion, and -- not least remarkable -- Harold Bloom's celebrated
dictum that "all interpretation is misinterpretation." All are highly performative, not to say
deformative, modes of critical engagement. With certain notable exceptions Susan Howe, for instance,
and Charles Bernstein -- this critical work preserved the idea of a careful
separation between the integrity of an observed object of criticism, and the
integrity of the critical observer.
The thinking was the clear legacy of nineteenth-century philology and
the scientific models it pursued.
Certain consequences of these procedures may be remarked. First, the academy set the interpretive
essay at the center of its critical agenda. This instrument reified the integrity of "the poem itself"
and marked critical reading and reflection as a spectatorıs game. More significantly, it obscured the fact
that interpretive commentary had much less in common with the procedures of
science and much more with those superb imaginative flights from the word of
God in midrash aggadah. The case
of Freudian and psychoanalytic criticism, so central for 20th century
modernism, is exemplary here. It
took the startling work of Lacan to show that psychoanalytic interpretation had
more in common with astrology than with science, and that it would be most
accurately read as an imaginative commentary upon elusive and imaginary
materials ultimately, on the discourse of ideology.
Because the performative character of "Theory" has
been largely pursued within models inherited from the nineteeth-century
academy, its transformational power has been checked. An empiricist inertia gets passed on through these models
that late twentieth-century theorists struggle against, as one can see in the
period's fixation with Nietzsche.
Derrida stands virtually alone among that celebrated theoretical company
in having produced works like Glas
and The Post Card. For a period with such an academic
interest in pastiche and parody, few academics availed themselves of the
resources of those performative critical subgenres. Frederick Crews's remarkable The Pooh Perplex (1963) created a noise like a tree falling in an
empty forest. Perhaps his wicked
reprise, Postmodern Pooh (2001)
will wake some of his neighbors up.
The most arresting and important critical deformations
of the late 20th century would come, however, from an unusual quarter:
from bibliographers and scholarly editors. For nothing strips away the veil of familiarity from an
aesthetic work so much as an elaborate scholarly edition. These works help to restore the
originals to a modicum of their true autopoietic range, depth, and
multiplicity. They drive their
readers -- if those who enter such works can still be called readers -- back to
the foul rag and bone shops where these works made (and keep making) their
grand and (dis)continuous historical passagings. Change, nonselfidentity and metamorphosis rule the field of
texuality because it works are material incarnations.
acts of bibliographical defamiliarization were executed on the works of key
figures: Coleridge most recently, but the line reaches back to the genetic
editing of Hölderlin at mid-century and has carried forward in different ways
to the works of Shakespeare, Flaubert, Dickinson, Joyce, and others. Imagine trying to read Wordsworth in that magnificent library of Babel, "The
Cornell Wordsworth". Or Rossetti
in the labyrinths of The Rossetti Archive. Looming over all this
work in his bad and magnificent eminence is the Renaissance bibliographer
Randall McLeod. At once ludic and
immensely learned, McLeodıs scholarship came before IVANHOE as a chastisement,
a spur, and a liberation.
of a textual field proceeds at an inner standing point. Funding
many of these forms of critical energy -- these tigers of instruction -- is a
belief in the enlightened power of the critical mind. IVANHOE was conceived, however, to speak somewhat
preposterously, as a kind of negation of that negation. IVANHOE is organized so that those
working in its spaces will continually encounter themselves as part of the
subjects they address and the problems they want to solve.
of this model comes from the Socratic tradition, but the immediate inspiration
was D. G. Rossetti's idea that a critical art should execute itself at what he
called "an inner standing-point".
This vantage is especially important in difficult cases since they are difficult exactly because they define an area of
volatile opinion and judgment.
Rossetti developed his theory, first, when he constructed a procedure of
critical pastiche for handling medieval religious materials in the radically belated
and alien context of middle-class Victorianism ; and second, when trying to
find a way to expose the volatile subject of Victorian prostitution and the
relation between ideal and sexual desire. For its part, the great force of Plato's myth of Socrates
rests in the inner standing-point from which Socrates pursued his
inquiries. The Apology is the touchstone document for Plato since it defines
all of Socratesı dialogues as life and death matters.
Critical measurements, whether scientific or humane,
fall under the rule of a Heisenbergian uncertainty. Burns's reformulation of that rule -- "To see ourselves as
others see us" -- has proved an especially useful guide to method in IVANHOE. The space is organized so that players
are twice constrained to an inner standing-point. The first constraint comes from the impinging social nexus
of the other playerıs subjective moves.
The second is a function of a refinement made to IVANHOE after its first
iteration. We realized that we
could enrich the critical function of the playspace if the players would be
required to execute their moves en masque. A second level of
reflection emerges when players construct their moves as if they were being
made by some specific person or character. When we tested IVANHOE with the focus on Wuthering
Heights, for example, all of my moves
were made as if by the notorious book collector and forger T. J. Wise.
Thinking slows the drift toward simple exposition when
thinking includes itself in the field of its attention. It is intellectually dangerous to take
what one says and thinks too seriously.
A ludic element therefore pervades the idea and practice of
IVANHOE. Comic and playful procedures
are not only imaginative resources, as we know, but useful avenues for
developing critical resistance to filtered and administered thinking, not least
of all oneıs own.
fields are n-dimensional. This idea is foregone within the six
categories just examined. But the
formulation "n-dimensional" is important as a rhetorical move to situate
IVANHOE within a context where quantum mechanics and self-organizing systems
can meet the hermeneutical traditionıs commitment to the search for meaning.
might begin from the following observation by the celebrated mathematician René
Thom: "In quantum mechanics every
system carries the record of every previous interaction it has experienced -- in
particular, that which created it -- and in general it is impossible to reveal
or evaluate this record" (Thom 16).
A literary scholar would have no difficulty rewriting this as follows:
In poetry every work carries the record of every previous interpretation it has
experienced -- in particular, that which created it -- and in general it is
impossible to reveal or evaluate this record." It is impossible because the record is indeterminate. Every move to reveal or evaluate the
record changes the entire system not just in a linear but in a recursive way,
for the system -- the poetical work -- and any interpretation of it are part of
the same codependent dynamic field.
Consequently, to speak of any interpretation as "partial" is misleading,
for the interpretive move reconstructs the system, the poem, as a
totality. This reconstruction
corresponds to what is termed in quantum mechanics the collapse of a wave-function
into its eigenstate.
that Thom refers to an interpretation "which created" the system (as it were)
in the first place. But the work
of Merleau-Ponty, Maturana, and von Foerster -- to name just the most prominent
instances -- has shown that this creating interpretation is what a positivist
view would call, has called "the poem itself". For certain interpretive purposes we find it helpful to
think about "Kubla Khan" as Coleridgeıs creation, but other ways of observing
the poem are normal. Indeed,
except as an indexing convenience, Coleridge's authorship scarcely enters even
a majority of the work's interpretations.
"Kubla Khan"² is not selfidentical, it is an emergent function in an
autopoietic field that comprehends the interpretive agent.
demonstrate how his "constructivist" philosophical position works, Heinz von
Foerster proposed the following "Reality Game":
First, there must be two players. . . . They create a large board with lots of
objects on it which they agree to call "The World." Then they put themselves on the board and invent a set of
rules for the objects. These rules
they agree to call "The Laws of Nature."
If, during the game, it turns out that the rules they applied in
creating the objects don't jive with the rules they invented to play with the
objects, they change these objects or change "The Laws of Nature."
Now they can play. The goal of the game is for both to agree on hos they
themselves shall move on the board, even under disagreement. It is clear that A can win only when B
wins and vice versa. For if B
loses, A is lost too. Then reality
disappears and the nightmares begin.
Reality Game has much in common with Peter Suber's rule changing game NOMIC,
which it may well have inspired.
IVANHOE too is a version of von Foersterıs "Reality Game". IVANHOE is a less abstract game than
either von Foersterıs or Suberıs, however, because "The World" of IVANHOE
emerges through an intervention in an already given, quantized, and interpreted
world. IVANHOE permits no illusion
of an ex nihilo moment of
creation: you donıt invent objects or rules, you choose to move and define
meanings in certain ways within a field already prepared -- by being understood
-- as n-dimensional.
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von Foerster, Observing Systems. Intersystems Publications: Seaside, CA,
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Maturana and Francesco Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition.
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