if ('class topics' != 'syllabus')
Poetry and Checkers (posted 28 January 2004)
George Quasha, “Too Late”;
Arthur C. Clarke, “The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told”;
Georges Perec, brief excerpt from A Void;
Tristan Tzara, “How to Make a Dadaist Poem”;
(all texts to be distributed).
Apparently, I stink at checkers... *sigh*
Hmm, in real life I'm quite horrible at checkers, I'm doing well on the online version though :-) I can't help but wonder what algorithms they're using for the AI, it's decent if not particularly innovative.
Experimentation is a great idea, but I wonder what results were found from some of these experiments. An experiment doesn't seem very fruitful unless there is a subsequent analysis of its outcome.
For example, what did Perec hope to show by excluding 'e' from his work? Was he successful in doing so? Why?
Well a lot of experiments are done without a real goal in mind. The intent is simply to observe what happens.
Imagine, if you will, the group of fraternity brothers that decide to go out back and set each others' farts on fire. There is certainly no real explanation as to "why" ANYONE would do such a thing...other than "we wanted to see what would happen if we did."
But what is the significance of the fart experiment to a third party?
I'm reminded of a (probably misquoted) comment by the famous poet Robert Frost: "Writing blank verse is like playing tennis without a net." For some, it's having an arbitrary, challenging set of rules that gives an activity its meaning.
Sometimes the best things in life are found through experiments that have no purpose. According to my science teacher, the microwave was created by accident by some guy who worked in a radio control tower. But, you got to analysis the results of the experiment to make progress.
The discovery of the cooking power which allows microwave ovens was an unforseen consequence of another experiment, which did have a purpose. Once the scientist working on the original experiment formed the hypothesis that it was able too cook food, he performed a second experiment to confirm it. Thus, though the discovery of the technology of microwave ovens was the result of chance, it was neither haphazard nor an accident. Rather, the happenstance which produced the idea of a microwave oven led to an experiment which in turn proved its plausibility. More info here: http://home.nycap.rr.com/useless/microwaves/index.html (an article I read less than 6 months ago)
As for the Robert Frost (mis)quote--I was able to find this: "Frost's tart dismissal of 'free' verse: 'I'd just as soon play tennis with the net down.'" http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/frost-tennis.html
I'm don't think this fits as a complete metaphor for writing with or without rules. Presumably, tennis with the net down is still the same game, minus any rules regarding the net. Thus, it is still subject to previously established (and, therefore, not arbitrary as they have a precedent) rules; it is simply an easier way to play (one does not have be as skilled if one doesn't have to plan for a stroke to force the ball over the net.
What might help is to substitute the idea of purpose with play. Experiments can be playful as well as purposeful. The Oulipeans, who very much had a sense of humor about themselves, thought of what they were doing as playing language games. Which is _not_ to say they thought the work was trivial or unimportant: play can be just as serious as it is frivolous (as any child knows) and just as revelatory as more conventional (read: adult) ways of learning about the world.
I'd also make the comparison to those who play /physical/ games. Those with great ability in sports are paid enormous amounts of money and held in high esteem. Why isn't our first reaction, on seeing them, the 'what's the point?' reaction we have to demonstrations of great literary ability, even if it's purely for entertainment?
Going back to my original comment, It's not that I think that purpose is lacking from these experiments. I imagine it would be hard to conduct one without purpose. In fact, I feel something like this:
I've walked into chemistry lab an hour late (no lab book for this course), and my partner tells me, "The ice melted." I have no idea what the significance of this result is, because I have no knowledge of the purpose or procedures of the experiment. Without an idea of intent or process, I cannot interpret the results.
James makes a wonderful point. I've explored a lot into the whole Existential side of things and one can pretty much deem anything worthless. In the grand scheme of things you can use the line "what's the point" to anything.
For example, let me give you a question and answer.
-What's the point in going to college?
-To get a job
-What's the point in getting a job?
-To make money
-What's the point in making money?
-To provide for my family
Now, i know this example is kind of a pain in the ass and seemingly childish but it again points out, to me at least, that you could believe everything to be worthless.
So, to remedy this "worthlessness" just enjoy yourself live your life and dont worry about questions like this. Or else I will have to post something else incredibly nerdy.
PS if you like existentialism i recommend "Existential Psychotherapy" by Yalom