This course began with the assumption that many of the problems facing our modern world can be attributed to an “innovation crisis,” and that these problems are on such a large scale that it is “mass creativity,” and not the creativity of the individual (or the entrepreneur) that holds the key to solving them. As scholars of literature we naturally look to literature to provide a means of generating this necessary burst of innovation, and following the need for creativity en masse our attention seems to be pointed to the reader of fiction rather than the writer, as, published, a novel has the potential to expand its reach far beyond those few involved in its production. Therefore, I believe what should interest us is the ways creativity is evoke in our response to fiction, and, utilizing Wolfgang Iser’s "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach" I would like to investigate how literature classified as Science Fiction in particular creates the potential for mass creativity, here viewed via a passage from Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik.
Iser sets up reading as a constant interplay between expectations and the text’s subversion of those expectations, stating “each intentional sentence correlative opens up a particular horizon, which is modified, if not completely changed, by succeeding sentences" (53). In this scenario, the reader engages with a text through the interplay of anticipation and expectation, therefore creativity is central to the reading process: the reader creates expectations that the text breaks. In the definition of Science Fiction commonly referenced by scholars of the genre, critic Darko Suvin defines it as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (pg 7-8, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction). As Iser asserts that “defamiliarization of what the reader thought he recognized is bound to create a tension that will intensify his expectations as well as his distrust of those expectations" (63), the Science Fiction world, full of technological innovations and elements unfamiliar to us from our “empirical environment” offers increased opportunities to challenge our expectations through the presentation of previously unknown innovations and the text’s subversion of expectations can be seen to assume a heightened form in Science Fiction texts.
Day of the Oprichnik offers many examples of the cognitive estrangement Suvin discusses. Fairly early in the book the narrator, Komiaga, sets a price with the ballerina who’s bribing him, “Well…for you…two and a half. And an aquarium” (pg 62). It is the word “aquarium” that carries this burden of estrangement by challenging our expectations. We know what an aquarium is in our empirical world, and this reference does not fit with our expectations of its use and value. In attempting to discern what Komiaga means by “aquarium,” Iser’s statement that "the reader uses the various perspectives offered him by the text in order to relate the patterns and the "schematised views" to one another" (51) implies our answers to this question must be informed by the content of the novel itself. Had the novel so far implied that the world in which it is set is the world we know, we would have had no doubts what an aquarium is, and we would have assumed that its use as a valuable item of barter has to do with cultural differences rather than technological ones. But the fact that the world of the novel includes “ray guns” (15), and phones that show the caller’s “red-bearded face…to the right of the steering wheel” (13) we are given the possibility that this use of “aquarium” is not synonymous with the fish tanks of our reality.
It is here in the Science Fiction text where innovations not possible in a realist work can emerge. While in realism we grasp for the empirical solution which best fills this gap (for example, a man glimpsed on the moon must be an astronaut brought by a space shuttle, not a member of a new lunar colony), in Science Fiction the creative mind is able to provide answers not yet technologically available to us, and these mental innovations have the possibility to inspire real world inventions, as has been shown repeatedly across history, where real-world discoveries are predated by their fictional counterparts. In Day of the Oprichnik we must imagine what objects might carry non-monetary value in the culture Sorokin has created, for Komiaga demands the aquarium in addition to money, not instead of. Thus far, those things which we’ve seen bring Komiaga pleasure are violence and sex, so we might assume (wrongly it turns out) that the aquarium is some new innovation linked to one or the other of those themes.
Iser considers these gaps in the text that the reader tries to fill as a key element of the reading process, stating "It is only through the inevitable omissions that a story gains its dynamism. Thus, whenever the flow is interrupted and we are fed off in unexpected directions, the opportunity is given to us to bring into play our own faculty for establishing connections--for filling in the gaps left by the text itself" (55). These gaps create an opening for the creativity we are seeking from the reader. In the moment between the text giving us the effects of an unknown innovation and providing us with its answer for how the effect was achieved, there is limitless space for the reader to create new possibilities. Science Fiction contains more than its share of these gaps, and an increased opportunity for imaginative creativity over realism. Iser states that "the written part of the text gives us the knowledge, but it is the unwritten part that gives us the opportunity to picture things " (58). Since the world of Science Fiction is almost entirely made up of gaps of information the text doesn’t supply us with we as readers must work extra hard to fill in these openings. Unlike in realism where we can assume we know the prevailing cultural customs or technological capabilities, in SF these things are all missing pieces, and, where not specified by the text, fall to us to supply completely. Therefore, we are given a realm of possibilities for supplying these answers that requires greater creativity on the part of the reader than realism requires, and opens up the possibility that the innovations the reader supplies while reading the novel could one day move from the realm of the imaginary to that of the real.
“But as the planet was cooling, all of it happened more and more slowly, in a long ritard like a clock winding down. The planet settled into the shape we see. But change never stops: the ceaseless winds carved the land, with dust that grew finer and finer; and the eccentricities of Mars’s orbit meant that the southern and northern hemispheres traded the cold and warm winters in a cycle of 51,000 years, so that the dry ice cap and the water ice cap reversed poles. Each swing of this pendulum laid down a new stratum of sand, and the troughs of new dunes cut through older layers at an angle, until the sand around the poles lay in a stippled cross-hatching, in geometrical patterns like Navajo sand paintings, banding the whole top of the world. … The visible language of nature’s mineral existence.
Mineral; not animal, nor vegetable, nor viral. It could have happened but it didn’t…. whatever starts life (for we do not know), it did not happen on Mars. Mars rolled, proof of the otherness of the world, of its stony vitality.” - Red Mars, Prologue to “Part 3: The Crucible,” 96
Much of what has been written about Red Mars – and, by extension, Robinson’s Mars trilogy as a whole – centers on utopianism and the competing social and political structures examined in the trilogy, especially “eco-economics.” Eco-economics, developed by Vlad Taneev and Marina Tokareva, is a system designed as a way to integrate ecology and economics, qualitative and quantitative measures of value, to attempt to measure everyone’s “real contribution to the human ecology” by recognizing the integration of the large-scale development of resources on Mars and terraforming (Robinson 298). It promotes restricting consumption rather than increasing production as a way to add value to the system – “Everyone can increase their ecological efficiency by efforts to reduce how many kilocalories they use” (298) – and critiques the exploitation of nature as a way to generate value. This is clearly a system of development and innovation to which we are supposed to subscribe throughout the novel; indeed, the novel ends with the reuniting of the remnants of the First One Hundred with Hiroko’s lost colony, a kind of linking of the structure of eco-economics and the moral force of Hiroko’s mystical life energy, “viriditas,” a holistic biocentrism.
But such holistic thinking can be extended to the physical facts of the planet as well. The passage above, for example, directs our attention to the planet of Mars itself: the passage is part of the longer description that opens Part 3 about the formation of Mars and the cosmic, meteorological, and geological forces that have shaped it throughout its history as a planet. What such forces have in common is that they occur on non-human spatial and temporal scales. What I find interesting, here and throughout the trilogy, are the ways in which the planet itself pushes back or makes itself known as a planet, as a physical but not necessarily as a human fact. Even in landscapes eventually terraformed or at least made habitable by humans, the novels pay constant attention to the “thisness,” as Sax would say, of Mars as a planet. Terraforming, then, becomes the site not only of many of the important political and social debates in the novel, but also of sustained interactions between human and nonhuman, living and nonliving systems. The Mars trilogy offers us not only the large-scale integration of human social and political systems with other biological systems, but also the integration of these larger systems with non-biological cosmic, atmospheric, and planetary systems. This emphasis on complex systemic thinking at scales and sites far removed from the human, oddly enough, transforms a planet that is resolutely unhuman – not for us and perhaps even “against” us – into, by the end of the trilogy and at least briefly, a kind of ectopia, a perfectly balanced ecosystem that includes and depends on humans.
What I would like to explore, then, is how Red Mars – or perhaps the trilogy as a whole – thinks through this kind of systemic interaction in relation to innovation. One of the many things Robinson’s trilogy emphasizes is the emergence of complex phenomena from the interactions of different, seemingly discrete systems, whether socio-political (eco-economics) or physical (terraforming). How complex phenomena emerge – how, to use the example most often cited, life emerged from seemingly random collections of molecules in a prebiotic soup – has long been an ontological and an epistemological problem for both philosophy and science. Complex phenomena, appearing greater than the sum of their parts, seemingly come out of nowhere at the same time as they also clearly arise from within systems. However, in the Mars trilogy, emergence and the conditions of its possibility are staged again and again; in this way, Robinson’s novels show us how various kinds of emergence happen, what their conditions of possibility are. Can we think of innovation as structurally similar to emergence? And if so, what do Robinson’s novels tell us about the conditions of possibility for various kinds of innovation/emergence on Mars? What do they tell us about understanding innovation as the product of interactions between human and nonhuman systems? Using the Mars trilogy, can we think holism rigorously, and if so, how?
Nissa I'll think more about this really interesting post before class tomorrow. I really like its intensity and the making of the interruption in the example of the aquarium. I'm not sure that it's so different for SF but the general principle via Iser is right, and it's central to how innovation and creativity work through narrative. more tomorrow and thanks - Chris
Lindsay - also excellent and gets me thinking about how the eco is much more than a limit function or drain on innovation. The environment often gets constructed that way - we'd just keep piling up wealth except that there's a limit because the earth can't take it - it is old and unimproved. But this is obviously wrong about "nature" and its generativity, and if it isn't a limit but what you're calling emergence - a perpertual version - it could help move definitions of innovation away from the technological and from technology-as-second-nature. It also upgrades Nancy - very interesting. will try again tomorrow - Chris
I will be exploring non-linear dynamics in relation to creativity and innovation. The question for me is, on one hand, about making things, and on the other, about scale. Ultimately, I want to take a hard look at this seminar’s most basic question/problem/form: Mass Creativity. Is such a thing possible? What does it look like in practice? Does its material instantiation necessarily alter one of its two terms? It seems that any model of the masses collectively making something (or indeed any individual or group making something on a mass scale) is implicitly a model of emergence. What does it mean to think emergence as creativity? Are the two terms commensurable? What does this theoretical yoking accomplish in the realm of idea-making?
Richard Sennett provides one starting point. His basic claim, that craftmanship is a form of cognition, invites us to consider that making on a mass scale involves, ipso facto, thinking on a mass scale, and we may then ask what sort of physical objects lead to what sort of social and conceptual structures. We are here already approaching Latour’s Actor Network Theory. I’ll argue that we can, by thinking of such conceptual-social-physical networks as non-dynamic systems (along the lines of De Landa’s nonlinear history), re-think material creation as engagement with dis-equilibrium and complexity, and thus creativity as a transcalar activity or movement. Sennett is, however, explicitly uninterested in “creativity” because it is an individual act or novel creation that implies exceptionalism. His entire project is one of Enlightenment liberalism; he sees craftmanship as a universal activity based upon universal abilities (play, labor, pride in a job well done). Thus when we engage in these activities we implicitely engage each other. This is how he achieves his scaling effects: it is a linear system of affinity of parts to whole. By contrast, we can take Hardt and Negri’s conception of the “multitude” as nonlinear, as a substance always in the process of becoming, as a mass subject from the beginning. The question here is inverted: what does a mass subject create? Really, answering this question involves conceptually capturing the mass subject, modeling it somehow. Is this what Hardt and Negri do? Is this what literature does? Perhaps ironically, this is what capitalism seeks to do: extract profit from the mass subject. I would like to investigate whether this is a linear or nonlinear process by considering the commons and how it functions vis-a-vis innovation. Where does the individual (either Schumpeter’s creative entrepreneur or the artist) fit into this system? Do they model the system itself and thus generate a second-order tool, or do they play a special role in the makeup of the system, perhaps as environmental perturbations that push systems into phase changes?
One literary text I’d like to consider is Bolaño’s 2666. Three questions jump out at me with regard to this text. First, how does scholarly knowledge production (in the first section) interact with the larger simulated system that the novel generates? Bolaño has here created a feedback loop that scales the novel in a nonlinear way. Each narrative thread produces knowledge and models knowledge production. Ultimately, though, missing knowledge is at the heart of each of these narratives. What is produced, then, is not what is promised or signified by the fictional modeling that constitutes the novel form. Bolaño seems to give us an analogue of the world, of reality, but ultimately produces endless threads that deviate from the object(s) that the novel is apparently attempting to grasp. Thus we don’t come to understand Archimbaldi’s knowledge production in the first part (the process or personhood behind his literature), Amalfitano’s in the second, Fate’s quest in the third, or the logic or perpetrators of the crimes in the fourth. And yet the characters and narratives begin to accrue and form their own systems along the way and to the side. Particularly in the fourth part, “the part about the crimes,” victims begin to pile up in what seems like an analogue of the real-life Ciudad Juárez femicide plague. But any such analogue or simulation is problematized by what it leaves out, especially when the missing link is one of primary causality. It may be profitable, however, to see this as an example of nonlinear modeling, which seeks to produce effects rather than causes. That is, instead of analytically starting from a phenomenon and attempting to discretize it into its component parts, it begins with components and attempts to replicate, through simulation, the higher-order effects (or outputs) of the system in question. This, then, is one model of “mass creativity,” not in virtue of its simulated subjects (outputs), but rather its internal process or procedure of systematic knowledge creation.
“Writing is a question of becoming, always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed, and goes beyond the matter of any livable or lived experience". Central to the legitimization of writing is linear time, which seeks to define the spatial boundaries of the “shadows” of human reality. In rejecting linear time, the tangled narratives of Roberto Bolano’s 2666 condemns reality to hover in the contradiction, somewhere between the dream world and the real, between fact and fiction, the newspaper and the obscure novels of a former Nazi, resisting resolution. The “realities” of 2666 are constantly in a state of “becoming,” slipping and sliding between semantic and spatial boundaries:
Sometimes reality, the same little reality that served to anchor reality, seemed to fade around the edges, as if the passage of time had a porous effect on things, and blurred and made more insubstantial what was itself already, by its nature, insubstantial and satisfactory and real (Bolano,582).
Just as the perpetual motion of characters, drugs, murders, multinational corporations, and stories render spatial borders representational at best, so too does reality become an allusion to something else. What is left are sprawling stories, analogous characters, a cyclical time that repeats itself in past and present, converging upon the hopeless border town of Santa Theresa.Yet within this excess of narrative lies one story that cannot be told -the unsolved murders and rapes of hundreds of female maquiladora workers. In a border city where narrative, like the murdered women “disappears into the desert,” the divulging of this story through a web of disparate branches rather than a single causal thread becomes the focal point of the novel. These narratives, divorced spatially and temporally, articulate in a constant process of “becoming.” At the chaos of the border, narrative ceases to be the causal “semblance” but rather a simultaneous presence, the analogous and associative relationships of one story to the next, embracing the chaos without seeking to explain.
In this paper, I will be exploring the various causal, "mythic" modes in 2666. The myth of economic progress in Santa Maria alongside the "Nazi mythology" of Book Five; the legend of the serial killer in Santa Theresa as well as the cycles of retaliation against former Nazi figures in post war Europe. Ultimately these myths seek to explain what cannot be said in words, and the true perpetrators of these two tragedies remain abstracted and unnamed. These linear, causal ways of knowing create a reality of "semblance," which is evoked somewhat obsessionally throughout the book. A network of "vanished writers" challenges this system of semblance and I would like to examine the various ways they tell their stories from the margins of society. These seemingly disconnected stories come into contact in 2666 and it is through their articulation that the reader experiences the closest thing to a meaning. These vanished writers must content themselves with anonymity, as the mass acceptance of their work requires a certain flirtation with the realm of semblance, seen in the cult of Archimboldi, the desire for quantifiable knowledge of his whereabouts and life. Ultimately, in succumbing to "fame and literature...irreconcilable enemies" the public conflates the writer and his work into a sort of myth that endures (like the pyramids of the Aztecs, Archimboldi says)? The best the storyteller can do is thwart this tendency, to combine words into something "that leads nowhere...a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanishes completely." In articulating the chaos and shadows of our reality, the writer purges us of the destructive tendency to a quantifiably explain.
Giulia- I really like your approach to the sprawling, quasi-narrative nature of the book and the logic that might lay behind it; can't wait to hear more about it tomorrow.
About my own sample- it's worth noting that in my paper I also intend to explore the city as a whole unit, in addition to looking at the minds of individual characters such as this one.
“When did it all begin? he thought. When did I go under? A dark, vaguely familiar Aztec lake. The nightmare. How do I get away? How do I take control? And the questions kept coming: Was getting away what he really wanted? Did he really want to leave it all behind? And he also thought: the pain doesn’t matter anymore. And also: maybe it all began with my mother’s death. And also: the pain doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t get any worse, as long as it isn’t unbearable. And also: fuck, it hurts, fuck, it hurts. Pay it no mind, pay it no mind. And all around him, ghosts.” (p 231)
This passage depicts the manic-depressive, isolated mindset that becomes prominent in those who come to Santa Teresa. The relentless flow of questions forces the reader to feel the manic rush that Fate feels, the rapidity of thought that may aid him as a journalist but at the moment keeps him from being able to hold onto anything long enough to make sense of it. Re-reading this passage with the rest of the book in mind clarifies some things: we know who is speaking, what he may be doing, what he may be reacting to. However, the writing style insists on uncertainty: the fragmented sentences, “vaguely familiar” visions that are not grounded in reality, and a string of questions that go unanswered even by the book’s end keep Fate and the reader from feeling as if they have a strong grip on reality. Jamison posits that a manic rush of thoughts can be helpful in sparking the creative process, claiming that “the sheer volume of thought can produce unique ideas and associations” (p 105). Here, however, thoughts become overwhelming, demonstrating how a quick but unanchored mind can quickly make one feel he has lost control.
Fate holds in mind two opposing instincts at once: the need to gain control by getting away (from Santa Teresa, we assume), and the thought that he might not want to leave the town or the state of mind that comes with it. As an American journalist who has never set foot in Santa Teresa, Fate has arguably no connection to the town. Something about it resonates with him though; after spending only a few days on the periphery of the city, he fights with his editor for the chance to dig deeper into the horrific aspects of the town, to write about the murders. The only people Fate mentions are his dead mother and the ghosts that surround him; his preoccupation with the dead is an isolating yet potentially fruitful example of what Jamison calls “the relationship between imagination, divine inspiration, and ‘madness.’” He is haunted by the fruits of his active imagination, so preoccupied with them that he has a hard time keeping his grip on the world of the living; but this mindset holds the potential for Fate to intervene on behalf of the dead through creation (namely, journalism).
Although Fate’s soliloquy speaks to an extreme sense of isolation, Bolano also weaves in a sly connection between Fate and Amalfitano. Book 2 concludes with a description of Amalfitano’s dream, which he himself calls “nonsensical” and takes as a sign of his own lunacy, but from which “he had no choice but to wake.” Immediately after, the reader enters Fate’s mind that is occupied with “the nightmare.” Throughout the novel, Bolano uses dreams and dream states for two very different purposes. Sometimes dreams isolate. When a character dreams, he retreats into his own mind, leaving the world behind; and when he sees the landscape or the people around him as dream-like, he often means that they no longer seem real. This time, however, dreams serve to connect: Amalfitano’s dream is juxtaposed with Fate’s nightmare, and the lack of clarity about who is speaking at the opening of Book 3 blurs the lines between their narratives even more. Amalfitano may be waking from a dream, but he is not the only one who is struggling with one; and as the book progresses, it seems their nightmares have similar origins. When the two meet, in fact, Fate senses an instant and strange connection between them, which he feels in terms of dreaming: “For a moment the two of them looked at each other, wordless, as if they were asleep and their dreams had converged on common ground, a place where sound was alien” (Bolano 342). Their brief meeting ends with the decision that Fate will transport Rosa across the border to safety; their sense of a shared dream space establishes trust despite language and culture barriers, to say nothing of the fact that Fate is a complete stranger. The brief but fruitful interaction between Amalfitano and Fate illustrates how two people who feel alone and powerless can come together to act not just in spite of, but as a result of, what they feel makes them separate.