Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Intentionality can enter into a relation with the sublime

In their infamous article “Against Theory,” Knapp and Benn Michaels argued that if you happened across a reproduction of “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal,” and you decided that no purposive being was responsible, the illusion of meaning would vanish. In its place, you would merely have the curious presence of shapes resembling words...
Speaking of aleatory things, I will end by pointing out that intentionality can enter into a relation with the sublime, something already suggested by the image of someone writing in anticipation of the surf. The Aeolian harp did not die out with Coleridge; John Cage created aleatory music by having multiple radios playing simultaneously on stage (as Hofstadter notes). To a greater or lesser extent, the aleatoric artist sets the parameters for the work, and these more blatantly open constructions take the place of the more conventional standards for achieved communication.
We can use the Lilliputian, almost kindly language of accident to describe this aleatoric movement, or we can use the High Romantic vocabulary of wreckage and death. Regardless, we should not fail to see that Knapp and Benn Michaels have put Wordsworth on the beach in order to erase Wordsworth, and to erase Einstein on the beach, and finally to exorcise the sand and waves themselves: the haunting poet, the living sea.

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