I gave a lecture two weeks ago. Originally, I’d wanted to talk about what I call “automatic art.” The term refers to the process of using operations of chance (or mathematics) to create works of art. John Cage did this when he composed “12 Radios, 24 People,” which required the performers to adjust radios to predetermined frequencies on a predetermined schedule. While all the performers operations are controlled for, the location of the radios is not. Since different locations receive different combinations and strengths of radio stations, the piece cannot be the same in any two locations. Location, then, rather than any action by the performer, is the creative element in the piece. Cage’s algorithm simply permits location to enact its effect.
As I was preparing the lecture, I realized that to deliver a controlled, linear, sequentially-organized lecture on automatic processes and chance operations was sort of hypocritical. Or at odds with itself. The lecture had to be the product of a sequence of chance operations. Yet I still wanted it to function as a traditional lecture–providing facts and interpretation to the audience. So I rounded up all the concepts I’d considered for the lecture (including “Light Speed Travel,” “Finnegans Wake,” “Early Polar Expeditions“–I go for the gusto with these lectures), wrote them on little scraps of paper, and put them in a hat.
Then, I made a list of what I can only think to call “thesis actions.” These are words commonly found in the titles of academic papers, and constitute the central action of the argument. For example, I might want to “problematize,” or “prove,” or “unify,” or “disunify,” or “reconstruct,” or “deny.” These went in a different cup.
Lastly, I made a list of what I will call “conceptual qualities.” These are words that describe the essence of something. For example, “the circularity of Finnegans Wake,” or the “adirectionality of infinite space.” These went in a third cup.
Using a preconstructed Mad Lib format intellectual thesis statement–something along the lines of “I will attempt to ______________ the concepts of _____________ and __________ using examples from _________ and ________.” An example of a completed sentence might read: “I will attempt to unify the concepts of circularity and directionality using examples from Early Polar Expeditions and Light Speed Travel.”
Since there were between 7-12 words in each cup, and audience members would be choosing from the cups, the possibilities for what sort of lecture I was to give were almost endless. Preparation was not futile, though, as it would be with a totally chance operation. I could study the topics ahead of time, gather information relevant to each of the concepts, and hope that the Algorithmic Thesis Statement made sense with what I’d prepared.
What happened…? Wait for installment 2, coming soon!