Friday, June 04, 2010

More on Scott Helmes

I received some interesting comments from TT.O. concerning my blog entry on the mathematical poetry of Scott Helmes. I have copied the comment below and below his comment I will address it.

Dear kaz
It always annoys me when people use words like "whimsical" it seems so demeaning to me. I looked it up and it said, 1. full of or characterized by whims or whimsy 2. oddly out of the ordinary; fanciful; freakish 3. subject to sudden change; unpredictable. Is the implication that other "mathematical" poetries are the opposite of "whimsical" i.e. the antonym "nonarbitrary"???? I think it unkind. In Scott Helmes's "Second Order Programming" the churning up of the linguistic elements with the mathematical elements is a powerful poem in the "imagist" style. I can sense the aeroplane's engines, the timetables, schedules etc and the sense of urgency in them --- that is, if I read the poem as a whole and not separate it into "five" singular equations. I can sense the pilot going thru their routines etc. You say the equation "serves as nothing more than a real mathematical equation that could be used for something had all of the variables been defined beforehand" --- I don't see why the variables should have to be defined beforehand. The sense of "alienation" from those variables are very much my (your?) experience of aviation. There is a sense of anticipated hope and faith every flyer has that those equations are correct and will work. And whose to say that those "equations" are NOT correct, i.e. REAL equations used in AVIATION? Equations as metaphor are perfectly acceptable "mathematical poetry" I would assume. Further to that, the "sequencing" of equations (i.e. one equation leading on from the one before and so on), builds a "model" i.e. an "object", it "manifests"; takes it out of the realm of the non-substantive, even "spiritual" (say). You say "it seems to me following that path really leads to nowhere"; hypothesizing dead-ends seems to me to be a dangerous art-practice, or at least not wise. It might be asserted (I dare suggest) that the World (or the emotions contained therein) cannot bare or endure the myth of a single equation. It would seem to me that reality or emotions only exist or can be interpreted as a "cluster" of equations, and that each and every equation may be "trivial" on its own, but collectively creates a simulacrum of sorts, an "evocation" of sorts. I find Helmes's poems extremely liberating and full of potential AND mathematical poetry to boot! That is not to exclude other kinds, but the "family" is growing! I'll send you a small offering of mine via attachment on an email. Thanxxxxs for the continued talking.
Love + anarchy

Dear TT.O.
1. says this about it -- Given to whimsy; capricious; odd; peculiar; playful; light-hearted or amusing.

Personally I see nothing pejorative about this term. When I used the word, “Whimsical” my intention was playful; light-hearted and amusing. Although some may think so, I think very little of my work is light-hearted – only two pieces come to mind that may fit that category. What I am doing here is stylistically comparing his poetry to mine. I am not making judgments on different types of mathematical poetry. His mathematical poetry appears to be equational poetry yet it functions quite different. Now when the dust settles I think that the bottom line will yield that we have a different view of what is important when it comes to aesthetics. All forms of mathematical poetry are valid but that doesn’t mean that I personally am interested in the aesthetics employed by them. While John Cage was a huge influence on me when I was young and I have always enjoyed his work, yet, his indeterminate processes don’t interest me - at least not the process itself. The beautiful thing about John Cage is how he teaches us to focus on the moment. I have always felt that he was not interested in you being excited about his systems for they are not the point. All of his work was to get you to not focus on art but focus on the moment that you are experiencing. Randomness and stochastic systems are only a tool to help you experience your experience. I have very little appreciation for random gizmos. In other words stochastic systems in general bore me as well as artists who make aesthetic decisions based on “warm and fuzzy feelings” Every inch of the canvas, every word in a poem, every symbol in a mathematical statement has meaning and as an artist I believe you should have a very good idea of what it means to you for your expression.
2. What is important about Scotts work is WHEN it was done and how much of it he was doing -- about ten years before I was doing mathematical poetry but then again my work is quite different than his. There have been a few who have done mathematical poetry before him even as early as the year 1800 however none that I know did as much as Scott had done in the 1970’s.
3. You say; --- “I don't see why the variables should have to be defined beforehand.” I say, “of course you don’t need to define them if you don’t want to; however, at that point they function as pure mathematics and operate as such … if they have meaning you have to bring it to the equation yourself. This seems to be what Scott wishes as well. This issue really begs the question; how much should one have to bring to the table for the piece to work ‘well’ and of course what does ‘well’ mean? It seems to me that if I have to bring a lot to the table and I can view it a number of different unrelated ways then I will see the piece as vague. I would much rather the poet say something in particular – point at something. What turns me on is an artist or poet who points at an archetype but does it in a new fresh way.
4. As far as you said, “who says those equations are not used in aviation? “ Even though I would not find it that interesting if they did; the probability of an aerospace structural engineering equation having those exact variables that spell out words would be astronomically unlikely. However there are equations that do spell out things for instance Energy = mad (mass times acceleration time distance) – again, as curious as these are I don’t find them that interesting. I think my aesthetic boils down to this: Synchronicity is much more interesting to me than Coincidence.
5. In reference to: "it seems to me following that path really leads to nowhere"; you said “hypothesizing dead-ends seems to me to be a dangerous art-practice, or at least not wise.” I say, “The reason I say it is a dead end is because the equation variables are not defined – There is no place to go mathematically speaking. It is too ambiguous - the equation can be solved in too many ways to have any meaningful relationship with the words. Yes you can imagine that it is an aerospace equation but that says more about you and your imagination than it does the equation or the art.
6. You said, “It would seem to me that reality or emotions only exist or can be interpreted as a "cluster" of equations.” I say, “Reality has nothing to do with equations – in fact Reality is just the opposite of equations. Reality is not thinking.”
7. All this said – I don’t want you to think that I don’t like what Scott has done. I like it and especially for the time it which it was done – it is extremely important work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Kaz
I'm sorry, but it all sounds like damning praise to me, concerning Scott Helmes. You are both "slighting" and "dismissive" while magically "marginalizing" re his influence, (or if not influence, then his status as a precursor). Too,ooo,ooo schizophrenic for my liking. (I wonder what he truly thinks!) (Or for that matter, others!) (Come on, lets open this thing up!) (I know others are reading/listening/thinking) (If we can't do it now, when?!). I would be loathe to describe Helme's work as "light hearted". You seem to be floundering with all due respect.
John Cage is good, but not really relevant in this discussion. If mathematical poetry is to be what "you like" then the subject is closed from what I can see. If there is something larger at stake then lets examine it, seriously. I don't mind being wrong.
Your emphasis on whether an equation is synchronicity or coincidence is not really helpful either. Once used, we have to deal with it; real or imagined!
Variables in an equation DO NOT have to be defined, anymore that WORDS in an equation. The EQUALITY sign DOES NOT mean EXACTLY THIS or EXACTLY THAT (as it does in masthematics) --- it would be a sorry day when we insist that an EMOTION or a THOUGHT or a ANYTHING is so simply put. I think that in MATHEMATICAL POETRY the equal sign (a) suggests, and/or (b) implies a possible ACTION. There are many ACTIONS of course in mathematical poetry (of the equation variety) that are NONSENSICAL, but…. we know what you mean. Which brings me back to the fact that mathematical poetry is better viewed as a system of linguistics. Dividing the MOON by the OCEAN to equal a PALMTREE is understandable as an "image" but multiplying the OCEAN with a PALMTREE only gives you the MOON approximately one-thirteenth of the time --- cos its not there. From my point of view the "equational" poem is of value cos it ALLOWS various JOURNYINGS and SOLUTIONS. Exactitudes are a myth.
You are right, REALITY is not POETRY (tho it contains it) and it isn't THINKING (tho it contains it), and POETRY isn't REALITY (tho it contains it) (… I hesitate to go on). But if a poetry purports to be THINKING, it’s a sorry state of affairs when it borrows contaminated LANGUAGE and pretends that they are context-less, connotation-less, and irrelevant to REALITY. Why bother!? I suggest we BOTHER cos the matrix of all of it still has a pull on us.
Thanxs for letting me talk
Love + anarchy

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