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glue's picture
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Star Maps


The logic guiding this topic is to define choragraphy as a practice for apprehending, creating, mapping, and navigating/negotiating the ontological dimension of well-being.  Proust's account of time regained, including the Sensible Idea, is the prototype evoking the time-space categories to be generalized for electracy.  Proust's epiphanic moment is to electracy what linear progress is to literacy, or the seasonal cycle is to orality, which is to say that this intense holistic aesthetic shape of experience must be appropriated, augmented, designed, and extended through the institutions of the apparatus. Proust discovered his vocation as an artist by tracking his few epiphanies of involuntary memory to their source in certain sensory patterns, recreating in the process the historical social order of his environment.  Proust is a kind of Magellan of choragraphy, and the ambition of Appiphany is to generalize the functionality operating in Proust's happiness. 

            Ivar Ekeland (Mathematics and the Unexpected, Chicago, 1988) suggested that Rene Thom's topology, a geometric formalizing of seven elementary catastrophes, albeit limited to the dissipative subset of nonlinear systems, is able to diagram the dynamic unfolding of such epiphanies (catastrophe = epiphany, sudden change or transformation).  Phase space (chaos, complexity) is for electracy, in any case, what Euclidean space is for literacy.  The information energy field of electracy is a dynamical landscape organized by movement around an attractor.  Attraction and repulsion of libidinal energy (jouissance) is a special case of energy dynamics in general,  with the effect of attractors expressed formally as wells or basins.  In thermodynamic terms Aristotle's entelechy, the process of a being becoming what it already is (achieving completion) is a kind of entropy.  Ekeland's association of Proust's epiphanies with Thom's catastrophes calls attention to the family of theories guiding our topic, for Thom himself explained his project as a formalization of Greimas's actantial deep structure of narrative.  Thom's topological Gestalts, schemas, or archetypes facilitate the transition from literacy to electracy, serving as a kind of Rosetta Stone translating between literary semantics (descriptions of events) and event processes as such.

            One of the lessons we can learn from this work is just how a virtual object (Deleuze and Guattari) functions as the shifter in a group or collective enunciation.  The question concerns the position of a collective point of view.  Wolfgang Wildgen (Catastrophe Theoretic Semantics, John Benjamins Publishing, 1982), clarifies that Thom's topology draws on Peirce's semiotics as well as that of Greimas, to map a path through an event of meaning..  The catastrophe/epiphany is event of agency, "interpretant" in Peirce's terms, matching a selection operator with a stochastic process.  The prototypical scene whose potentials or affordances are modeled in the topology is that of two agents negotiating for one object.  Wildgen suggests this could be the basic commercial relationship of commodity exchange, and we recognize it also (via Greimas) as a basic narrative conflict, including the dramas of jealousy iterated for Swann-Odette and Marcel-Albertine.  Wildgen cites Thom's own analogy relating the elementary topology with sentence structure.

This theory of a spatial origin of syntactic structures explains many facts: that an elementary sentence has at most four agents, and in the case of inflected languages it points to the origins of most of the cases:  the nominative (ergative) case of the subject; the accusative case for the object; the dative case for the goal of verbal expressions which corresponds to the morphology of giving, the instrumental (or ablative) case for those verbs which contain the morphology of excision (or of union).  The only classical case which cannot be interpreted by this table is the genitive case (Wildgen, 31).

The operation of these four cases is generalized in phase space, as we will see. 

            Michel Serres offers important insights into the nature of the virtual collective shifter.  He describes it as the "third-instructed," to characterize the experience undergone in this mobile "sensible place."  It is perhaps predictable that this position deliberately contrasts with the rule of the excluded middle or non-contradiction fundamental to literate reasoning.  Serres accumulates figures (conceptual personae) to express the functionality of this operator-- Troubadour, Harlequin (his patchwork coat), fables of the hare in the garden, and"parasite" as a choral word, deployed in all its senses in French, including "noise."  Parasite is an exciter, trigger, coming from outside, interrupting, producing not analysis but catalysis.  Its position is at the threshold of potential, capable of switching selection or attention between order and disorder, music and noise.   Our keyword "capacity" is also Serres's focus.

One day at some point, everyone passes through the middle of this white river, through the strange state of a phase change, which could be called sensitivity, a word that signifies possibility or capacity in every sense.  Sensitive, for example, the scale when it seesaws up and down, vibrating, in the beautiful middle, in both directions; sensitive also the child who will walk when he throws himself into an unbalanced balance; observe him again when he immerses himself in speech, reading, or writing, cleansed, besmirched in sense and nonsense. How hypersensitive we were, stuck-up, sowing our wild oats, when crossing all the thresholds of youth.  That state vibrates like an instability, a metastability, like a nonexcluded third between  equilibrium and disequilibrium, between being and nothingness.  Sensitivity haunts a central and peripheral place--in the form of a star (Serres, The Troubadour of Knowledge, Michigan, 1997: 9).

             In terms of phase space, the desired topology is the one known as the "butterfly" catastrophe.   Wildgen’s context establishes that the "star" references the butterfly topology.  This higher formation maps "the archetype of passage or mediated effect" (Wildgen, 65).  This passage includes events of transfer, giving (which is why Serres no doubt adopted it as the dynamic of learning).  Butterfly phase space is four dimensional, so it may only be graphed with sections, but Wildgen's description of the route through this phase space gives the flavor of the dimension relevant to Appiphany. "The path which leads to Thom's archetype of giving (our archetype of transfer) must seek its way under the 'roof'," Wildgen states, referring to his diagram, "and through the pocket inside the intersection of right and left parts of the 'roof'" (72).  A number of bifurcation points may be crossed along the way, with the potential to trigger abrupt change (catastrophes).  Thom's phrase describing giving was morphologie du don, alerting us to the association with the donor or helper actant in Greimas's narrative structure.  The central archetypes derived from the butterfly are: compromise, transfer indirect action/instrumental interaction. The simple "localistic" description is of "one domain where two areas overlap (a zone of common influence). In this domain, separated by a conflict-line, a third domain emerges, which can achieve a kind of metastable dominance creating thus a 'compromise pocket' between the two conflicting attractors.  This complicated situation can be associated with political domains and neutral zones between two opposed blocks" (76).  The "star" configuration appears through recursion of the butterfly passage, adding the archetype of gradual birth/death (84).


See Michel Serres, The Troubadour of Knowledge, Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser with William Paulson, Michigan, 1997.  Published in France, 1991, as Le Tiers-Instruit.


Image:  Butterfly Catastrophe, after René Thom.