Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science by Martin Meisel

By Martin Meisel

The tales we inform in our try and make feel of the area, our myths and faith, literature and philosophy, technology and artwork, are the comforting autos we use to transmit rules of order. yet underneath the hunt for order lies the uneasy dread of primary illness. real chaos is difficult to visualize or even more durable to symbolize, in particular with out a few recourse to the popular coherency of order. during this booklet, Martin Meisel considers the lengthy attempt to conjure, depict, and rationalize severe ailment, with all of the passions, excitements, and compromises the act has provoked. In seven chapters—“Shaping Chaos,” “Nothing and Something,” “Number,” “Carnival,” “War,” “Energy,” and “Entropy”—Meisel builds a coarse heritage from significant social, mental, and cosmological turning issues within the imagining of chaos. He makes use of examples from literature, philosophy, portray, photo paintings, technology, linguistics, track, and picture, rather exploring the extraordinary shift within the eighteenth and 19th centuries from conceiving of chaos as disruptive to celebrating its freeing and energizing strength. Discussions of Sophocles, Plato, Lucretius, Calderon, Milton, Haydn, Blake, Faraday, Chekhov, Faulkner, Wells, and Beckett, between others, are matched with incisive readings of artwork by way of Brueghel, Rubens, Goya, Turner, Dix, Dada and the futurists. Meisel addresses the revolution in mapping strength and entropy and the manifold effect of thermodynamics. recognized for his pathbreaking reviews of literature, drama, and the visible arts, Meisel makes use of this chaotic body to tricky on better matters of objective, mortality, which means, and brain.

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In his poem, Ovid describes the primal chaos as a formless, unstable mass, the inchoate elements heaped together and at war with each other, cold with hot, moist with dry, a confusion of land, sea, and air. ” Not only the elements but the constellations of the zodiac are at war with each other, while additionally Canis challenges Serpens and Ursa the sun. ”4 Yet the image (originally without borders) takes 36 SHAPING CHAOS the form of a wide-bottomed ellipsoid, appropriately egg shaped, though essentially two-dimensional, within the conventional rectangular plate.

The notion of chaos in its most general and traditional framing is a limiting case: the extreme of disorder, where all attributes assignable to order vanish. It is disorder made absolute. It follows from a desire to give shape or a name to our perceptions of discontinuity and dissonance, of confusion and incoherence, perhaps to quarantine them from what belongs to symmetry, shapeliness, and consequence. To attempt to represent chaos at the full, as surprisingly many have done, is a desperate business requiring a good deal of poetic imagination.

UNCERTAINTY AND COMPLEXITY 25 Not without a hint of tongue in cheek, the poem offers a dialectic that transcends contradiction, but one finally grounded in the encounter of mind and nature for “the pensive man to see”: The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind, If one may say so. 56 That is to say, from out of the vast confusion is born the germ and contagion of order. Channeling the muses of Novalis and Stevens, one latter-day philosopher of science roundly declares, “Chaos is not disorder.

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