This article will give an overview of my approach to aesthetics and creativity, with a focus on literary theory and poetics. Down to the “Under Construction” notice the article has been translated out of my own private language into English; below that, it’s just a bunch of notes, but hopefully the “Under Construction” notice will descend.

Some of the theories here considered are widely held as significant, e.g., Russian Formalism’s concept of defamiliarization. Others are unfairly neglected, e.g., Arthur Koestler’s concept of bisociation.

I’m happy to say that some sections of this article have already been superseded – of the formalist approaches, more extended and less telegraphic treatments are now given elsewhere on this site – Maximization here, Koestler / Bisociation here, and Russian Formalism / Defamiliarization here. Nevertheless I maintain their presence in this article too, partly because the notes here may have exploratory insights which I have not had time or thought to incorporate into the fuller treatments as yet, and partly because their presence here indicates at least prefiguratively that they should form parts of a larger whole. Observe that within all three of these approaches, my formalism is psychologistic.

This article stands at a level above the more detailed consideration of rhetorical figures of speech which I should be including on the Rhetoric page and elsewhere on this site, and below the level of my more general philosophy which should slowly be presented in other posts on this site. It is rather back-to-front at the moment – for example, the attempt at synthesizing the different formalist approaches should clearly come after the exposition of the formalist approaches themselves, and the formalist sections, being my main concern, ought to be moved much closer to the beginning of the article.

I’m hoping, soon, to provide at least a preliminary account of the relations between the formalist approaches and the different categories of rhetorical figures.

Why Aesthetics?

It may be as well here to provide some brief notes on why Aesthetics, Creativity, and Literary Theory are given such a privileged position within a general philosophy. Is the philosophy merely an aesthetic or literary philosophy? Is aesthetics merely used to show how the philosophy can make sense of a particular field, as an example? Or are philosophy and aesthetics being equated in some sort of ontological aestheticism?

None of these, but the last question comes the closest.



After a somewhat separable section on –

Productive Techniques,

there will be sections on –

Art – Its Different Meanings,

Psychological Motivation and Evolution, 

Form and Content within Art,

and Synthesizing the Different Approaches.

The next group of sections will be about realism, and implicitly about the limits of formalism –

Reality Effect,


Human concern,

and Experiment.

The centre of my concerns will be in the following, which could be regarded as hard-core formalism –






and Camp.

Some remaining issues will be dealt with in –

Difficulty, Freedom, Insulation, [which might be the best place to deal with “Economics”, and “The Productivity of Constraint”]

Frame-system theory, Gombrich – A Sense of Order, Empson – Seven Types of Ambiguity,

Marxist Theory,

and Other.


Productive Techniques

Here, I’m going to give a brief tour of some of the mechanics of creativity considered as productive techniques – there are all sorts of documents on the web and available in bookstores giving “how to” guides, and this section of this article will be a bit like that, though much more schematic. It’s not likely to be very deep critically.

An idea that’s been around for a while is the use of the random / randomization, juxtaposition, looseness etc. to serve a productive function. The early Edward de Bono makes great use of this idea within his technique of Lateral Thinking, though I get the impression that he moves towards more structured approaches later. These techniques could be regarded as putting the fortuitous to good use.

Along with this we can consider all the various schools of brainstorming, whether for an individual or a group. As well as taking advantage of the random, its formal aspect, brainstorming seems to work best in a certain emotional context – with a kind of suspension of the critical faculties, a willingness to play with ideas and temporarily ignore obvious problems. The general idea seems to be that the critical aspect can be slowly brought in later, so that there is a process of generation, and then one of winnowing – a positive and a negative phase, or creative and critical. For groups, this takes the form of instructions to be uncritical, positive, charitable, in the earlier phase. For the individual, at the lower level, taking onboard any techniques to enable this loosening-up, and at higher levels, the acquiring of such tendencies as habits, or simply being a personality with high tolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty, contradiction – this relates to Keats’s “Negative Capability”.

I’d like to dwell a little longer on the idea of using chance, and lead onto something that I’ll provisionally call the dialectic of chance and constraint within creativity.

I talked a bit back about brainstorming methods often having an unconstrained phase, then a more constrained or critical phase. Now, firstly, there is a cornucopia of consultancy agencies and schools of thought which have refined brainstorming methods in various ways; I’m here giving a thumbnail sketch, so if what I say doesn’t fit in detail to a particular new shiny technique, it doesn’t matter for my purposes.

Secondly, though with brainstorming I’ve presented two phases, that is, sequentially, if we generalise from that, we might discern two aspects of the creative process – creation and criticism.

The cyberneticist Gregory Bateson, in his major work, Mind and Nature, was the first person, to my knowledge, to explore an analogy between this two-sidedness of the creative process (involving on the one hand the random and fortuitous for the generation of ideas, and the critical, selective processes of winnowing), and the processes associated with natural selection – random mutation, and natural selection itself (which we might here think of as the often savage criticism delivered by the natural environment upon all our innovations).  The result in the first case would be a viable creative idea or product, and in the second case an adapted organism.

I will now set aside temporarily this consideration of chance, the random, and the fortuitous, to consider something which will, at first, seem to be completely opposite.

Teachers and educationalists will be aware of the use of frames and schematics to generate ideas, which can be either looser or more restrictive. Related terms are model and template. Following Artificial Intelligence, we can term the more temporal of such frames “scripts”.

One of the oldest forms of this is within the classical tradition of rhetoric – The “Topics of Invention”, which can be found at the Silva Rhetorica website, give a kind of method of breaking down any subject into its sub-divisions, a consideration of its wider genus, the parts of which it is composed, the whole of which it is a part, etc. I would regard this as the utilisation of an ontology, perhaps of a very general nature or perhaps more tailored to a more specific domain, for example, story writing or system engineering. The use of mind maps and more sophisticated tools such as mathematical graphs, UML diagrams, etc., have some relation to this area.

The generative power of schematics also includes the use of different schematics in creative tension. Since this consideration of schematics is with respect to their use as generators of ideas, I am forgoing any consideration of their theoretical adequacy, but the idea of different schematics in creative tension leads into the area which fascinated Koestler, and which includes the idea of a theoretical breakthrough (a synthesis of frames of reference).

Parallel to the idea encapsulated in the classical Topics of Invention, essentially the same thing, is the use of question words to flesh out or to generate thoughts. One can cross-link some of these to typical parts of speech and to typical ontological categories. Here I indicate some of these relations.

how                              verbs, adverbs

with what                   nouns                                          objects

what kind                   adjectives                                   properties

why                                                                                   cause / effect (effective causation)

motivation                                                                                                (final causation)

substance                   (metonymy)                                                        (material causation)

                     (formal causation)

who                             proper nouns                            agents

where / when                                                                 space / time

The generative power of questioning leads us to provide a level of detail beyond that included in our starting point; it leads us from the general to the specific. This form of generation can play its part in the creation of symbols – for example, let’s imagine a writing workshop where someone has the basics of a story involving a woman who is having an affair with a man who has just arrived at her house. How did he get there? Car? What sort of car? What colour? – once one starts to fill in such details, the possibility of symbolism becomes clear (as does that of cliché).

This sort of rendering of detail, of specification, is sometimes termed “chunking down”, and it might be as well here briefly to mention its complementary, “chunking up” – this is when we shear away detail, drop specification, and become abstract. Ontologically, this would involve asking such questions as “Is a type of what? Is part of what? Is part of what wider purpose?” De Bono’s “Concept Fan” is a tool designed to facilitate such a strategy of “taking one step back” to get a wider perspective, and NLP techniques of reframing are also relevant here.

It is possible that highly creative people are natural adepts at this and all the other sorts of techniques under consideration in this section, and might not need these formalisations. However, since our purpose for the moment is simply to outline such generative strategies, I will forgo, or at least delay, such deeper, psychological, considerations.

We’ve looked at chunking up and chunking down. Is there a sideways? It seems that this could be something fundamental not only to creativity but to rational cognition itself – the grouping of like with like, the assessment and recognition of similarities and differences. At its higher and more creative levels, we have the finding of previously unremarked analogies and metaphors.

Some have argued that the topics of invention were not central to the actual practice of rhetorical training in the classical period, and that imitation of an acknowledged writer or piece of writing was more usual. This, itself, can be regarded as a form of modelling, perhaps with the balance shifted more towards the pole of implicit and only semi-conscious “picking up” of many aspects of style in parallel, away from the pole of explicit and rather mechanical imposition of a template.

Though my focus throughout this work will be primarily on poetics, there is a specific field where the concept of underlying structures has been much considered – within narratology, quite a few thinkers have been fascinated with the idea that there may be certain fundamental or basic plots, or some kind of underlying logic to narratives. I’m here going to deal fairly briskly with this particular aspect of narrative theory, which shouldn’t be taken as an indication of the whole field.

Preliminary to getting onto these mysterious basic plots, it might be worth stepping back, or chunking up, to consider what sort of ontology might stories in general have? Ideally, we’d have a full-blown ontology, but for now we’ll just rough this in with a scruffy list: theme, setting, situation, characters, (with their values and motivation) plot, structure, form. Of these, we’ll now consider plot, and the idea of “basic” plots. We shall see that “characters” too are very much bound up with this.

There are two main lines of development for the idea of basic plots – the Jungian school, descending from the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung, which I believe provides some of the more popular accounts, and has had an influence on the film industry in Hollywood, and the rather more academic structuralist / semiotic school, descending from the linguistics of Ferdinand Saussure. First, we’ll consider the Jungian development.

C. G. Jung, an early follower of Sigmund Freud, broke with his mentor to found his own school of analytic psychology. Jung retained a sense of the centrality of the unconscious, but came to see the unconscious as having a structure, and indeed a wisdom, of its own, quite beyond Freud’s seething, somewhat bestial conception later known as the id. For Jung, the unconscious also had a collective aspect, a sort of archaic repository of primal images and characters which he referred to as “archetypes”. Because these archetypes are part of our fundamental psychic being, they pop up again and again in our art, literature, dreams, bouts of madness and/or inspiration – indeed, we often play out archetypal stories in our lives. As far as I can tell, Jung moved away from the idea of there being a set cast of these archetypes, acknowledging that there was much fluidity within and between them – perhaps a fundamental resistance of them to being fully known to our meagre conscious classifications?

For our purposes here, one can see the potential power of such an idea, if even half true, when we consider how captivated we all can be by stories – perhaps as books, perhaps recited, or perhaps as films or plays – and entertain the notion that such captivation may well be a human universal. Not only would this idea provide an explanation, perhaps a typology, of our stories, but for the “toolbox” sort of approach to generative techniques we are here considering, an extremely powerful creative resource.

Joseph Campbell, a student of Jung who had an interest in world mythologies and their recurring themes, took these ideas and synthesized them into what he called “the hero’s journey”, a master-key to all stories.  He proposed an underlying plot, or, if you like, master plot, which he termed the “monomyth”, and which looks something like this –

I. Departure
– The Call to Adventure
– Refusal of the Call
– Supernatural Aid
– The Crossing of the First Threshold
– The Belly of the Whale

II. Initiation
– The Road of Trials
– The Meeting with the Goddess
– Woman as the Temptress
– Atonement with the Father
– Apotheosis
– The Ultimate Boon

III. Return
– Refusal of the Return
– The Magic Flight
– Rescue from Without
– The Crossing of the Return Threshold
– Master of the Two Worlds
– Freedom to Live

Similar schemata have been advanced by Chris Vogler and Christopher Booker. Concomitant to such master plots is a cast of archetypal characters – Vogler has – Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow, and Trickster. Something I can’t do here without cluttering this presentation, but could hopefully include in an appendix, is give rough outlines of all such schemata, together with examples from literary works and suggestions for further reading. Particularly, the female archetypes need more acknowledgement, especially considering that sexual duality was central to Jung’s thought.

For Jung, such archetypes are often seen as representations of an intra-psychic reality, and the journey as being one of self-development, which Jung terms “individuation”. A few years ago I was considering the occurrence in stories of woods, of being lost in the woods, and being potentially in danger (Hansel and Gretel, The Hobbit, The Wind in the Willows). It seemed to me that though this could be given an intra-psychic interpretation – moving from the security of childhood into the unknown, we could exteriorise some of these ideas – woods are in themselves scary, since view is obscured, and wolves and other threats might be there. Creatures could descend upon us from above, not as a matter of psychic symbolism, but simple physical reality. Nasty things can, and indeed unfortunately do, happen in woods. Since in former times villages and towns would have nearby woods as an ever-present reality, do we need to explain such archetypes in such an internal, almost solipsistic way? This sort of consideration can be applied across the board to all the archetypes, plots, situations and settings.

Jung might turn in his grave, but what I’m indicating is a way of taking some of these ideas generatively, being aware of psychological aspects and symbols, but without total commitment to full-blown Jungianism. In a way I’m being crass and commonsensical here, but I certainly don’t want to deny psychological resonance within narrative or wider arts; it is their life-blood.

We shall now consider the second, parallel tradition, that of structuralism / semiotics; it can be treated more briefly since it lays much less of a claim to being generative, and defines itself as analytic. Nevertheless, one can easily imagine that some of the insights arrived at by its analysis could be used as a basis for a kind of reverse engineering.

Following Saussure, an idea took hold of European thought – that the analysis of many aspects of human life could be modelled on the example of linguistics. Thus, the idea of finding a “grammar of narrative” became attractive to some researchers.  One of the most important of these was Vladimir Propp, who undertook research on Russian folk-tales with the aim of finding their underlying structures. The governing analogy of the research was that an individual tale is to its underlying narrative structure as an individual utterance in a language is to its underlying linguistic system.

I have given a brief breakdown of Propp’s schema here –

and fuller notes here –

The relationships between different categories of an ontology can be used generatively – for example, characters have values and motives, and these can be used to generate aspects of plot and situation. Conversely, if we have an idea for a plot, we can develop aspects of character, motivation, and values from this.

So far, I’ve followed separately two lines of thought – initially about the use of chance and the random, of bringing the apparently irrelevant to bear – then shifted to a consideration of the possibility of fundamental structures, and of the use of templates, frameworks and schemata to help us develop all aspects of a creative construction. However, I have given no indication of any connection or inter-relation between these two lines of thought. It is now time to attempt to relate them.

Chance and the random serve the purpose of breaking us out of a framework that has, perhaps without our noticing, become overly restrictive.

Those familiar with poetry and literature will have come across the idea that poets enable us to see things anew, in a “novel” way. Often, this involves our seeing something as something else. What we have to be aware of, here, is that the “new”, which we might be inclined to think of as the chance element, the outside element, is not therefore itself unstructured. We tend to think of structure and form being brought to bear on substance or content, but it may be as well to acknowledge all intelligible things or events as inevitably structured. Similarly, chance and the random are, for our purposes here (we will have to get a bit more technical later), only chancy or random with respect to one frame of reference.

Creativity often involves the application of a mode of thought, mode of discourse, or set of concepts to a novel subject matter. This has many aspects. One aspect is change of form or genre, often used in parody:

All-Purpose Poem for State Occasions

The nation rejoices or mourns
As this happy or sombre day dawns.
Our eyes will be wet
As we sit round the set,
Neglecting our flowerbeds and lawns.

As Her Majesty rides past the crowd
They’ll be silent or cheer very loud
But whatever they do
It’s undoubtedly true
That they’ll feel patriotic and proud.

In Dundee and Penzance and Ealing
We’re imbued with appropriate feeling:
We’re British and loyal
And love every royal
And tonight we shall drink till we’re reeling.

Wendy Cope

Here, the inappropriate form of the limerick is used to mock the language used on state occasions. The overall effect is satirical. A much more thorough analysis can be conducted along these lines, which I’m sure are correct, but I’d like to point to a more fringe aspect of the poem: it could conceivably be interpreted as a destabilisation and questioning of the limerick form; we have form, order, and structure on both sides – here they are brought into comic collision.

Another aspect of this, involving no reference to ideas of innate genius, has been noticed; within academic disciplines, a breakthrough is often precipitated by a thinker who has changed fields quite drastically – e.g. from biology to economics – often for career reasons. It seems that they are often the one who can make the breakthrough because they bring certain ways of looking at phenomena, or certain methods, from their old field to the new. We could think of them as bringing a new ontology. (However, on the side of the innate, it might be argued that willingness to change fields, and the associated ambition, indicate a certain adventurous character type to begin with!)

Juxtaposition, related to the random, often plays a part in creativity. It can be used consciously as a technique, or be a habit of creative people to see, or at least subliminally try out, connections between apparently unrelated phenomena.

As a technique, one such method is Cut-Up.  This is basically to cut down the middle of passages of text (in the days before modern word processing, quite literally) and randomly piece together the strips to form new lines of text. Something like it was used by the Dadaists in the 1920’s, but it is usually attributed to Brian Gysin, a conceptual artist of the 1950’s. From there, it had wide influence, notably upon the novels of William Burroughs and the song-writing of David Bowie. I would expect that a critical phase or dynamic must come into play, where only some of the resulting collection is selected as interesting. All sorts of refinements and developments are possible.

Juxtaposition, for example cut-up, seems very much related to the random. What might it have to do with schemata? The Gestalt tradition within psychology, now largely subsumed within Cognitive Psychology, shows us a way forward here – the mind is a natural sense-maker, and at least attempts to form an intelligible whole of the data presented to it. In the language of schemata, frames, etc. – the mind tries to find a framework to apply to the presented data.

Juxtapositions occur in everyday life, and the creative mind often seizes upon these, transforming them into art. Again, since the mind is a pattern-finder, “meaning” often seems to arise from the fortuitous – Jung’s idea of synchronicity can be regarded as an attempt to make sense of this. Even the most scientific of minds, when pondering a life issue in a cafe and hearing a snatch of lyric on the radio which uses words relevant to the issue, will think of this as a sign. The French poet Comte de Lautréamont saw such juxtapositions as having an inherent value, and famously wrote, “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”

Conversely to the idea that a juxtaposition sometimes indicates a synthesising meaning, perhaps sometimes no such meaning is readily available, and the mind is baffled by the incongruity. Hopefully, more light will be shed on the psychological value of such a state when we consider the ideas of the Russian Formalists and of Morse Peckham.

The surrealist movement, developing from dadaism, utilised such ideas, and explored the art of “found objects”. Another technique they refined was that of “automatic writing”, an attempt to ignore all considerations of conscious control and foresight over the writing process in a quest to tap the unconscious directly. Dali made his own modifications to this, as the “paranoiac-critical” method, with which one encourages oneself to make “illogical” associations from one’s sensory experience, a kind of self-induced hallucination. Such techniques seem in a way the opposite of the techniques we considered earlier, but perhaps might be better thought of as complementary, the former utilising the more rational and conscious, the latter the irrational and unconscious.

John Lennon’s practise as a songwriter was similar to some of the ideas we have been discussing – the magpie nature of his creativity was such that he would often lift phrases, sentences, or sometimes larger blocks of discourse from television, newspaper articles, posters, etc., and transform them into lyrics, a transformation that sometimes involved little verbal alteration. The lyrics of “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” were taken, on his own admission, near verbatim from an old Victorian poster advertising a circus – “except the horse wasn’t called Henry”. The lyrics for “A Day In The Life” are taken from two stories in the Daily Mail that day, one involving holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, the other “about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash”. Lennon had “the Daily Mail propped in front of me on the piano”. Again, the surrealists had experimented with similar techniques or habits, with what they called “found poems” – a shift of perspective can turn the non-aesthetic into the aesthetic.

_____________BELOW HERE UNDER CONSTRUCTION______________

I would like to note one more generator of new ideas, which I term the productivity of restriction and constraint. The easiest way of explaining this is by examples – the need for a rhyme or the demands of prosody can help generate new ideas and new ways of looking at a subject. Similarly, many other figures of speech can work to generate new perceptions of lines of development. Also, not only the constraint of a form, but also the subtle constraint of knowing all the things that will not work, that are commonplace, or all the things that you do not want to say, can be generative. As Stanislaw Ulam remarks –

“When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to
find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes.
This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine
chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic
mechanism of originality… And what we call talent or perhaps genius itself
depends to a large extent on the ability to use one’s memory properly to find
the analogies… [which] are essential to the development of new ideas.”

Art – Its Different Meanings



It is arguable that “art” and “literature” are not natural kinds, but rather categories arrived at in the course of history, neither of which denotes a class of entities which really have essential and specific properties. Raymond Williams, in “Keywords”, traces the various historical fortunes of many terms we take for granted, including “art”, “literature”, and other related terms such as “culture” and “aesthetics”. There is a tendency I will term liquidationist which arises especially within marxist literary theory (Bennett, Frow) but also in other schools of thought (Bourdieu, Roger Taylor) which is suspicious of “art” and “literature” as such, regarding the categories as formations within bourgeois culture, thus having only a relative and historical, rather than universal, significance, and which might ultimately, especially if universalized and essentialized, work as part of an oppressive regime.

The diagrams above are an attempt to get across the idea that only some entities within different fields are privileged as being high art. The diagrams are far from perfect – for example, in the first diagram, “Craft or Skill” should surely overlap if not envelop “Painting” and other categories. They are also highly ideological – the division of music into “Classical” and “Popular” can be challenged. “Painting” is prioritized as our paradigmatic idea of art, but note that not all painting might be considered “High Art”. The empty oval is there to indicate that Painting, Literature and Music do not exhaust the specialized forms of high art.

[Need more on “Literature” falling under the genus of writing, problematised by speech (language) in drama and films. Maybe a third dimension?]

Regarding the second diagram, concerning “Literature”, please don’t take any of it as being an imposition of my own value judgements – my point is to indicate certain relations, particularly the fourfold relations of fiction and non-fiction, and high and low. I am trying to get to grips with a set-up which I acknowledge is partly ideological, and historically fluid (see the Russian Formalists on the “canonization of the junior branch”, and witness a certain flattening of the high / low distinction in postmodern times) . I’m personally a big fan of some genre fiction (sf, fantasy and horror), and quite like a bit of Pam Ayres.

Between essentialism and liquidationism –

My main concern on this site is with description of some aspects of poetic works, rather than definition of, for example, poetry. However, the question of definition has some interest both in its own right and regarding the definition of literature, so I’m now going to deal with matters of definition with particular regard to the concept of literature, and then come back to my own approach as a describer.

Extensional definition (set?) and intensional definition (class?)

Conformity to usage as being the control, unless for some honourable purpose we feel obliged to “lay down the law”.

Essentialism – Essentialism treats certain kinds as having a definable essence, a thing which makes them what they are.

it is closely related to the idea of natural kinds,

A way of looking at this is to consider any item or object as being a member or not of a class, roughly synonymous with a set. We then specify conditions for membership of that class, and one of the most influential ideas in this regard is that we specify singly necessary and jointly sufficient conditions,

genus, differentia, and species

Jakobson notes the “differentia specifica of verbal art in relation to other arts and in relation to other kinds of verbal behaviour”, and this seems reasonable, though here we have a species being treated under two genera, as if in two dimensions. The specification of verbal art within the genus of art would come from verbal behaviour, and the specification of verbal art within the genus of verbal behaviour would come from art. The diagram of this is something like –

Verbal Art

family resemblance (Wittgenstein)


fuzziness and prototypes

We should distinguish between definition and description. I am fairly agnostic regarding whether or not literature can be defined, accepting some of the historicizing arguments, but am more interested in describing some aspects of literature. Such an approach is not centrally concerned with specification.

I would see my own approach as being to pull out certain strands of what art, especially literature, does, and view them through the magnifying glass of a concern with psychology and creativity. Such a glass brings some strands into sharp focus, whilst other strands, no less essential perhaps with a view from nowhere, are left blurred. This being my outlook, I need not say that I am giving any sort of definition of literature or poetry; rather, poetry exemplifies some things which intrigue me, the strands on which I focus. Though I believe those things are, indeed, there, there may be many other things, other strands. In many ways, I accept the historicization of the concepts of art and literature, but do not accept that this means a devaluation even of their use as general categories.

fine art, high art

Definitions of art(s) are to some extent social facts.

The concepts of high art and of art are complicit, but co-option of “good” to “high” is also in operation.

“High” art and low “art” with reference to the postmodern condition.

Psychological Motivation and Evolution

Attempts to theorize creativity and aesthetics should be consistent with the wider contexts of psychology and Darwinian evolutionary theory. They should indicate a psychological raison d’etre, a function, or to be more rigorous, an apparent function explicable as an adaptation or group of adaptations, preferably in terms of survival and evolution. Our theories should be fairly parsimonious with these wider contexts.

I regard creativity as the complement to complexity. Complexity is in the nature of the world – emergence, levels, evolution, contingency. Creativity is necessary if we are to cope with this sort of world, as responses cannot simply be pre-programmed, since the world itself is complex and dynamic – it changes not merely in the sense of state-changes, but wholly new forms of order and organization are thrown up, different forms of order are found in different places, and so on. The unexpected and unforeseen happen.

Darwinian evolution sits on both sides of this complementary relation, as both situation and response – different species are caught in the dance of evolution, the cat and the sparrow both, in a sense, each other’s creator, the vicious contest honing and streamlining the swiftness and the beauty.

I have noted elsewhere an insight attributable to Bateson, that evolution and creativity are analogous, both involving a random aspect and a selectional aspect. Bateson gives a lot of thought to learning, and I’m here going to conflate somewhat creativity and learning, regarding creativity as learning at its higher end.

It seems that we can regard learning as having different levels, or different degrees; a sea slug can only learn in the most rudimentary sense, and its entire repertoire of behaviour can be regarded as genetically set. Higher animals are capable of higher levels of learning, whereby new behaviours can be developed without any genetic evolution. We can regard higher levels as involving greater ranges of flexibility.

In short, the function of creativity, its origin, is as a means to flexibility of response to a complex world.

However, this does not mean that creativity is tied in all or even most instances to this usefulness – we take pleasure in the creative often for its own sake (though perhaps also often fear it, avoid it, and become exhausted by it – we are also creatures of habit and lovers of known comfort), but this pleasure is itself rooted in a survival value.

Creativity is necessary evolutionarily if an organism is to break from patterns of order identification and feature detection which are suboptimal, and patterns of behaviour grounded in forms of order which are passing away, and achieve this break without biological mutation. Order extrapolation and creativity are complementary. Creativity allows a certain disorder in the interests of maintaining flexibility.

“Hence, the stylistic dynamism of art is still unaccounted for. Between what behavioral patterns and roles can do and the emergent demands of transactions with a continuously changing environment is a gap, which explains the existence of innovation, not as merely a common, but as a universal characteristic of human behavior. The awareness of the gap, or problem perception accounts for the general dynamism of human behavior as simple stimulus theory cannot; . . .” Morse Peckham.

Creativity utilizes the flexibility of an inner structure which is insulated from total direct interaction with its environment.

Our intelligence involves flexibility, beyond that of lower creatures. Thus, too much predictability equates with boredom. I think the aesthetic is very much bound up with this, a balance of predictability and unpredictability.

Relationship to Complexity and Dialectics.

Where the dynamics of complexity and dialectics involve transformation or sublation of an entire process, including entities within the process, creativity or aesthesis does not destroy the boundary of the entity – the more fixed, outward boundary – but does transform or ‘test’ frames and orders within an entity which is capable of such internal transformations without immediately incurring damage. The entity does this with mere state changes, rather than with structural changes, and even the state changes are quite virtual.

Higher levels of consciousness allow inner flexibility without ‘biological’ alteration. (though in a sense all is biological)

This is connected with the idea of art as a kind of controlled transformation and the concept of frame explored by Goffman in his book Frame Analysis. Lower frames are those of operational closure, higher those of formalism or conventional insulation (fictionality, picture frame, stage, humour, irony)

An aspect of this is simulation, closely related to the idea of internal models – a simulation is the “running” of a model, its temporalization. Such inner “behaviour” allows us to “weed out the nonsense off-line”, as W.H.Calvin notes, and this “permits our hypotheses to die in our stead.” (Popper)

Regarding the origins of the aesthetic, we might consider it an example of something taking on a life of its own while originating in a survival value. See dialectics.

If creativity is the overcoming of operational closure conducted behind operational closure, we could compare concepts of stability and instability in both areas.

Straining for an order, just out of reach – in the unconscious.

The chaos of art suggests an order just outside one’s grasp. This idea bears some resemblance to the idea of Baumgarten, originator of the term “aesthetics”, that confused thinking is necessary for cognition.

The pleasurable effort of perceiving order amidst disorder. (Art as an anti-boredom device)

But “boredom” needs some unpacking. Regarding evolution, it’s hard to imagine the lower levels of organisms suffering from boredom, so boredom seems to be more of an affliction the more cognitively complex the organism.

Because there is always the need to shake our cognitive order?

Creativity is the dynamic of moving towards the identification of order rather than the finished structure. It is structure-in-process.

And the psychological basis of a drive to undermine or transcend an order. Adorno seems relevant here. The necessary bravery, arrogance, or even aggressiveness.

The Hedonic

The breaking down of the limits of ego, of an operational closure, gives joy. (the moral and religious dimension)

Joy, linked to stress, hence the importance of the utilisation in art and entertainment of insulation.




Form and Content within Art

Great art often deals with contradiction, dualities, order and disorder, (within narrative, equilibrium-disequilibrium-equilibrium) limitation and transcendence, encounter of orders, and even the duality of form and content itself as subject matter or content.

The transition from form to the content of art being usually about particular human concerns, might be bridgeable within this framework of dualities.

Syntax + [reference?] enables semantics which enables content

But semantics allows a patterning of content, e.g.  repetition with difference in plot and sub-plot. This too is form, but form within semantics and meaning.

Conversely the content of the form of art is transformation or transcendence. Perhaps even the most abstract form has a human content.

But this is to treat art from the outside.


Content of Form

– Opposition, Transformation or transcendence. Complexity and richness of life, Freedom

Form of Content

– Patterning, e.g., Repetition with Difference, within semantics and meaning


Abstract contraries –

Contradiction. Tension.


Order and Disorder

Limitation and Transcendence


Encounter of orders

Form and Content

Particular human concerns –

individual and society


strife, struggle, conflict


advancement or development

journey to transcendence

see Koestler’s archetypes and my notes on archetypes and themes, and consider common themes in literature. Clearly, consideration of similarities of themes moves beyond my overall focus here, which is formalist. A rich complexity opens up.

Between the four levels mentioned, there might be a complex interplay. We might talk of “meta-form”, but this needs thinking through.

There should be a ‘Beyond the formal’ section to aesthetics, as well as the political / social implications. It is the truly dialectical part, where problematisation, tangling up of the different levels of analysis, comes to seem to be what a work is all about. Refer also to Giddens on contradiction and reflexiveness – may also be true or even more true of aesthetics. Whether this sort of thing can be more clearly formalised or whether it must proceed on a case-by-case basis I am not sure. Perhaps Adorno.

To consider art purely formally is inadequate but still affords insight. Taking Koestler’s theory of bisociation, bisociations that interest people are likely to do so partly by relating to something in experience, by locking on to matters which concern them. For example, Wuthering Heights is highly patterned, but it concerns matters which are of interest to people.

Still, many critics tend to inflate the explanatory significance of the humanly interesting aspect of art within its content, and this is a constant, powerful temptation (big words are used by such critics, obscuring the formal aspect of art – big words like – life, death, love).

The relationship between form and human experience is likely to be complex, dialectical, overdetermined.

Synthesizing the Different Approaches


I intend here to attempt to etch interrelations between the main categories of my formalism – Maximization, Defamiliarization, and Bisociation. This lateral attempt at synthesis should be complemented by a vertical (upward) understanding of these categories within a wider philosophy, and a vertical (downward) assessment of their applicability to the rhetorical figures.

Vertically Upwards (within a wider philosophy) –

There is a primary opposition in life between order and disorder. However, note that there can be disorder in the service of order – mutation might lead, via Darwinian evolution, to a higher level of complexity, and a subjective toleration of disorder might help us break out of a suboptimal order, a side effect of this usefulness being aesthetic and other forms of toleration and enjoyment of disorder.

There is, secondarily, a duality between pattern / order and frame / schema, this duality forming a unity – i.e., it is a duality, not a dualism. If one side of the duality is to be regarded as dominant, and the other derivative, then pattern is dominant and frame derivative; frames / schemata can only really be regarded as truly successful if they help us to see order and pattern in the world, and only work because of order in the world – though we also have schemata which are imposed on the world, such as rules, and schemata which might in some way correspond to nothing truly objective – this includes one of the senses of “ideology”. The capacity to detect order and the capacity to form schemata as an aid in detecting order have been honed by evolution, and even some false recognitions of order and false schemata might have a survival value.

This unity in duality is opposed to disorder. In the old days we’d call it chaos, but since the mathematical development of chaos theory, and a sort of romanticization of chaos, this usage might lead to confusion or accusations of pretentiousness or pseudo-science, so we should simply call it disorder. For pattern / order, it is simply the opposite. For frame / schema, it is recalcitrance, not-fitting, being anomalous, perhaps the uncanny.

Thirdly, there are levels. [Koestler on tragic and trivial, valuation and levels, level of abstraction esp. regarding metaphor] In a general way, we talk of levels such as the physical, the chemical and the biological, but specifically, within linguistics, we deal with levels such as the phonic, the lexical, the syntactic, the semantic, etc. Levels are related to frame / schema, in that each level can be seen to impose certain kinds of frame / schema, but levels do not exhaust frame / schema. Similarly, different levels can be seen as constituted by different forms of emergent order, but not all forms of emergent order need sit neatly within a unitary dimension of levels. Indeed, Leech’s breakdown of linguistic levels in A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry is not unidimensional. (Though the concept of levels is a very useful one, I regard it as being as much a problem as a solution. See my article on Complexity for a similar view.)

Vertically Downwards (with application to rhetorical figures) –

[Yet to be done – this will kind of “test” the abstract categories.]

Laterally –

Maximization clearly relates to the Order – Disorder axis in a relatively unproblematic way.

Defamiliarization (especially when considered as foregrounding), takes two forms – extra patterning and deviation. The first of these, extra patterning, clearly has some relation to Maximization in the form of effective complexity. Its other form is deviation, which could be considered as a purely disordering factor, where the usual frame ceases to fit or is somehow distorted or problematized, or as introducing a clash of frames, including a clash of levels, which brings us to –

Bisociation in its aspect of creative tension. The other two aspects of Bisociation in Koestler’s triptych are synthesis, which seems to relate to Maximization, and explosion, which might relate to Disorder. Bisociation relates to frames / schemata as plural, a form of relationship between them, and can include bisociation of levels, and as a sub-category bisociation of linguistic levels.

Morse Peckham. Deviation. A lively order.

A deviation breaks an element from a frame and objectifies it.

A bisociation defamiliarises a frame.

A deviation defamiliarises an element.

An objectification defamiliarises a frame and shows its dependence on a material substratum.

An objectification bisociates two levels of an element and objectifies the higher level / frame (structure / system).

By element do I mean Minsky’s “assignment” / Schank and Abelard’s (?) “value” or slot / terminal / variables?

Or even relations – more complicitly?

Deviation and maximization               Information     Redundancy

What is order? David Bohm on order and structure.

Hebb. De Bono Mechanism of Mind. Autopoiesis. Dialectics – paradox.

If defamiliarisation from a pattern can only be with another pattern, it seems close to being bisociation. But with deviation, pattern itself is attenuated – we have an increase in disorder and variety. This might be for a purpose – to imitate life, to break from the rhythm in order to parallel meaning, or speech, or it could aim at pure disorder.

What, if anything, is the difference between defamiliarisation and Morse Peckham’s idea of deviation, distortion, disruption, disorder, chaos?

[Not true – needs revising – Defamiliarisation, locked as it is to formalism and bracketing off, specification, specialization, as its ideal of science, does not go for an explanation in terms of the evolutionary value of a rage for chaos. It limits itself to an understanding of the literary, ignoring possible links between the literary and the other arts, or the literary and life more generally.] Peckham, I think, understands the need for chaotic tendencies to disrupt possibly sub-optimal solutions in a constantly changing world – i.e., he explains in broadly evolutionary terms.

Reality Effect

The reality effect must be considered before mimesis – it is the coherence aspect, whereas mimesis is the correspondence aspect. However, the two categories are complementary twins. By reality effect, I mean that a fiction which has a high degree of inner coherence will tend to be taken as somehow real, since coherence is usually an aspect of reality. Order, regularity, and pattern are aspects of objective reality, beyond subjective whim, and their presence in our fictions, no matter if the fictions be fantastical, imbues them with objectivity. Similarly for the rule-bound, evn if the rules be those of magic. The conventional and the stylised can also be considered in this way, as can intertextuality.


Pattern indicates order indicates a reality.

Consistency indicates a reality

Therefore, pattern enhances a sense of realism

see also Roger Taylor – Beyond Art

The existence of restriction indicates a reality.


Background assumptions



Breakdown of reality effect in the postmodern? Media saturation



Does defamiliarization have a politically progressive connection always?

Does reality effect cut against itself – life not that organised?


Can be used to manipulate / exclude other aspects of reality

Can help present the alien as familiar and the familiar as alien – e.g. science fiction and thus defamiliarize / relativize our society


Theoretical battles over the ‘innocence’ of realism. Should we analyse the story or how the story is achieved?

Related to fictionality – in poetry, what is the relationship between the reality effect reality and the intention, register etc of the poem?


Mimesis I take to indicate the complementary of the reality effect, the correspondence of works of fiction to what we know of reality. This idea has been problematized and put under attack by tendencies within semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism, which emphasize the conventionality of signification.


Artworks can be genuinely mimetic

The purposes may be many –


to test out other ways of experiencing the world, with safety

to explore human situations, in order to widen perceptions, sympathies

pleasure of recognition. Cleverness and humanisation of the natural (Even in acting)

practical necessity for likenesses e.g., portraits

filling in a blank (wall)

to be close to something valued that is distant (e.g. nature)

to draw attention to the reality mimed

this category can include escapism (also an aspect of insulation) a ‘positive’ to insulation’s ‘negative’

mimesis and (artistic) convention


Background codes and conventions of representation change

Purpose may change

Could depend on how the world is conceptualised – subject to change (Different point from codes of representation)

Need for ‘artistic’ likenesses (e.g. portraits) may change owing to technology


Organisation of reception – frame / insulation – how maintained institutionally?

Political / Ideological

What is included and what is excluded – the focus

Focus on the ‘progress’ of an individual in classical novel, Hollywood film central romance

The world has different ‘areas’ – which are imitated? e.g. – pastoral e.g. – absence of bodily functions in soap operas

Mimesis can draw attention to the reality mimed – political drama about unfair trial?

Human concern

Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.

– Adrian Mitchell

A relatively unproblematic area, at least in terms of understanding it; the evaluation of works of art and literature is likely to be influenced by their perceived relevance to matters of usual human concern – life and death, love, strife, etc.


Human need for interpretation, context, significance to aspects of life


Allows or affords insulation, identification (with heroes etc.) Freud on Mr Ego (?)

Pleasures of the vicarious. Safety.

The human concern element affords or buys a space for formal pleasure. Something for form to be about – conscious / unconscious

Strengthen social cohesion (different types of people identified with or understood)

Guessing what will happen

The temporal – suspense, plot, dramatic tension.

Critics often mistake the human concern as the essentially aesthetic, or conversely believe that what they find aesthetically pleasing or enjoyable must therefore be noble regarding humanity.


What is eternal e.g.-



love and strife?

and what relative or historical e.g.-


courtly love


To link this category with that of Insulation, it could be argued that the more formal or abstract forms of art have an appeal to the more privileged social classes or strata, as they have, if you like less concern for human concerns.

Connection of suitable form with theme – can be subverted – register

and what is the interplay between eternal and historical?

Can restrict to ‘normal’ concerns – not show (or show, if challenging) structures

‘individualist’ e.g. soap operas perspective or ‘structuralist’ e.g.?

Battles over what is or is not a proper subject of art. The ‘noble’ theme. Acceptability of taboo subjects.

The very subject matter of art can be motivated by a concern for social matters and problems, such as poverty and inequality.


Within aesthetics, this category is closely related to the idea of simulation, which is in turn based on the idea of modeling.

(testing what would happen)



Maximization of information or maximization of patterning

Are these not opposites in information theory? (amount of redundancy)

For conscious human beings, information is only such within an order, but in information theory, order seems to be redundancy. Also, is entropy order (heat-death) or disorder?

Deviation from an order is informative but the order must be set up or else we only perceive randomness (see note on deviation in black book and integrate this)

Possible use of concept of logical depth to avoid a paradox of the information approach, namely that the most random and disordered contains the most information.

see Murray Gell-Mann “What is Complexity” available on the web at the time of writing for a clarification of the idea of logical depth (though I don’t think that here he uses the term, the ideas seem to derive from Charles H. Bennett) Regularity fits well with our term, patterning, in fact here being, as far as I can make out, synonymous.

Maximization runs beyond what can readily be taken in. Stretch. But it usually involves different orders (e.g. phonetic and semantic in poetry) There is a problem here – really maximization of order is minimisation of information.

A poem is a particular congruence of different orders. Operational closure clarifies levels.

Order is pleasing

Complex order stretches perception – opposite of boredom.

Order is pleasing because of our connection with nature. (biophilia – Wilson)

Dialectic of order / deviation – chaos within nature.

see Fuller and Gombrich

Cognitive pleasure and challenge of seeing underlying order or partial order.

Pattern is background of intelligibility for deviation, either formally or mimetically.

Order overarches or ‘contains’ contradictions – art enables us to adjust ourselves subtly towards integration (Richards)

Order is pleasing because it represents human domination (of nature). Order and Reason

Connection with freedom?

Imaginary resolution of real contradictions.

The temporal – the nature of music

Art might sometimes provide a new framework.

Historical Social Political Ideological


Integration? Lukacs, Richards and New Criticism

Whether balance and resolution is regarded as the nature of the aesthetic or contradiction and tension as primary varies historically and with society, with who produces, for whom, and who interprets – e.g. – New Criticism. Societies that need or desire balance may stress integration (e.g. – neoclassical poetry like Pope. Guy Cooke’s point.)

Rhyme and rhythm seem to have a visceral (natural) appeal. Also music.

Patterning and conformism

Totality – can work be iconic or self-subsistent?

should there be disruption?

is disruption necessary for realism?

psychological – variation within an order, see Gombrich. Peckham.

Order may provide historically changing background of conventions to break.

Patterns of form and content

Formal aspect of content (e.g., Wuthering Heights)

Eagleton on Lotman –

Yuri Lotman – from Terry Eagleton – Literary Theory

Bibliography – The Structure of the Artistic Text (1977)

Analysis of the Poetic Text (1976)

p.112   ‘…Yuri Lotman used the imagery of cybernetics to show how the poem formed a complex organic totality…’

p.101-3 ‘…To see what this kind of analysis looks like in practice, we may briefly consider the work of the leading Soviet semiotician of the so-called School of Tartu, Yuri Lotman.

In his works The Structure of the Artistic Text (1970) and The Analysis of the Poetic Text (1972), Lotman sees the poetic text as a stratified system in which meaning only exists contextually, governed by sets of similarities and oppositions. Differences and parallelisms in the text are themselves relative terms, and can only be perceived in relation to one another. In poetry, it is the nature of the signifier, the patterns of sound and rhythm set up by the marks on the page themselves, which determines what is signified. A poetic text is ‘semantically saturated’, condensing more ‘information’ than any other discourse; but whereas for modern communication theory in general an increase in ‘information’ leads to a decrease in ‘communication’ (since I cannot ‘take in’ all that you so intensively tell me), this is not so in poetry because of its unique kind of internal organisation. Poetry has a minimum of ‘redundancy’ – of those signs which are present in a discourse to facilitate communication rather than convey information – but still manages to produce a richer set of messages than any other form of language. Poems are bad when they do not carry sufficient information, for, as Lotman remarks, ‘information is beauty.’ Every literary text is made up of a number of ‘systems’ (lexical, graphic, metrical, phonological and so on) and gains its effects through constant clashes and tensions between these systems. Each of the systems comes to represent a ‘norm’ from which the others deviate, setting up a code of expectations which they transgress. Metre, for example, creates a certain pattern which the poem’s syntax may cut across and violate. In this way, each system in the text ‘defamiliarises’ the others, breaking up their regularity and throwing them into more vivid relief. Our perception of the poem’s grammatical structure, for example, may heighten our awareness of its meanings. Just as one of the poem’s systems threatens to become too predictable, another cuts across it to disrupt it into new life. If two words are associated together because of their similar sound or position in the metrical scheme, this will produce a sharper awareness of their similarity or difference of meaning, generating new significances by the clash and condensation of its various ‘levels’. And since any two words whatsoever may be juxtaposed on the basis of some equivalent feature, this possibility is more or less unlimited. Each word in the text is linked by a whole set of formal structures to several other words, and its meaning is thus always ‘overdetermined’, always the result of several different determinants acting together. An individual word may relate to another word through assonance, to another through syntactical equivalence, to yet another through morphological parallelism, and so on. Each sign thus participates in several different ‘paradigmatic patterns’ or systems simultaneously, and this complexity is greatly compounded by the ‘syntagmatic’ chains of association, the ‘lateral’ rather than ‘vertical’ structures, in which signs are placed.

The poetic text for Lotman is thus a ‘system of systems’, a relation of relations. It is the most complex form of discourse imaginable, condensing together several systems each of which contains its own tensions, parallelisms, repetitions and oppositions, and each of which is continually modifying all of the others. A poem, in fact, can only be re-read, not read, since some of its structures can only be perceived retrospectively. Poetry activates the full body of the signifier, presses the word to work to its utmost under the intense pressure of surrounding words, and so to release its richest potential. Whatever we perceive in the text is perceived only by contrast and difference: an element which had no differential relation to any other would remain invisible. Even the absence of certain devices may produce meaning: if the codes which the work has generated lead us to expect a rhyme or a happy ending which does not materialise, this ‘minus device’, as Lotman terms it, may be as effective a unit of meaning as any other. The literary work, indeed, is a continual generating and violating of expectations, a complex interplay of the regular and the random, norms and deviations, routinized patterns and dramatic defamiliarizations.

Despite this unique verbal richness, Lotman does not consider that poetry or literature can be defined by their inherent linguistic properties. The meaning of the text is not just an internal matter: it also inheres in the text’s relation to wider systems of meaning, to other texts, codes and norms in literature and society as a whole. Its meaning is also relative to the reader’s ‘horizon of expectations’: Lotman has learned the lessons of reception theory well. It is the reader who by virtue of certain ‘receptive codes’ at his or her disposal identifies an element in the work as a ‘device’; the device is not simply an internal feature but one perceived through a particular code and against a definite textual background. One person’s poetic device may be another’s daily speech.

It is obvious from all this that literary criticism has come a long way from the days when we had to do little more than thrill to the beauty of the imagery. What semiotics represents, in fact, is literary criticism transfigured by structural linguistics, rendered a more disciplined and less impressionistic enterprise which, as Lotman’s work testifies, is more rather than less alive to the wealth of form and language than most traditional criticism.’


HA-HA                                   AHA                                       AH…

comic simile                            hidden analogy                       poetic image

witticism                                 epigram                                   trouvaille

satire                                        social analysis                          allegory

impersonation                          empathy                                  illusion

caricature                                 schematisation                         stylisation

pun                                          wordgames, puzzles                rhyme

riddle                                       problem                                   allusion

debunking                               discovering                              revealing

coincidence                             “trigger”                                  fate

S.A.                             bathos  SHORT CUT  pathos              S.Tr

Some notes on Koestler and John Holland

‘code’ refers to those moves which are possible within any system, prior to engaging with that system;

‘matrix’ refers to those moves which are available at a particular point in the activity;

and ‘strategy’ refers to the actual move which is chosen at this point. [This cannot be right – strategy governs the move; it is not the actual move. DR]

The word “matrix” means any habit or skill, any pattern of ordered behaviour governed by a “code” of fixed rules.

Using both pattern and order seems to introduce a redundancy, unless one is text and one intertext

pattern is related to regularity and repetition (this can apply to lexical sets as well as to rhyme, to any typicalities such as narrative expectations, etc.)

Lexical set takes on all sorts of orders of complexity – words that occur typically together might be of the same or of different parts of speech, e.g. the child sleeps is typical, the child philosophises atypical and verging on poetry or metaphor.

Matrix as the embodiment in actuality of the code,

either more flexible than the code e.g. Shakespeare’s actual use of iambic pentameter often deviating,

or involving other real world factors than the code (from other levels / codes?) e.g. iambic pentameter having to be embodied in words, possibly having to obey another code (e.g. grammatical) as well, that is whilst still satisfying the code of iambic pentameter – though it seems that with such cases we also have two matrices operating (bisociation)

The latter seems truer to what is intended by matrix, but also to necessarily involve bisociation. This is a problem. Perhaps with bisociation, both logics are in some way perceived, whereas with matrix, there is no creative tension but only pure operation.


Input           Code            Range of possible outputs

Operating from within a matrix, things are only seen with relevance to that matrix, but with a bisociation, there is an awareness of and tension between two codes, orders, patterns.

Jakobson could be taken as saying that patterning, code, the paradigmatic axis, is projected onto the syntagmatic axis.

From code to ordered behaviour – outputs?

“Holland does better when it comes to describing the kind of model needed: a “constrained generating procedure,” or CGP. The basic element of a CGP is something which has an internal state and a set of inputs, and whose next state is a function of the current state and those inputs; call it a basic mechanism. We suppose there are only a finite number of different kinds of basic mechanisms; then each of them is a CGP, and so is anything we get by making one of the inputs of a CGP be the state (or some function of the state) of a basic mechanism — to be a bit less exact and recursive, and a bit plainer: anything you get by wiring up basic mechanisms is also a CGP. The result is a generating procedure because it effectively implements a rule for making different sequences of states, different (so to speak) moves; these are constrained by the connections between parts, so that each part isn’t free to do just what it likes. (Computer scientists find it useful to gloss over the difference between a procedure and a mechanism which implements it, and this seems to have become second nature to Holland.)”

Cosma Shalizi at

mapping functions [?]

Holland –         rules of game               tree of moves                          strategy

Koestler-         code                            matrix (Koestler)         actual strategic choice

Mathematics-  determinant                 matrix (Maths)

both code and determinant indicate a constancy within the matrix.

Koestler does not abuse maths, and only notes matrix theory and determinant in a footnote. The term matrix is hardly the exclusive property of mathematicians. Koestler himself, and I stress in a footnote, says that the equation of determinant and code has flimsy validity.

code – fixed

matrix – variable

the code determines the range of choices

the matrix is the range of choices

the strategy

the actual choice

code – rules

strategic choices

matrix              flexible strategy

skill                  e.g., web-building

Isn’t there an intermediary between code (rules) and strategic choices – all the possible moves on the tree?


ensemble of permissible moves [according to the code]

Note – the two diagrams on page 41 of “The Act Of Creation” are wrong because they are not equivalent – permissible moves on and after the first move are indicated in the case of the bishop, but only moves permissible on the first move for the rook. This probably occured because a bishop is constrained long term to only move on certain squares, in a way that the rook is not.

Matrices have a constant attached to them, called the determinant.

What is the identity matrix?

“Matrix multiplication is useful to find the matrix of sums of squares and cross products.” (SSCP matrix) (I don’t know where I got this quote from.)

raw score, deviation score

sums of squares and cross products


a) Masochist

b) English lady

c) One in ten persons

d) Daughter’s hand

e) Marquis blessing

In Britain, every five minutes a young man gets run over, And he’s getting really pissed-off.

Koestler Janus

Two self-consistent but incompatible frames of reference

Humour and Wit

Frames of reference    -plane

-associative context

humour                        -logical structure

-emotional dynamics

from practical joke to brainteaser, from jibe to irony




“the bisociation of a situation or idea with two mutually incompatible contexts, and the resulting abrupt transfer of the train of thoughts from one context to another, puts a sudden end to our ‘tense expectations’; the accumulated emotion, deprived of its object, is left hanging in the air, and is discharged in laughter.”

Play on sounds



figurative / metaphorical                     v          literal

professional                 v          common-sense logic

codes of behaviour

trivial                           v          exalted

trains of reasoning

+ a drop of malice

The Act of Creation

Incongruity between form and context

satire is a verbal caricature

Bergson – dualism of subtle mind and inert matter [Wyndham Lewis]

Part and whole change roles. Detail torn out of functional context





An example of incongruity between form and content – Wendy Cope “Poem For Use On Any State Occasion”

The Art Of Discovery

“Creativity in science … consists in combining previously unrelated mental structures in such a way that you get more out of the emergent whole than you have put in.”

tide      moon               Kepler

magnetism       electricity        Oersted

radiant light

chemistry         physics

electron           planet              [Rutherford]

base domain – target domain

E = mc²           Einstein

blacksmiths Pythagoras

musical harmony


mental holon

cogito – shake together

for Gestalt, when bits of a puzzle click into place

“The essence of the aesthetic experience consists, as I have tried to show, in intellectual illumination – seeing something familiar in a new, significant light; followed by emotional catharsis” The Act Of Creation p. 363.

Bergson “the mechanical encrusted on the living” p363.

Biologists – exploratory drive

Polarity of self-asserting and self-transcending tendencies

The Discoveries of Art


mental habits, routines and skills

matrix              holons              rules


rigid or adaptable

Popper on revolutionary progress in science

Hademard – mathematicians – “visual imagery of a vague, hazy nature”

Kris – “regression in the service of the ego”

Why progress in science but not art?

There is. And progress not steady in science.

Kuhn – paradigm changes

Crumbling Citadels

attacks neo-Darwinism


Bisociation gives insight, affords a new analogy, if the bisociation has content (philosophically, sense).


Need to enlarge frame of reference, or enable utilisation of all frames of reference we have, or generally ease from habit to enhance greater flexibility

Interplay of two frames a case of dialectic of order and deviation.

De-habitualises an element of a frame and widens our perception of it. Human Beings evolved into flexibility – frames are not fixed but may need disrupting. Way of  escaping the non-optimum.

Science                                       Art                                           Humour

synthesis                                  creative tension                   incongruity

juxtaposition                        explosion


“One of the skills which we all acquire, to varying degrees, is that of employing humour to help deal with the problems of multiplicity and contradiction, incongruity and incoherence which are built into our organised patterns of social action and which persistently threaten to disrupt the course of our serious social activities.”

On Humour, Michael Mulkay, Polity Press. p214.

Empson Ambiguity


Mutation         Selection

Creation          Criticism



Historical Social Political Ideological

Historical dynamic – bisociation can relate to the form taken of works dealing with different areas of human concern – bisociation of form and content.

Historically specific or new analogies breaking through.

Political, ideological – Bringing out contradictions through humorous bisociation e.g. – political humour

Ambiguity – covert symbolism, metaphor. Way of getting around power.

Historical pressures – melding of forms. (Music)

Marxists who absorb the formal into the political. Formal clash in Zappa – Ben Watson


(from pattern of work)


We only recognise what deviates?

Need to have experience of our ordered categories or our ordering capacities challenged, to avoid stagnation or non-optimal solutions. Insulation helps us deal with this necessity safely.

Experience of perceiving a semi-order in disorder is useful and hence pleasurable – the world is not always neatly ordered or labelled and we need capacity to stretch ourselves cognitively in pattern-recognition.

Is there a connection between deviation and maximization that can be brought into focus with polarity of information and redundancy? Informative with respect to a frame…

challenging of expectations.

“Verse is the management of surprises.” Anon to me. Like humour.

“Now most ideas of art have been that it is a means of distilling order from the chaos of life. Morse Peckham, an American writer I’ve been reading a lot of during the last year, says this is quite the opposite of what happens. Art, he says, is the mechanism which enables one to face chaos and uncertainty.” Brian Eno.


Historical Social Political Ideological

Whole issue of deviation and historical change.

Are new frameworks generated?

Ideological – Brings out the materiality of language – defamiliarisation as politically progressive.

Discordance as representing contradictions in reality, perhaps subordinate to an overarching order or pattern. Oppression issues.

Can by implication challenge social norms by deviating from formal norms.

Random mutation can become subject to selection and be part of historical or evolutionary process.

Deviation in terms of form, or content, or the relationship between the two. Also, deviation from order of the form of the content.


Folks can find the Russian Formalist Shklovsky’s historic articles at

and Leon Trotsky’s attack on him at

estrangement, alienation, deautomation,


Shklovsky – “making strange” ostranenie

“We do not experience the familiar, we do not see it, we recognise it. We do not see the walls of our rooms.”

“… difficult to catch mistakes when reading a proof …”

“cannot force ourselves to see, to read, and not just “recognise” a familiar word”

“artistic” perception is a perception that entails awareness of form (perhaps not only form, but invariably form).”

The Resurrection of the Word            Viktor Sklovskij

– making it strange

– impeded form “which augments the difficulty and duration of perception”

Jakobson – “The distinctive feature of poetry lies in the fact that a word is perceived as a word and not merely a proxy for the denoted object or an outburst of an emotion, that words and their arrangement, their meaning, their outward and inward form acquire weight and value of their own.” Hawkes.

[note – denoted object not, here, meaning]

connotation subverting denotation?

and poetry multiplies meanings

All poetic devices have one central use, “making strange”

disrupt stock responses

“canonisation of the junior branch”

What is an order, a stock response, a pattern (see Bohm on order and structure)

(spatial? temporal? logical? cultural?)

anticipation, expectation.

Bennett           Formalism and Marxism

Erlich, V.         Russian Formalism: History – Doctrine

Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views

Jameson           The Prison-House of Language

Marxism and Form


De-habitualises an element of a frame to allow us to “see” it.

There are two aspects of defamiliarisation – of language and of things, but they may interconnect.

Schlovsky on the “stretch”.

Freshening language.

Language        Concept           Thing

Defamiliarisation may reorganise language, or reorganise relationships between language and concepts, or through language reorganise relationships between concepts and things (things being expressed perhaps by more obvious language – concept – thing chain, or perhaps not, e.g. A Martian Sends A Postcard Home)

“[C]ognitive psychology has demonstrated that habituation in perception and comprehension is a normal phenomenon in human life. Habituation routinises life, it dulls the senses and the critical faculties. One way of combating habituation is to experience an entity in a novel fashion so that our attention is arrested, and our automatic mode of processing together with the standard response we produce to the familiar stimulus are impeded, slowed down, surprised even. This obliges us to examine the entity more closely and from a new perspective. As a result we are challenged to place a new interpretation on reality. Impeding normal processing by showing the world in an unusual, unexpected or abnormal manner is termed defamiliarization. Thus defamiliarization may be achieved by subverting the rules governing perception and behaviour. The linguistic technique employed in subverting the world in this manner is termed foregrounding.” (Douthwaite 2000: 178) quoted in Leech – Language in Literature.

Historical Social Political Ideological

Challenges to the normal

Challenges normal discourse or ideology

Dynamic concept – defamiliarisation has an implicit historical dimension.

Defamiliarisation and modern marketing; novelty in a consumer society.

Why so much defamiliarisation in modernism and post-modernism – changing world – abstract mimesis of experience? Division of labour, specialisation in the capitalist era – perhaps frees the formal aspect of art and increases dynamism . Also robs art of an easy relationship to content? Nihilism of formalism.

General historical change may force a defamiliarisation, or defamiliarisation could be internal to an artform, though no total closure of a form to its environment is possible. Dialectics and partial closure.

Shakespeare may have become defamiliarised, sometimes refreshing language simply through objectively being archaic.

May be both historical and ahistorical – much “surprise” in old poems still works.

Marxists who absorb the formal into the political – argument within theory.


Problems with the foregrounding model.


Language is so key to human psychology and communication that its objectification can allow us to be aware of it, like becoming aware of something usually opaque in its transparency. Mimicry and satirical irony are related to these considerations.

Release from the bondage of language. Wop bop a lu bop a wop bam boom.

When language is perceived as pure sound, e.g., in rhyme, or in silly rhyme, we see it differently, in a new pattern – sound patterns. This connects back to bisociation.

Language goes on holiday.

Can “order” be objectified – e.g., if high register is used for trivial content, e.g., The Rape of the Lock where we see the form for what it is. Peter Sellers performing A Hard Day’s Night in the form of Richard III.

Which order is “objectified”?

The higher order can be objectified. ie – even sound is order – differential, systemic.

Historical Social Political Ideological

Draws attention to materiality and mechanism. Language not neutral medium? – ideology. (Eagleton on production) Word as sound threatening to some (repressed urges?) at different times?

Something in Poetry As Discourse Anthony Easthope – in bourgeois era “objectivity” of language is decentered or downplayed. The connection between poetry and song is broken.

Contested connection to mimesis – onomatopoeia. Can thus also cross-refer to bisociation.


Relation to infantilism

Switching importance.


Provides new focus, uncovers new and richer patterns in the world and more to cognitively process.

Indicates freedom in a “rich” world.

Relieves boredom.

Camp indicates freedom by subjecting what is or is not important to choice, human will. This gives it great psychological appeal.

It indicates that a mode of perception can be chosen and thus the world controlled.

Switching importance can move outside a frame of reference to a wider one or a different one. It is thus a form of bisociation.

(What is important is not always necessarily a given.)

Connection to gestalt, focus, figure and field, foreground and background, system and detail. A detective in a detective story stumbles on a detail. The taken-for-granted intrudes. Connected to bisociation and defamiliarisation.

Historical Social Political Ideological

Development from mimicry.

Expressing freedom through expressing constraint. Draw attention to constraint and “reality” – undermine “high” tone.

Form of humour to highlight or mock “normal” trivial discourse? Affect mannerisms of various groups in society as a form of social comment. Tension.

Challenges sexual stereotypes.

Can disrupt both ways and make legitimate discourse difficult.

Differential social positions of actors in a discourse – acceptability or subversiveness of “camp” – regimentation of register and discourse

Variable historically.

Variable socially. So what is perceived as camp may change.

Prefigures freedom. Oscar Wilde. Matthew Macintyre.

Draw attention to something excluded from discourse (by power?)

Capacity to camp may depend upon freedom in society. Having the “room”.

High Low distinctions can be undermined by switching importance. This can be taken in a political direction. It can undermine the discourse of the great and the good.

Mismatch of identity, discourse and content.


The trivial. Aestheticism. Exalting the mundane.



We enjoy doing something difficult (producing or perhaps responding to a difficult work. subtle. intricate. complex) and admire those who can do something difficult (e.g. – Byron Don Juan is often just showing off – and a good thing too)

Compare – contest. Sport.

This, though very basic, is an aspect of the appeal of art.

+ the productivity of constraint (with respect to hyperbaton, etc) –

Historical Social Political Ideological

Specialisation, division of labour and separation of normal and creative work.

Has the ideological function of encouraging subservience – hero worship and conversely self-centred individualism and elitism. However, I would temper this view as the acknowledgement of excellence and the necessity of discrimination seem to me to be necessary to culture.

What the achievement is changes. (and from genre to genre, form to form)

Collective versus individual forms.

Ideas of writing groups

Self-expression problematised.

Also, difficulty of access to training, expertise, role models, motivational experiences, materials, audiences – the lonely last instance of material determination. (Could affect mind-set, world-view, of successful artist if he or she has struggled).

Could be a legitimising construct – connection to cultural capital taken as individual giftedness.

“Difficulty” of mode of discourse of one group for another group. Exclusivity. The “ease” of the privileged.

Difficulties of finding a form for a content.

(Critically, what is wrong with sheer imagination?)



Art is, in many ways, despite the many determinations upon it, a sort of paradigm of human freedom. Its semiotically-imbued materiality, its boundness to the cognitive, even its use as escape, indicate this.

The main approach in these pages is cognitive. It seems ludicrous to ask what the psychological appeal of a representation of freedom might be, but perhaps we should think of what an interaction with freedom is, in cognitive terms.

Where does aspiration fit in this cognitive paradigm?

A link to objectification – by objectifying language human beings seem to escape its invisible system.

Dialectic of system and individual. It’s transcendence.

Freedom and the desire to stand outside our paradigms or frames of reference.

Developing forms of order that are not directly of nature but cultural. Freedom through self-made systems of constraint.

Constraint enabling expression, like a unified subject-object where the objective structure is imbued with subjectivity and freedom.

Historical Social Political Ideological

Adorno on prefiguring a realm of freedom. (see also totality (maximization) and insulation – in original work)

The false promise. Utopia.

Fantasy, escapism – may vary with history and strata under consideration.

Historically, status of the individual subject in art may change. Freedom may be connected to a romantic promethean concept of art.

Dialectic of subject and techne.

Enlarging area of freedom politically may enhance art. Can be taken as an objective.

The false promise of happiness, freedom, reconciliation.

Humanisation by interplay of freedom in production and necessity of action – fate.

Humanisation of the natural.

Humanisation of the social and political?

Theoretical and critical problems for concept of art as self-expression. Bourgeois ideology? Adorno probably good on this.


Insulation is a very important concept, especially regarding its underpinnings in the concept of closure, and frame.

Insulation is closely related to the concepts of closure and formalism. It has a few different aspects – in experiencing art we need at least a minimum of social and psychological space which will allow us to focus on the work – this can include the darkening and the quiet of the theatre and the cinema. Another aspect is the function of the “frame”, using the word somewhat catechresically, to limit and separate the work off from its surroundings. A third aspect connects with entropy and socio-economic factors – the necessary underpinnings to enable insulation.

Cinema, at least in the old way of doing it, that is “going to the pictures”, exemplifies the importance of insulation, closure, and a bracketing-off of the external world to art; the auditorium is darkened, and one should not even whisper, as a matter of convention – even the rustle of a plastic package of marshmallows should be discrete. But similar considerations apply to theatre, musical performances, poetry recitations, and so on.

Closure is essential to the formation of any sort of autonomy, as I have indicated in my article on Complexity. Closure is an aspect of the formation of self-constituting and self-maintaining, “autopoeietic”, cyclical processes. Insulation can be regarded as a sub-category of closure.

Insulation, being a certain level of disconnect between environment and a particular work, genre, etc., is necessary for the foundation of any sort of formalism. Similarly, a cognitive system can only subject incoming sensory information to its frames of reference if there is a degree of separation between itself and its frames, or formalisms, and the particular causes acting upon it.

Insulation also affects how we should think of levels – higher levels are often seen as constraining the activity of lower levels.

As I say in my article on Structuralist Poetics and the New Criticism, summarising points made by Jonathan Culler, “We read a poem with a kind of distance, taking it out of any usual circuit of communication, and taking it impersonally.”


See Roger Taylor and Bordieu.

Goffmann’s idea of a frame.

When human beings have spare time and space, a certain surplus, they tend to engage in some form of aesthetic activity, even if only decoration. How and in what form this opening of a space comes about conditions the form (and content) of the work.

Art affords the pleasure of a buffer-zone between human beings and the realm of necessity. It gives a sense of well-being that hardly needs further explanation, and is a marker and symbol of that.

Decoration as, crudely, territorial marker.

Pleasure of passivity, in the non-space of theatre and cinema.

“It is one of the most difficult tasks to establish the frontiers between ornament and symbol.” Alois Riegl, Stilfragen in Gombrich “A Sense of Order” p217.

Insulation and paradoxes. see Godel’s theorem. See Goffmann.

Dialectics, contradiction, paradox and operational closure.

Insulation and the relative autonomy of form, genre or artform itself as insulated.

Historical Social Political Ideological

Insulation may have a thermodynamic price – often, energy must be expended to maintain the frame.

Art as insulation of higher strata in society from domination by necessity of lower strata. From their own exercise of power. Himmler listening to classical music. Adorno on culture and barbarism. Insulation and repression. The unconscious.

Subject to how much room and time available in which society – where the interstices are, and for which and how many strata. Surplus and technological level.

Increasing free space and time as a political objective.

Frame as boundary between work and life  – can affect content, and what is judged as suitable content. Form can help us to maintain frame – identifiability of art as art.

The Southern New Critics, according to Mark Jancovich  – The Southern New Critics in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, challenged the sort of separation of necessity from freedom I’m making here in the name of a unity of productive work and culture. However, this might be merely a relative matter of how far the separation tends to an unhealthy and unnatural extreme.

From the same chapter, indicating a possibly repressive undergirding to what I here call insulation –

For Bourdieu, the pure gaze is directly related to the economic situation of
dominant social groups. It is based on a refusal of ‘simple’ or ‘natural’
pleasures, which is itself the product of a ‘distance from necessity’. The
ability to value form over function, or to engage in practices which have
no functional purpose, depends upon ‘an experience of the world freed
from urgency’ 52 – that is, the disinterested contemplation of art depends
upon a position of social and material privilege, but tends to forget this
fact and to present itself as though it were merely a natural inclination
This mode of perception not only forgets these historical conditions,
but also acts to re-enforce the legitimacy of the dominant groups. Its
refusal of function in favour of form is also implicitly and explicitly a
refusal of the tastes of those social groups who do not share a position of
material privilege. As Bourdieu puts it, the pure gaze explicitly asserts its
‘superiority over those who, because they cannot assert the same contempt
for . . . gratuitous luxury and conspicuous consumption, remain
dominated by ordinary interests and urgencies’.53 It is for this reason that
aesthetics so often makes the distinction between the self-evident, transparent,
and easy pleasures which are supposedly offered by popular
culture and the complex, difficult, and active processes which are associated
with the consumption of high culture. It is also the reason that
aesthetics can be seen as ‘a sort of aggression [or] affront’ to the culture of
subordinate classes. However, what Bourdieu finds most worrying is that
while these cultural distinctions are the most classifying of all social
differences, they also have ‘the privilege of appearing to be the most
51 Pierre Bourdieu, ‘The Historical Genesis of a Pure Aesthetics’ in The Field of Cultural
Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York, 1993), p. 266.
52 Bourdieu, ‘The Aristocracy of Culture’, p. 190. 53 Ibid., p. 191. 54 Ibid., p. 192.
The Southern New Critics 215

However, this needs some qualification: simply because the bourgeoisie can afford the best wines, and so develop a refined palette, does not mean that the quality of the wines is wholly an illusion.

(very confusing diagram) –

realm of necessity                                                     observer space                                art-object

assured passivity or non-seriousness               fictionality

Insulation                                                                    Frame

But this side of the diagram does not seem right for semiotic objects. Lack of need for direct relevance, denotation?

And decoration marks insulation. Decoration as culture, distinguishing us from nature.

Frame-system theory


Terminals / Slots          specify conditions its assignments meet.


Terminal / Slot / Variable

Assignment / Concept




Bohm on Order and Structure

Schemata Cognitive Psychology Eysenck Keane



is a



more complex, causal




Variables / Slots

Any concept that fills must satisfy some test

E.g., argument slot Agent

HIT [Agent, Object, Instrument]

Concept must be animate object


Various specific concepts that fill or instantiate slots

Schema thus encode general or generic knowledge which can be applied in many specific situations…

Schema can leave slots open or have associated with them default concepts.

A frame-system, frame of reference, etc seems best thought of as a graph, a network, or a semantic net, based perhaps on an ontology. Or perhaps, the frame-system represents a sort of micro-ontology.

Gombrich – A Sense of Order


Order and Purpose in Nature

Popper contra “bucket theory of the mind”

perception of meaning

perception of order – decoration

Popper –          hypothesis

Richard Gregory, JJ Gibson, Ulric Neisser

hypothesis                   –           sense of order

jolt                   –           perception

JJ Gibson –“hidden order implicit in the transformations we experience as we move around the environment”

Gestalt – opposed to bucket theory

denies the possibility of an “innocent eye”

bias for simple configurations

“variatio delectat” –variety delights

“the most basic fact of aesthetic experience, the fact that delight lies somewhere between boredom and confusion” p9

“Our reaction to the flourishes of Durer, the grotesques of van Vianan or the whimsicalities of Pillement has nothing to do with ‘meaning’ in the conventional sense. They appeal to our sense of balance, our feeling for scale, our search for the familiar in the unfamiliar.” p302.

William Empson – Seven Types of Ambiguity

1)      arise when a detail is effective in several ways at once, e.g., by comparisons with several points of likeness, antitheses with several points of difference

2)      two or more alternative meanings are fully resolved into one

3)      two apparently unconnected meanings are given simultaneously (includes puns)

4)      alternative meanings combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author

5)      a fortunate confusion, as when the author is discovering his idea in the act of writing or not holding it all in mind at once

6)      what is said is contradictory or irrelevant and the reader is forced to invent interpretations

7)      full contradiction, marking a division in the author’s mind

Marxist Theory

Marxist literary theorists-












Raymond Williams





Roger Taylor

Some notes on social dimensions of the aesthetic.

Art, aesthetics, etc. are creatures of history as concepts.

Artistic categories may only have family-resemblance type unity, though I believe some unities can be found and some break down.

Goldmann on the transmission of world-views can be considered under a combination of  the aspects of maximization of patterning and mimesis.

Also, difficulty in terms of recalcitrance of the world to an integrated world-view.


Must it be a lone artist? When do we have collective production?

Breakdown of “genetic” factors:

Other social groups.

– Ideologies

– World-views

Artistic groups

– Ideologies

– World views

The media


Production. What are the means of production? Include influences and previous texts?

And how is reception / consumption organised?

How consciously does an artist present a world-view?

An artist has a personal history and psychology. This can include his artistic history and artistic psychology.

Positioning of artist in relation to which strata, mediated by groups.

How interlinked is artistic production with the function of the strata?

What is the audience? Which strata?

How is the artist paid? How far is demand of consumer determinant (economic) or demand of political powers (political)?

Is the consumer the payer? How directly?

What are the production intermediaries? What power do they have?

An artist does not necessarily give the most coherent presentation of a world-view. The artwork could be more contradictory than a philosophical or general presentation, or than the overall production and reproduction of a world-view. The artist might not represent his group, or the artist might explore or intensify the order of the world-view so far that its contradictions may become apparent. – the artist may be aware of these underlying tensions, or be preoccupied with them.

The artist may be exploring personal, individual issues. These issues may have, or turn out to have, some sort of wider resonance or significance, possibly by a metaphorical transfer on the part of the readership.

The categories of totality, worldview and contradiction should only be applied flexibly.

Form and content, necessities of art, can create problems and contradictions with world-views – artistic difficulties of presentation.

The formalisms of art seem to be one way of defining what is specific to artistic presentations of world-view, as opposed to, say, philosophical. Where does Goldmann stand on this distinction, and does he even recognise it?

Art is often associated with the expressive, the emotional, lived experience, “great” concerns, anti-logic, anti-science, irrationality, (the unconscious). There is both truth and falsity in this. It is often crudely conceived and ideological. There is also a historical relativity to it as a view descending from the romantic movement.

Trotsky does not go deeply enough into the nature of aesthetic “reflection” in his argument with the formalists. “Refraction through the prism of art”. Formalist autonomy and the wider work of integration into historical, social, political, biographical perspectives and also the psychological, which I see as that which underpins the formal.

The relative autonomy of form.

Lukacs stresses one particular articulation of realism and sides with totality and resolution. He is only right to the extent that the ascendant bourgeois intelligentsia was more ambitious and assured in the past – the integrative is not, pace Adorno, wholly the work of the Devil’s party, only the falsely integrative, that which seeks to force the parts into harmony. Hence the failures of social realism. Lukacs regards formalism as bourgeois decadence, but in truth, the relative autonomy of the formal is a part of the whole. As with Althusser, Lukacs takes art as a form of knowledge and in doing so partially suppresses form and pleasure. But contra the post-structuralists, form and pleasure are not set against knowledge and realism.

The problem of the merely conventional e.g.- Were Elizabethan puns funnier at the time?

Different arts are differentially restricted and enabled by their inherent material nature, e.g. music and painting and poetry. There is probably a rich interplay of fundamentally material determination and social or historical in, for example, genres.

Technology, e.g. computer art.

Arguments for and against aestheticism.

Count art in its widest sense as a need.

(Roger Taylor and Bordieu are against this.)

Historically different evaluations put upon the transgressive? Transgressive and revolutionisation of production.

Althusser. A text can have a problematic, a not-said. This may be apparent internally or through contextualisation by the critic. Again, necessities of art and presentation give a contingent twist to this issue.

Art as showing, not saying.

Art as a form of knowledge different from ideology or science.

Art as production of ideology, ideology of history.

Disjunction of production and reception of art over historical time.

Changing function e.g. – Shakespeare to stratify children.

How far does “ideological” definition of art act back on production and reception?

Stratified ideologies of art. Isolation of academy?

Theoretical reflection and artist’s view?

Snobbery – “distinction” Bourdieu.

Art is part of wider social determination and social stratification.

Changed materiality in production / reception, e.g. Jane Austen’s three-parters. Dickens – affects assessment of intention (cliffhangers, etc)

Materiality of production

Benjamin, changing of forms and development of technology, e.g. film, music. Affects mode of reception / consumption.

Mode of? Social structure, social nature of.


Contents –

Maximization of information or patterning

Juri Lotman

Bisociation. Contradiction. Same / Different.            Metaphor

Arthur Koestler

Switch importance. Camp. Humour.

Objectification of language.

Russian Formalism

Defamiliarisation, Ostranenie

Russian Formalism

Deviation from order. Chaos

Morse Peckham.





Reality Effect.

Roger Taylor.

Human Concern.

Trotsky, et al


Roger Taylor.

Ervin Goffmann




Fictionality as affording opportunity to experiment, as enquiry into reality or human nature.


Frame-system theory.

Bartlett, Minsky






Anthony Storr

Silvano Arieti



The New Criticism


Lateral Thinking

De Bono

Memory theories, Neural networks

Frames and neuronal nets

Aesthetics of Chaos / Complexity – Fuller +

Theoria Chaos Wilson Biophilia

Koestler – Criticised by Peter Medawar

Linguistic approaches to literature

Chapman, Antony, and Hugh Foot, eds. Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications.London: Wiley 1976. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers 1996) (cf. McGhee 1980)

“Moving toward the “low focus” end of the spectrum, our concentration relaxes and our thinking becomes more diffuse. Emotion, instead of logic, leads us from one recollection to another. We experience “affect linking,” a process by which one remembered experience recalls another, not because of the similarity of factual content between the two experiences, but because of the shared emotional content. Our low focus minds connect very complex thoughts and ideas that appear to be totally unrelated. So, at low focus, humans experience creative insights that they cannot achieve through logic, reason, and concentration.” Summary of Gelernter in a review by Vince Juliano

substitution of letters – I have a system for this, which could be used flexibly.





long alliterations on first letter



archetypes as a generative tool – e.g.- swords / air and dialectics

Kabbalah – interpretation gone mad and a parody of literary criticism

Literal Kabbalah-

Gematria         – numerical values of words

Notariqon        – expanding a word into an acrostic

– the converse – taking initials, medials or finals to form a word or words (acrostics and acronyms)

Temura            – permutation – the letter following or preceding in the alphabet, or according to a system where the alphabet is bent in the middle.

Taking note of the actual shapes of letters, or the use of a particular shape-form where it is unusual.

Mathers does not mention anagrams in connection with the literal Kabbalah.

Relation of all the above to expertise, heuristic (though heuristic sits on both sides).

constrained generating procedure

fonts – in Metamagical Themas

Lateral thinking (Lateral thinking puzzles) droodles – e.g. a Mexican on a bicycle


Humour as a sort of mis-keying of significance, like register, to show the arbitrary or socially constructed nature of “reality”

logic humour and silly humour. both can involve verbal humour.

Bisociation and

  • Repetition with variation / difference
  • Order and Deviation
  • Closure and Context

Bisociation and

  • Two instances of one feature (like token and type)
  • One instance of two features (the instance falling under different linguistic levels / closures)
  • One instance indicating or implying one closure but going to another ‘inappropriate’ closure

Bisociation – Contradiction – Same / Different – Metaphor

synthesis transcendence bisociation

Formalise – frame, pattern, maximization of information, order

Order Extrapolation

Usual development – Extrapolation of past vector


element and system

system contradiction

The idea in The Collapse of Chaos by Stewart and Cohen of a tension between two spaces, and its relation to aesthetics.

edge of chaos – deviation – mutation

Edge of chaos – destructuring of an operational closure. Creativity ‘shakes up’ operational closure

(in humour)

Situation and logic



Frame of reference

Operational Closure

‘Placement’ together


Semantics Discourse multiple e.g. skunk joke

Repetition within one operational closure with difference in another

Deviation from one operational closure to another

Orders rise and fall

Even simple repetition involves difference – temporal.

The limit case would be the mantra, the mystical chant – timelessness and no separation.

Repetition with intensification or diminuation

Direction. Vector.

Binaries, Reversals, Opposites, Complementarity (see also dialectics and rhetoric), Displacements.

Spoonerism and binary switch. Stretch of thinking opposed displacements (Two Ronnies Mastermind)

Such things fit deviation well but involve complementarity patterning.

(Easy with binaries but ‘mucking firds wuddled’ – permutations)

A logic of placement – ‘Who guards the guards?’

Repetition and Difference – Correspondence, Symmetry  – Temporal structure

Complementarity – Congruence – Spatial Structure

(See notes on order set against structure)

Can a new order be formed across closures? A new pattern?

(Congruence as opposed to correspondence) (Things feeding things in self-sustaining loops)

A human being can see order through seeing its own behaviour?

To avoid ‘levels’ – orders of different closures, types, features.

Edge of chaos, pleasurable interlinking – only occurs after limitation, or with a certain limitation in mind. The ‘stretch’ of Russian Formalism. So God does not enjoy creation? (Looking at. Drunken fun depends upon a certain confusion.)

dialectics of knowing and being

Analogy and mutation both utilise the fortuitous.

Analogy may be founded on deeper order.

Mutation and reinvention of the eye.

Other examples of the fortuitous – new uses for old tools, conversion of function.

conversion of function and dialectics


Bisociation finds deeper order (science) or questions order through reapplication of order extrapolator in a new context.

Mutation fits Higher Order (Systematisation of an event)

Higher Order fits Incoming Data (Reapplication of a system)

Where mutation is singular but leads to a new order, analogy is a preexisting order but which is fortuitously put onto a new context.

Relationship of analogy to association?

Association based on the particular, and connection.

Analogy based on deeper similarity than mere connection.

But association could fortuitously enable analogy and analogy could be regarded as a type of association.

The forgoing goes some way towards explaining why too much ‘finished’, readily understood order can be unpleasant for human beings. See the idea of stretch in Russian Formalism and that of chaos in Peckham

With art, often something is known but not known consciously, both for producer and consumer. This may be related to the issues above of ‘unconscious thinking’ and notions in these pages of a transcendence of the theory / practice division.

Adorno’s aesthetics, aesthesis, transcendence of the purely conceptual. Art is a different sort of order. The beholder often does not ‘see’ the wider order but enters it. e.g. – patterning of Wuthering Heights. The critic mistakes himself for a reader: in a way, the reader is an innocent, and the critic experienced.

I think Adorno is even more dialectical and ironic than that. This also seems to have something to do with negative theology and penultimate moments.

Art, especially music, is closer to congruence or being placed in a context than to correspondence or truth, though correspondence as realism is still involved.

Comparing literature to music, the focus of semiotics on signification seems slightly misplaced. Essentialist rather than pattern-orientated. Not hedonic enough. Not relationalist enough.

Regarding formalism and to some extent deconstruction as being against any interpretation of art as expression and reference and denotation: the formal system of differences is functional to denotation and expression. Writerly texts are parasitic for this system upon unliterary language. Literature is unusual in not being capable of pure form, with the possible exception of concrete poetry or pure sound poetry, much as it might sometimes like to be – (“All art constantly aspires to the condition of music” – Walter Pater) Form may, even in unliterary language, have a disruptive effect on expression or reference, but “materialist semiotics” is a simpleton’s resolution of these tensions. A materialism of the signifier is often an excuse to liquidate reference altogether. Rather, literature often operates within a tension of form and reference, a genuine problematic.

The imagination is not the same as the primary process.

Outside aesthetics – the aesthetic should also be considered in the context of life. Also, how should it articulate? What context should it have?

The arbitrary and contingent indicates the essential and absolute; disorder indicates an ultimate order.

Literature and philosophy are contextual, whereas science is experimental – it brackets out and narrows down.

All poems advance, ideally, at the same rate, in inter-relation.

A poem or a song as an individual often has closure, but poetry as such has an open-ness, when not considered by a broader ideology, compared to the closure that occurs within philosophical, religious or ideological belief systems.

Modernism in art tends to take the disruptive dynamic of art without the reintegration in a wider context, or even the hint of or urge towards such reintegration (the final refusal to give false promise?) This leads us to, indeed has already led us to, nihilism.

Take succinct statements of theory from list of writers.

Quote authors of all books, using the most clear quotes.

Quote examples from all books, people and works, especially paradigmatic, e.g.- Kekule.

Find my own better examples, especially for humour.


About David Ruaune

My main interests are philosophy, psychology and semiotics.
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