I’m perpetually amazed at the capacity of memes to arise out of laminar information flows and stochastic background noise and surprise us both individually and socially in a manner that Michel Serres appropriately describes as “islands rising out of a sea of chaos.” In his work Angels: A Modern Myth (which is a major component in the current Fremont-Mills (re)constructive policy debate affirmative), Serres attributes the capacity for systems of order to arise out of randomness through the function of Lucretius‘ clinamen, described as the least angle conceptually possible that unexpectedly swerves from a straight line.
Placed in Euclidean space, a laminar flow of fluid information passing in a perfect direction (akin to the vertical flows of The Matrix perceived from outside) until it is distorted the clinamen, bending its perfect direction to the least significant of disrupted angles. An interruption. Knock at the door. Dis-Order. Missed tag on the flow. Inspiration. Parasite.
Once bent, the flow becomes self-aware, asking the question of the parasite’s presence. This invites further clinamen and instantiates a gravity of local order. Lines bend inward and give rise to a vortex of new order. It’s this capacity of randomness to disrupt a linear flow of disorder and give rise through intelligence to locally stable orders of thought centered around the pull of a temporary gravity. Misperception brings flows into its re-interpretive local order.
This past week, I encountered the clinamen’s curious influence. Reviewing the wikipedia entry for pop artist Lady Gaga (which has become a popular item in the household), I noticed her indications of influence by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. As one who studied five years of German, I have to confess that I’m incredibly inept when it comes to the poetic arts, having for decades misperceived science to be the primary path toward a new information theory. Rilke’s name functioned as clinamen, pulling the meme’s trajectory slightly off of the plane. Later that afternoon, Rilke arose again as I opened my just-arrived Gadamer Truth and Method out of its Amazon.com packaging, only to be presented with a forward in the book from a Rilke poem.
Twice again Rilke would arise in less than twenty-four hours, most recently in this morning’s Nietzsche reading:
For Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,
which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed by it because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
While I’m rather confident Rilke’s memes didn’t actively seek me out, the experience is one we all encounter: the clinamen interrupts often by accident, but once caught by its singularity, our course bends into the swirl of a new vortex. Fresh perspective. Ascending island. Disorder and the parasite create new meaning.