by Johanna Drucker
”Stochastic Poetics has a single question at its core: How does the figure of poetic language emerge from the general field of language? Taking this into a contemporary frame, the book asks how aesthetic expression can register against the competition of our current noise culture. Does aesthetic and/or poetic expression have any value? Can it?
The project was conceived during an event at L.A.C.E, (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) that I experienced in my first year in L.A. Three poets, each working with thematic material at the highest possible emotional pitch, were part of a reading/installation event in the galleries in the downtown Hollywood neighborhood. Sexual abuse, holocaust testimonies, American slave experience, ecological disaster were the subjects in their works. But the event was overwhelmed by street noise, the milling about and comings and goings of the constantly shifting crowd, by the variety show atmosphere of carnivalesque urban night life with celebrity impersonators, impresarios hawking themselves and their wares using mobile amplifiers and sound systems, and by every other form of chaotic activity imaginable. The poets could barely be heard, their work and voices were overwhelmed. Holocaust, violence, racism could not compete with bling vendors and an aging Superman complaining of police harassment.
Stochastic systems are non-deterministic. They emerge in non-linear ways, without predictability, like other complex adaptive systems. But the parameters according to which the system is modeled alter over time in stochastic systems. Thus the conditions for the emergent phenomena are changing. Weather, waves, other fluid dynamic systems are stochastic. Systems theory has been applied to art, to social institutions and conditions, to various cultural phenomena. Is poetics a stochastic system?
The texts in the book are from Aristotle, adapted and modified, from theories of chaos, complexity, and stochastic processes, from observation of the poetry scene and participation in readings, a large MLA reading held in LA, and of course all are modified in the composing stick, at the type case.
No two copies of Stochastic Poetics are alike. The edition is a completely inconsistent edition. Each sheet went through the press numerous times and the placement, while not random, was not controlled by any register marks or jigs. So the dynamic effect on the pages differs depending on how the sheets fell. Every bit of the book is set in letterpress, with metal spacers for justification and lock-up. No plaster, adhesives, or other non-traditional materials were used in the production of the work. The book took two years to write, compose, and print. 39 copies were completed, on Mohawk Superfine, of which 30 were offered for sale. Covers are etched aluminum bound with linen thread.”