Fractal models (with their scalar self-similarities and unpredictable variations) bring into the foreground of our attention the large patterns and erratic details, the dynamic equilibrium of order and disorder in complex life systems like weather and coastlines. …I have begun to think of certain forms of art (for example, the post-1940s music of John Cage) as having a fractal relation to the rest of life. They are complex constructions that, among other things, present their material presence as a dynamically indeterminate “coastline” for audiences to explore via their own complex cultural and psychological dispositions.
Ocean beach and Steinian page are equally contingent and dynamic zones whose life principle is change. The beach changes in its conversation with the vagaries and variabilities of meteorological elements; the page changes in its conversation with variable epistemologies, grammars, and genres, as well as with the associative lements of a reader’s mind as that mind lives within multiple intersecting forms whose rules are neither simple nor readily apparent. All this occurs of course within another strange constancy—the changing cultural climate of the developing contemporary.
Or rather I sense that languages and coastlines operate with similar kinds of principles. If one thinks of a coastline as just one site of mutually transformative exchange between different kinds of complex dynamical systems, then language as it exists in the active mediation between neural network and world ecosystems is surely such a site. There are specific things one gains in thinking of language in this way, particularly when confronted by literature that won’t resolve into simple mimesis or tidy containments and conclusions.
It saves a certain amount of frustration to remember that you will never solve a coastline.
Retallack, Joan. “The Difficulties of Gertrude Stein.” The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 153-4.