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What does Chaos Theory have to do with Art? DEAN WILCOX At first glance the title of this essay may cause you to ask yourself the same question: "What does chaos theory have to do with art?" Or, more importantly , what does it have to do with performance analysis?' Certainly, these are fair questions which will be addressed within the body of this paper. I must begin by stating that [ am neither a mathematician nor a scientist, and that the mathematics involved in the evaluation of chaotic systems (although relatively simple) tend to make my head spin. I am not interested in drawing scientific conclusions from theatrical practice, but in employing the philosophical ramifications of the systematic study of chaos to allow a unique perspective on the modern theatre. While it may seem like a stretch of the imagination to intertwine chaos theory with contemporary theatre practice, I believe that both are profoundly rooted in our postmodern existence; that is, they exemplify a zeitgeist of the late twentieth century. As N. Katherine Hayles points out in the introduction to Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science: The postmodem context catalyzed the (annalion of the new science by providing a cultural and technological milieu in which the component parts came together and mutually reinforced each other until they were no longer isolated events but an emergent awareness of the constructive roles thal disorder, nonlinearity, and noise play in com~ plex systems. The science of chaos is new not in the sense of having no antecedents in the scientific tradition, but of only having recently coalesced sufficiently to aniculate a vision of the world.2 That astute observation is no less true of the relationship between postmodern performance and its avant-garde predecessor. By elaborating on the interconnectedness of these congruent developments, this essay will endeavor to move beyond a metaphoric application of chaos theory to utilize the ideas generated Modem Drama, 39 (1996) 698 Chaos Theory and Art 699 by this new science as an analytical tool on par with semiotics and deconstruction . This study did not spontaneously develop, but was influenced by Leonard Shlain's dialectic analysis of Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light. Shlain's work is based on the belief that [rJevolutionary art and visionary physics attempt to speak about matters that do not yet have words. That is why their languages are so poorly understood by people outside their fields. Because they both speak of what is certainly to come, however, it is incumbent upon us to learn to understand them,3 By examining such simultaneous activities as Einstein's development of the special theory of relativity, in which the perceptions of the world are determined by the observer's physical placement (the clicM, at its extreme, states "Everything is relative"), and the Braque/Picasso development of cubism, which seems to provide a visible manifestation of Einstein's theory, Shlain offers convincing evidence of the generally unacknowledged connections between art and physics. In this light, the current postmodem revolution (denoted by a focus on fragmentation, juxtaposition, rupture, and repetition) can be read through an examination of the relationship between contemporary scientific inquiry and contemporary perfoffilance techniques,4 CHAOS CONDENSED The study of chaos, like the study of any performative genre, must begin by acknowledging the mutable properties of a process that evolves through space and time. As chaos theory tells us, a seemingly stable system may progress undisturbed indefinitely, until, at one moment. the system suddenly becomes "chaotic," or ceases to proceed in an orderly manner. Chaos theorists have routinely concentrated on these moments of transition from stability to chaos, illuminating the importance of what has previously been perceived of as systematic irregularities or statistical "dirt" (the elements that traditional scientific inquiry is unprepared to acknowledge and has generally pushed to the margins or completely ignored). Like deconstruction, chaos theory focuses on the elements that don't quite fit within a system in an orderly, logical way. Both offer analytical techniques focused on the interrelationship of contrasting elements, but chaos theory is able to do so without the self-devouring impasse of non-communication. By examining such "natural" occurrences as the weather, the onset...


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