Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Year of the Aleatory

Like a developing nation seeking to boost tourism, I like to come up with slogans, and declare that this is The Official Year of Something or Other. Like “Malaysia Truly Asia”. Like “Come to Bangladesh Before the Tourists!”

For example, in my one man micro-state, 2005 was the Year of Tight Pants. Not to wear them myself, thank you, but to appreciate them on other people. Actually, The Year of Tight Pants went on for an extremely long time. (Public Relations is a hit-or-miss affair in my one man micro-state.)

Effective immediately however, a new slogan is in effect. This is the Year of the Aleatory. I found this word in a crowded page and fell in love at once. I’m smitten. I couldn’t love this word more if it had broad-shoulders and hands like catcher’s mitts. Not if it had three days of stubble, not if it were wearing overalls.

The dictionary defines aleatory as “dependent on chance, luck, of uncertain outcome.” It is derived from Latin aleator – a gambler.

Aleatory music is “20th century music in which chance or indeterminate elements are left for the performer to realize. The term is a loose one, describing compositions with strictly demarcated areas for improvisation according to specific directions and also unstructured pieces consisting of vague directions, such as “Play for five minutes.”

Anyone can imagine the vast wave of joy and relief that swept across me, when I came upon this vitalizing word. “Oh thank goodness!” I thought. “I was starting to worry that everything just random!”

But, no! No more random accidents, random sex, random scribbled pages. This is the Year of the Aleatory!

I intend to have t-shirts printed up which read: “We’re not LOST, darlings – we’re IMPROVISING!”

I discovered the word aleatory in an introduction to a book of stories by Robert Walser, the Swiss writer and psychiatric patient. His later work, as he neared final permanent incarceration in the sanatorium at Herisau, was described as “aleatory”.

And it was as if Robert Walser himself appeared before me, dapper in a yellow suit, with his pleasant smile and his eyes on the abyss, to say, “You too can practice the aleatory! You too can align yourself with the aleatory!”

My understanding of the word is further colored by the words of Eileen Agar, the Surrealist painter and photographer: “You see the shape of a tree, the way a pebble falls or is formed, and you are astounded to discover that dumb nature makes an effort to speak to you, to give you a sign, to warn you, to symbolize your innermost thoughts. Chance is not a neutral but a distinctly positive force; the surrealists believe that you can get on good terms with chance by adopting a lyrical mode of behavior and an open attitude.”

Ideally, there would be a fund available to reward and sustain anyone who, when questioned at the dinner table by their elderly father as to their future plans and direction in life, was brave enough to respond, “As for me, Dad -- I’m adopting a lyrical mode of behavior!”

Unfortunately, no funds are available at this time.

Annie Dillard says, “Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time.” How then do I learn to step aside and allow the day and the night to speak for themselves? Plans, good intentions and efficiency have been found empty-handed: I have wandered off into the floating world.

(Plans, outlines, and objectives: my opposition to them is suspicious, like a broken-hearted man who forever after takes an immediate dislike to any woman whose hair is a particular shade of red. Maybe I’d even approve of success – if it were a friend of mine.)

The white cards on which I write this evening are turned multi-colored by the rainbow lights of Soi Twilight in Bangkok, where I sit and watch the crowds who’ve come to buy sex and see the shows. The tattooed thug at the massage parlor across the way leers at me, gives a calculated belly rub. As for the mama-san at X Boys – she and I are having an affair -- as yet unconsummated. She’s wearing a red satin suit, her hair is pulled back in a fluffy white scrunchie, and I believe she genuinely loves me. Isn’t cold beer delightful?

Who is this now: a diva marching down the street in three inch heels, bottle red hair flying behind, and – now this is really extravagant – she is waving a large gold fan before her, as if preparing the air to receive her.

We are so rich in our impoverishment, so very promising in this, our advanced state of physical and moral decay. I am astonished to discover myself all the time nearly bursting with radiant light – almost all of which serves only to light up trash.

I am not hopeless, however. Nothing is lost. Nothing is random. Not here in the Year of the Aleatory.

1 comment:

melted-snowball said...

What I love about "aleatory" is a bit of its etymological history: it's from the Latin, and mostly entered people's awareness via French artists.

The word scientists often use is "stochastic", which means exactly the same sort of thing, but entered via German scientists.

Somehow, that the same concept has such origins pleases me, and shows off the stochasticity (or, if you like, aleatoricity?) of our lives.

[Here via our common acquaintance, S., whom you went to high school with and I went to college with.]