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    algorithmic fiction and the i ching

    As I was drifting in and out of sleep this morning, I spent some time brainstorming about strange algorithmic models for narrative generation. (Some previous notes on algorithmic / generative writing can be found here and here, although this most recent batch of thinking about it was almost certainly inspired by reading Proposition Player, the catalog for a Matthew Ritchie exhibit which was generated, at least in part, by a set of combinatoric strategies.)

    Thinking about the use of generative strategies always leads me to the idea of chance operations, and so I got thinking about ways in which the I Ching could be used to develop plots. (Similar work using the Tarot has been done by Italo Calvino's famous Castle of Crossed Destinies, in which he refers to the Tarot explicitly as a "machine for constructing stories.")

    I like to think of a "plot" as some kind of disequlibrium: something happens and an initial state, more-or-less "stable," becomes unstable. We read a story, in part, to see how this disequilibrium will resolve. The I Ching, being very fundamentally a book about flux, has a readily apparent application, then, as a sort of index of disequilibria. A casual browsing of the table of contents (Wilhelm translation) reveals nearly a dozen hexagrams explicitly about transitioning from one kind of state to another:

    • Biting Through

    • Splitting Apart

    • Retreat

    • Progress

    • Decrease

    • Increase

    • Break-through

    • Gathering Together [Massing]

    • Pushing Upward

    • Development

    • Dispersion

    with another five defining a variety of types of stasis:

    • Waiting

    • Holding Together [Union]

    • Standstill [Stagnation]

    • Keeping Still, Mountain

    • Treading

    Map a dozen of these to a twelve-sided die and roll it a couple of times and you've basically got a plot outline.



    Wednesday, March 08, 2006
    12:03 PM


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