Kenning Game aesthetic theory

Some of my time has been devoted not to the Kenning Game proper but to its theoretical understanding. I have been studying my worthy precursors, such as the Oulipo and Seattle's IN.S.OMNIA. Here are some fruits of that study.

As part of my magickal work, I have been trying to determine my True Will (roughly, my _vocation_, in the Christian sense) and for a time meditated on the topic every night before sleep. This resulted in a recurring dream where I wandered lonely up and down long stairways in an empty tower, unable to find ... anything. Finally I realised that knowledge of my True Will could never come by introspection; it had to be _given_ as it were from above. That night I was visited by the Nine laughing Muses in my dream and gladly wrote an entire essay, only phrases of which, sadly, remain with me. It was clear that I was meant to write, and that I had been neglecting my vocation. I was unsure about what I should work on, but felt within that inner pressure which tells one inspiration is not far off. A week later I found, very cheap, a book I had long been seeking about the Oulipo, and a newish book by Clifford Pickover to boot. Pickover and the Oulipo have always seemed to belong together to me, and I knew that I was meant to think over this conjunction.

The Kenning Game, like the literary games of the Oulipo, is all about the exploration of constraint. The Oulipo base their theory of art on two primary principles: Potential and Constraint. In brief, constraining one's writing in novel ways (say by wholly omitting the letter 'e', as Georges Perec did in his novel _La Disparition_) is thought to squeeze out novel forms of "potential literature", just as applying the constraints of thumb and forefinger to a toothpaste tube squeezes out toothpaste. I oversimplify, but I don't think the Oulipo would object too strongly to this mechanical metaphor. In fact, one of the goals of the Oulipo is to "mechanise inspiration." As much as I love them for it, I do not believe it is feasible. My own view is that Potential and Constraint are more analogous to the Qabalistic ideas of Force and Form. One creates an empty Form by Constraint, and the Force of inspiration descends and fills the Form with what was before only Potential.

Potential/Force and Constraint/Form correspond with Yang and Yin respectively in Chinese thought, 1 and 0 in the digital era, and Play and Rules in terms of our beloved Glass Bead Game. We thus have by correspondence a body of esoteric thought which can be extended to join the theory.

About a month after all this happened, I met a fellow behind the counter of a local bookstore who coincidentally turned me on to Robert Graves's magnificent _White Goddess_, all about the Ninefold Muse. I'm still reading it and enjoying it, but Graves has not (yet!) turned me into a Fundamentalist Poet. It seems to me that the Muse can take many other forms than that particular one which Graves describes (at one point he goes so far as to say She has fair hair and a hooked nose!). Another name for the _Muse_ is _Genius_. I call Blake a "true poet" (to which term Graves opposes "Classical poet"). His poetry is clearly inspired, a work of Genius -- yet I have not yet seen any evidence of his preoccupation with Graves's mythos.

It would seem that Classical poets, as Graves describes them, were concerned with form rather than of content, and the reverse can be said of True Poets. Pirsig recognises these two forms of consciousness in _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_ as Classical and Romantic. Graves seems to concur, indicating that the Romantics were closer to being True Poets than most.

Is there no end to this ancient conflict of Thesis and Antithesis? There is, and it subsists in the offspring of their lovewar, Synthesis. I regard Synthesis as Gurdjieff's mysterious Third Force, which is actually the _source_ of the other two. The Holy Ghost, as it were, which unites the Father and the Son. Of course, the Holy Ghost is said to _proceed from_, not _precede_, the other two Persons. Does Synthesis precede or proceed? Some might say one, some the other. What is the Synthesis of these views? Perhaps we can find a Synthesis of Form and Content: Beauty? Beauty is the result of a poem as well as the cause of it. It precedes/proceeds from the work itself.

Inspiration may be likened to the Oulipo's Potential. If Constraint is the Form of the piece, what then is Synthesis, the Third Force? The Oulipo have another principle in their theory called the _clinamen_, which means roughly "the swerving of the atoms." It is analogous, I think, to the Japanese _wabi_, or the imperfection that renders a work perfect, much as a chip or a crack in an ancient statue of the Buddha completes and fulfills it. I think perhaps the emergent Beauty, the clinamen of the work, is the Synthesis, the completion.

This, then, is the core of my aesthetic theory: that one creates a Form or chooses one from the Archive of those available, and petitions the Muse to fill the Form with the Force of inspiration. The resulting revelation is Beauty, which was paradoxically the force behind the creation to begin with.

Of course, inspiration may also enter into the choice or even invention of new forms, as with the Oulipo, though they leave it out of their reckoning. (What, for example, possessed Queneau to write his _One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems_ in the first place?) It may also enter into the choice or invention of an artform or a medium, as it does for those of us involved with our various approaches to the Glass Bead Game.

Ron Hale-Evans
Founder, Center for Ludic Synergy
Gamemaster, Kennexions
Charter Member, Bamboo Garden of Seattle

Kennexions GBG | Center for Ludic Synergy

Ron Hale-Evans

Last modified: 23 September 1999