Chance Event Mariano García
CHANCE: Mallarmé’s formula for “abolishing chance” is found among the first concerns of man, who, still barely able to speak, established through myths a closed system of cause and effect or action and reaction. Myths are in fact a way of reducing what the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg (Arbeit am Mythos) called the absolutism of reality—that is, all of the unknown which is imposed on man and is consequently ominous, as it lacks a name and is impossible to manipulate. Blumenberg is emphatic on this point, which makes up the backbone of his theory: “Myth is a way of expressing the fact that the world and the forces that govern it have not been left to the mercy of mere arbitrariness. Whichever way it is presented [ … ] it is a system which suppresses arbitrariness.”1 But in this attitude he finds it difficult to find an a-logical thought which would oppose logos. The antithesis between myth and reason was a late and unfortunate invention for Blumenberg; there is nothing irrational in the attempt to overcome the archaic unheimlichkeit of the world; a statement such as from mythos to logos is a fiction: myth is the work of logos.2
It is however noticeable that in the cultural manifestations which run parallel to science, a polarity is emphasized in which the former prioritize the control of chance over causality while the latter attempts to reduce and isolate chance to the point of proving it to be inexistent. For science the all-powerful demonstration model would be to isolate the elements and observe regular behavioral patterns which would permit the formulation of laws. For art on the other hand, the intervention of chance is the healthy contrast which denies the claustrophobic verification that everything in the universe is fixed. It is curious how, at least in the field of literature, the privileged image for “abolishing chance” has its origins in a kind of archetype of the determined and the causal: the metamorphosis. Metamorphosis as an image is paradoxically a definitive sign of the human condition. An animal does not dream of being anything other than what it is, except in fables and certain children’s tales where we only have the animal disguise of a human conscience. Only man, by virtue of intelligence, is able to imagine himself as anything other than human and specify the possible consequences of such a change.
Metamorphosis is a sign with a double, ambivalent, and unstable nature, which recreates man’s capacity to cancel out or strengthen possible change to an animal state. These recreations can point to one or another aspect of myths or literary tales, although the ambiguous nature is fully shown in the myths and tales which maintain the ambiguity of both possibilities, in those in which the undecidable prevails and is intensified, thus projecting and strengthening the uncanny, incomprehensible, and disconcerting aspect which feeds and keeps alive the duplicated original nucleus of the image.
However, the ambiguity of the image of metamorphosis is accentuated in its move from myth to literature. In the myth, it is basically as means of justifying the universe around man, the reasons for the metamorphosis tend to be fairly clear and functional. The myth takes on its function of giving answers (although they are imaginary) and within this obligation comes the cliché of the metamorphosis, although with all its supposed irrational charge within a rational system. The first compilers, from Homer to Ovid, passing through Hesiod and Pindar, still maintain the deterministic ranking with which the myth contaminates them, but as time passes and literature develops and becomes independent from myth, with its consequent charge of increased psychologization, the metamorphosis loses its causal indicative nature, or in any case it is enriched with variations which progressively include non-causality—that is, contingency. It can even be thought that truly modern metamorphoses, emancipated from myth, are those that reduce their causality in favor of contingency, and in this sense they are opposed to the essence of myth. In a tale such as Der goldne Topf (The Golden Pot, 1814), one of many by E.T.A. Hoffman, the motivation of the whole story is metamorphosis, but it does not in itself answer to any specific motivation. An old apple seller turns into a doorknob; the archivist Lindhorst is liquefied in a punch bowl; later in Lautréamont the metamorphosis prevails as a strengthening, but functions in inverse proportion to is causality. Do we find ourselves before a demonstrable law? Maybe, as long as we do not forget the unstable factor of the double sign, which can unexpectedly lean over or be inverted. In Stevenson’s tale, for example, the cause is present (the experiments of Doctor Jekyll) although the supposed strengthening desired is resolved in a cancellation. But once again an ellipsis remains, as Mr Hyde experienced prime states, unthinkable for the controlled Victorian, Dr Jekyll. As time moves on, there is already, by the 20th century, a recurrence of the metamorphosis without apparent cause, above all in the Surrealist practice of cancelling, inverting, unhinging the cause-consequence relation (already present in Lautréamont, from whom Breton explicitly takes it): as Surrealism and other similar avant-gardes specifically place emphasis on change, on process, and do away with both causes or origins and results or consequences. This alteration of apparently unchangeable orders such as action-reaction (and that the myth has already partly aimed to defy, as although myth essentially constructs causality; this does not mean that its causalities answer to the kind of action-reaction observation of an empirical nature) is equally transferred to the a priori logic of postmodernism. This is how it bears fruit in the work of authors such as Copi and Aira, for example. In David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), which is a postmodern variation on the film by Kurt Neumann from 1958 and at the same time a variation on Kafka, the scientist creates a tele-transporting device to the greater glory of the evolution of human intelligence. However, chance turns all that evolution into a regression: the scientist fuses at an atomic level with the fly that slipped into the tele-transporter and became a hybrid monster, incapable of surviving.
1 / Hans Blumenberg, Trabajo sobre el mito, Paidós, Barcelona 2003, p. 51.
2 / Ibid., p. 9–20, 35, 57.