Autopoiesis: novelty, meaning and value

by Simon Biggs and James Leach, 2004

Originally published as the book Autopoiesis: novelty, meaning and value, published by Artwords, 2004

This book addresses a particular issue, the value of novelty in contemporary culture, co-authored in a structured manner from the point of view of two distinct disciplines - fine art and anthropology. Sections of the text have been authored jointly whilst other sections have been authored individually. However, there has been a constant process of question and answer and further joint revision, including regular instances where one author corrects or annotates the text of the other. The result is a format where texts weave around each other thematically, sometimes in sympathy, sometimes in contrast.

Complementing the authored texts there are also three other components. The first, which initially might appear indistinct from the main textual body, is an auto-generated text. This is a text written not by one of the authors, nor by any other author, but by a machine - a computer programmed by Simon Biggs to take a previous text by James Leach and to use it as a dictionary for the auto-generation of a new text. The principle objective here is not to try and find or create new meaning out of JL's original text but rather to explore, by example, the value of novelty when applied to such an extreme that all that determines the nature of a particular text is that it is different and unique, any sense of authorial intent having been removed.

Each of the authors has also contributed visual material related to their primary practices. JL has included a series of photographs taken in the field when undertaking research in Papua New Guinea. A number of these photographs accompanied the earlier text, by JL, which SB has used as source material for the auto-generated text and which JL discusses here in detail in order to reflect upon his own practice as an anthropologist, in relation to SB's.

SB has included a series of quad-tone lithographic images produced via automatic methods (computer generated) from an earlier project Great Wall of China. These images are derived from documentary photographs of various architectural styles from a number of different cultures and historical periods, organised by applying typographic rules to the composition of the image.


The question engaged here addresses innovation and how it is valued. We live in a world where creativity is celebrated as the solution to problems as diverse as personal anomie and the state of our twenty first century post-industrial economies. Innovation is central to current knowledge economies and thus is spoken of as a value rather than as a description of an activity. Yet it is clear that innovation, of itself, is not enough for the inscription of value to be established. For creativity to have occurred something must come into being that is recognised as valuable in some way.

In what follows an artist and an anthropologist examine the manner in which value is ascribed to novelty. We will explore how some instances of novelty are judged to be the outcome of creativity, while others are regarded as merely random and ineffectual change. In other words, there are particular registers in which some kinds of work are recognised as 'creative' because they have their own novel aspect while, in other instances, novelty lies in a juxtaposition of existing elements and understandings.

There seems a wide variation in the way in which different actions and innovations are registered and the formation of value inscribed within them. This depends upon factors that include disciplinary methods and expectations, changing social norms and moralities and on changes in technology itself. Iconoclasm could be a key concept in the investigation of these issues, for it is both destructive and creative and may be seen as one or the other, depending on social, moral and historical position. However, in this text, an artist and a social scientist will reflect on the question of innovation, value, and values by working through some examples from their own disciplinary practices and how each sees the value of the thing investigated. Reflecting on our own practices, we ask, 'do artists and social scientists approach innovation from within comparable value systems?'

We look at where value and meaning can be seen to lie in our respective work, thinking through some of the implications of knowledge production in our respective fields.

In SB's practice using self-generative grammars textual innovation occurs for its own sake, generating endless new texts. When reading such texts it becomes apparent that the appearance of meaning is only that, an illusion, as in the absence of the author there is no authorial intent to invest an original meaning. Any meaning found 'in' the texts is thus established as the projection of the reader. As such, the usual relation of expectation and trust between reader and author is either absent or miscontsrued. This work demonstrates experientially that meaning is generated as a function of intent (on the part of the author) and/or interpretation (on the part of the reader). For the reader to find internal meaning is an act of fortuitous or accidental interpretation, functioning within the conventional apparatus of language.

JL's practice as a social anthropologist is often focussed upon describing socio-cultural systems which have a dynamic and generative nature. That is, meaning is present within them as a necessary aspect of a self-generating system. Such self generating social systems have been described as auto-poetic and mytho-poetic, following Luhmann; that is, systems of relations between persons in reciprocal and dynamic relation with conceptual and discursive schema (1). It is somewhat axiomatic that these are 'meaningful', as much of the descriptive work involved in this discipline is that of revealing how social and conceptual worlds come to look as they do for those engaged within them. People do have intent and objectives. Their actions are directed towards meaning and effect, and the anthropologist's role in relation to this is the creation of descriptions of that intent and its realisation. In a second move, anthropologists then reflect upon how this logic differs from or throws light upon familiar schemas and taken for granted assumptions of our own. Meaning must therefore be identified relative to external schema.

The contrasts between these two practices, as will be argued, highlight issues about the authorship of cultural systems and the role of identifying differentiated perspectives in understanding the self.

Simon Biggs: Interpretation, authorship and originality

Novelty is intrinsic to semiosis, the complex processes by which meaning is differentiated in signification (2). Without newness such differentiation becomes impossible. Meaning is a product of difference, thus semiosis requires novelty. Semiosis is a function not only of conventional language systems, whether informal (human languages) or formal (mathematics and machine languages), but also of the differentiation of self. It is this point of convergence, where themes concerning language (formal and informal) and the process of self-differentiation inter-relate, which is the concern addressed here.

Over the past two decades of artistic practice a primary focus in my work has concerned questions of identity. This work addresses emergent themes through the use of interactive systems, where the relationship between viewers, the artwork and each other is explicit and active in artworks where the act of interaction itself functions to question issues concerned with being and, through a process of exchange (communication), identity in relation to the linguistic. Such a practice is founded on a general notion that art is that human activity that can confound the basic sense we make of things so that we see things in a manner we might otherwise never have considered. It is in the creation of disjuncture between the thing and its representation that we come to see the thing and its relation to other things (particularly ourselves) anew. A key element in this strategy is the function of novelty. Given this focus on language, both formal and informal, and the primary role as media substrate of computing systems (themselves linguistic in nature), the approach described is not without its ironies.

In seeking to disturb the manner in which we see things, and thus our accepted notion of self as constructed through our sense of seeing, the objective here is not to author a new theoretical position, nor to illustrate an established argument, but to destabilise subjective experience in the hope of giving cause to doubt, at the subjective and experiential level, the basic belief in self.

A primary point of differentiation we subjectively employ to maintain our sense of internal unity and uniqueness is that between the self and the other. Although it is well established, and numerous arguments have been made regarding the objective cultural, sociological and psychological factors involved, the intent outlined here involves the engendering of a subjective failure to differentiate, resulting in a process of de-differentiation of self and, thus, a re-positing of self as non-singular, de-centred and distributed.

Central to this, is the question of how communication and creativity function in respect of the differentiation of self. This is a subject within the general field of ontology and it could be argued that the dynamic described here of an onto-poetic nature; the manner in which the self is brought into being through the engagement with semiosis, a point at which meaning arises from an interaction between signifying elements. Central to this is creativity and novelty and thus a key element in how we value novelty lies in its role in the differentiation of self.

A creative act is, in many respects, primarily communicative. When readers engage with a text they seek in it the intent of its author and, secondarily, the presence and definition of that author. A key element in establishing the author's presence is novelty; that which can be seen as more or less unique in the author's expression that allows the author to be differentiated relative to both the reader and also that reader's knowledge of other authors.

It can be argued that a highly valuable dimension to this dynamic of differentiation is, for readers, the self-reflective. That is, readers expect, and search for, the identification of an author in a text at least in part as a means to assist them in their own sense of differentiation and establishment of a sense of self.

The process of engagement with a creative text can be regarded as an act of psycho-social dimension where readers are concerned largely with their own constitution and differentiation, as social beings, through the treatment of the author as an avatar or an equivalent symbolic deployment as an imagined other. In this respect the function of reading can be regarded as congruent with the instantiation of a text determined through reading (thus by the reader) with the author fulfilling a role not as an actual 'other', with independent intent, but rather as an internalised other that the reader employs to establish an internal 'voice' of, at least, bi-polar character. This process of internalised differentiation can thus be seen as part of the process of differentiation of self and the assumption of responsibility, by the reader, of the creative bringing into being of the text. This process is, ultimately, self-affirming and functions to enhance a subjective sense of self.

The role of novelty in this is important. If all the elements involved were to be pre-cogniscent and fully internalised then the required process of differentiation would be difficult, if not impossible. If this were the case the polarised internal dynamic could not be established and thus the internalised voice would never come to speak.

Too much novelty would close down the development of an instance of that internal voice that arises in the reader when engaging a text. If everything embodied in a text is so novel, so new, as to be alien to and entirely external to a reader's experience then that text will likely remain opaque and difficult to engage. Readers will be unable to differentiate the author in such manner that they are able to internalise the authorial voice and establish the required internal dynamic where meaning, and differentiation of self, can arise. The reader's search for closure around a significatory territory would fail and thus the reader would not be able to engage satisfactorily with the text.

The works of art discussed here map an exploration of the manner in which this dynamic of differentiation through reading/writing can be disturbed and opened up as a conscious process. The primary element in this strategy has been the use of auto-generative texts, where the text engaged appears correctly written and to be concerned with a particular subject but where there has been no authorial role other than the processes of a mechanised 'writing'. The intent was to create instances of textuality where the text is written of itself. That is to say, the text is generated as a function of language itself in which authorial intent is clearly absent, replaced by a process of auto-generative writing.

While there is always a distinction to be made between writing and the production of meaning, nevertheless it is when we engage a text we expect it to be meaningful and for that meaning to be a function of intent. When this expectation is disturbed we are left with a situation where semiosis and writing have been disassociated. In the absence of a writer or intended meaning, all the reader has available is the option to contemplate their own act of reading.

The first work discussed here in which this approach was pursued in a coherent manner was titled Great Wall of China. Initially produced as an online internet web based project, the first examples put online during 1995, this project evolved over a period of four years to become a CDROM and a multi-channel touch screen interactive installation (the images that accompany this text derive from the CDROM publication ) (3).

Thematically Great Wall of China derived its initial inspiration from the eponymous short story by Franz Kafka. Kafka writes neither about the wall itself, nor so much about how it came into being, but rather how it represents the refusal of closure required for a final production of meaning.

To quote Roberto Simanowski's outline of the story:

In it, a messenger sets out to convey the dying emperor's last words, addressed to every single person in his realm. Since the way is long and full of obstacles, the messenger is on the road for ages. Indeed, his undertaking is hopeless, for nobody ever did or will penetrate the empire's centre to its frontiers to transmit the message. But you, the narrator adds, are sitting at your window looking forward to the message at the evening. This is typical of Kafka: While the messenger is still on his way, the message about him has already arrived. It is certain that there is a text, but it is not yet certain what it is about. Can one ever hope to know it? The messenger - who, in Greek mythology, which is much closer to Kafka and his readers than the Chinese one, is called Hermes - has the key we are waiting for (4).

Great Wall of China makes extensive use of generative grammars. This technique, in which texts, sounds and images generate and regenerate themselves, as if alive, allowed the work to become infinitely variable and endless in time and space as Kafka envisaged the Great Wall itself. This process of generation is formed from a 'super-text', a text that is invisible to the reader but which they can catch glimpses of in the emerging intertextuality of the work. This 'super-text' is the computer program that underpins the entire project.

These interactive self-replicating and self-writing texts that make up the core of the work also elucidate processes of power and how this is replicated through controlling the means of production of meaning. The texts all appear, in their form, to have meaning but, in fact, are meaningless. As these texts are written by a machine executing procedures that are themselves a parody of bureaucratic systems, the absence of intent, of an authorial voice to speak, renders the text empty of anything other than the appearance of meaning, the illusion of authorship and authority.

Nevertheless, the texts are competent in producing strangely poetic and often ironic turns of phrase that appear to reflect upon the primary intention of the work. Even here, where readers are aware that there is no actual author behind the work, they still search the text to identify a sensible origin associated with what we would normally call the author. It is as if a text can only exist in and of an author and never in and of itself. In this respect the readers thus fulfil the role of author themselves, in the absence of any other being able to assume that function.

Recent works within this theme have been collected together, under the generic title Book of Books, which involve four themes. Firstly, that through the application of random methods, given enough time and processing power, it would be possible to write any text. The common form of this conceit is found in the story of a room full of monkeys who, given typewriters and enough time, eventually author the sonnets of William Shakespeare. The second theme comes from Jorge Luis Borges's short story The Library of Babel (5). Borges imagines a library that contains every book, even hypothetical books (including those made up of utter nonsense), and, of course, the book that contains all books. The Incompleteness Theorem, proposed by mathematician Kurt Gödel as a refutation of Whitehead and Russell's thesis that it would be possible to mathematically contain everything, demonstrated that as no formal system can contain itself, as this would be logically infinite, then no system can contain everything (6). Borges uses this as the premise for his library which also, by definition, would have to be infinite. The third premise relates to another Babel story, that of the Old Testament, where a once unified human language has been destroyed and divided into innumerable other languages and dialects with profound implications for human culture and life. The final theme is an attempt to create a form of writing in which the text is always written from inside the body of the text. New words are added to a text at any point in the text, thus creating a text that expands from the inside out and is able to do so at any point in its sequence (7).

In Book of Books all four themes are brought into play with one another at the same time. Rather than monkeys typing a computer program tirelessly generates random words and inserting them into the resulting ever expanding text, thus creating a text that is written from the inside out from any point in its structure. Borges's book that contains all books is thus evoked as we can imagine that this system might, given an infinite period of time and processing power, generate such a book. Finally, as we watch the texts generated become typographically smaller and smaller, the totality of the text seeking to remain fully visible on the screen, we see the unique characteristics that allow us to recognise different typographies, even different languages and scripting systems, come to resemble one another. Eventually the text is reduced to a one pixel font and thus comes to resemble our new universal language, binary code. All languages are thus seen to be one and the same in a demonstration of what the term 'convergence media' might really imply; where the erasure of difference is seen to lead to the erasure of meaning and text becoming illegible.

This is not a Hypertext, one part of the Book of Books project, is predicated on the idea that there is a significant distinction to be made between the non-linear textuality with which we have all become familiar through the use of the World Wide Web and the more dynamic and textually problematic character of auto-generative texts.

In This is not a Hypertext the technique of inserting words into dynamic locations in the text is replaced with an approach where words are appended simultaneously to the beginning and end of the body of text. As the system implements this procedure it also ensures that the text remains grammatically correct in both directions, applying the generative grammar algorithms developed in earlier works, such as Great Wall of China, but introducing the novel facility to write in reverse.

While designed in a manner that allows the work to function quite adequately on the web This is not a Hypertext was primarily conceived as a piece for live performance. In this version the work only writes itself when the reader(s), the audience, remain still. A video camera is connected to a computer which monitors the audience standing or seated before the work. Audience movement is recognised by the system and a message is sent to another computer, which is busy writing and displaying the text on a large video projection in front of the audience, to that effect. If an audience movement is sensed the writing process is temporarily suspended until the audience once again reverts to a stationary condition. If the audience remains stationary for long enough the text extends itself both forwards and backwards to the point where in order fit all the words on the screen the computer has rendered the typography in an illegible one point font.

When the work is 'performed' the artist remains present, on the 'stage' or performance area, in order to problematise the performative through amplifying the disjuncture created between the performer (the computer) and the explicitly passive author. We are confronted with a situation where the authorial voice is transferred from the artist to the machine as an evident action before the audience as readers. The internal dynamics of how the text comes into being is thus revealed and the process of writing/reading objectified. Nevertheless, the audience persists in trying to read the resulting text, at least until the typography has become so small that the text itself has become little more than a dynamic visual texture evoking the micro-mechanics of semiosis.

In this book a similar approach has been taken and the same software system has been employed to generate the auto-poetic texts that accompany this text. In this case, however, a dictionary of words derived from my co-author JL's essay, Drum and Voice, has been employed (8). This essay describes processes of the collective generation of social form amongst Nekgini speaking people of Papua New Guinea, recognising that 'authorship' is problematic as a description of this process given issues around elicitation and the mutual constitution of social identity. Novelty is thus to be found in the relations between persons and not in the individual's intentional making. The objective has been to create a system where an auto-generative text writes in a 'voice' that has something of an anthropological patois about it and to also create an artefact (the text and the process by which the text comes into being) that in its subject and context (this publication) establishes a self-reflective and recursive dynamic, where the roles of artist and anthropologist, creator and commentator, are problematised. Novelty and its role in differentiation has been deployed here as a means to disrupt the reader's expectations regarding the author's of this book by uncoupling the reader's search for meaning, and thus their own definition, from the text and shifting it towards the processes, and disjuncture, of their own perception.

James Leach - Innovation, elicitation, and identity

James Leach has completed several years of field research on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea. His interests, mirroring those of the people with whom he works, have centred on what might be termed 'creativity' in the ways people generate new places in the landscape (9). In so doing, they also generate new people, who emerge from these places, and objects which facilitate or even participate in these creative processes. Making people and places involves relations to other people and to spirits and ancestors that embody, through song/design/dance complexes, the generative potential of land itself (10). Recently JL has analysed the ritualised construction of large idiophones ('slit-gongs'). We take this piece as an example of the social anthropologist's work, in order to compare the approach with the approach of an artist, specifically on how novelty is understood and valued.

Slit-gongs are used by people on the Rai Coast to communicate across their lands, utilising a series of coded beats. Rai Coast people jokingly liken them to a telephone system. Fascinatingly, these drums are called 'men'. This begins to make sense when one understands that the idiophones are the outcome of ritual processes analogous to those by which boys are initiated into adulthood. Both emerge with a 'voice' or social presence, which others are obliged to recognise. It is this constitution of person/voice and respondent in one endeavour, that makes the outcome of these parallel processes 'the same' for Rai Coast people. It also means that we need to analyse the construction process as an activity that brings both object (as person) and person (as respondent) into being in a single process. So the exposition of the meaning and interest of the object (the idiophone) is also a description of how the social world comes to take the particular form that it does.

The idea of elicitation figures in that text, as it describes a process whereby social actors engage in generating social form without assuming any kind of individual 'authorship' of the form that emerges. As a 'collaborative' endeavour, or indeed, as a process in which act and response are aspects of the overall emergence of social presence (identity will do here), the notion that people are engaged in eliciting kinds of gendered and otherwise particular responses from other persons allows us to approach social form as an emergent property of ongoing, purposeful relations between social actors. Indeed, it makes the 'intention', and the emergent form, essential elements without any single actor determining the generative process. The notion of an aesthetic specific to the society under study and which specifies the form in which things must appear to have effect was at the heart of my presentation of the 'meaning' of idiophone construction in my text (11). For things to have effect, they must appear in particular forms. Achieving that form is possible only in relationship with others and, indeed, forms are elicited through engaging in relationships rather than 'produced' by individuals. This seems to be what the analogous processes of making men and idiophones 'tells' us.

In a recent and highly influential work, the anthropologist Alfred Gell used the term technology in relation to the skill of the artist (12). In a modification of Gell's usage, it is a mode of elicitation (one specified by a particular aesthetic), which I choose to refer to as 'a technology'. Clearly, there are similarities between SB's interest in eliciting response from an audience, and Rai Coast endeavours to position persons in relation to one another through idiophone construction. There are differences, however, in where the value lies in the respective 'subjects' of the artist's and the anthropologist's practice. For SB, the very lack of meaning in the texts generated elicits audience response. For an approach to Rai Coast idiophone construction in anthropological mode, however, I must be convinced that there is a whole world of meaning contained within the generative process itself. I return to this in outlining the notion of autopoiesis below.

When constructing slit-gongs then, Rai Coast people follow a process akin to the practice whereby young men are initiated into the male cult. As the images illustrate, in both cases, 'raw materials' of various kinds (tree trunks, boys) are secluded in forest clearings where in the presence of and through the work of certain land-based spirits, they are transformed into a form which can be recognised as a particular person. The ethnographic description presented in the paper is intended to outline how what we might initially think of as 'ritual' is in fact a skilled process whereby many different people are drawn into the project of idiophone construction. The process itself, outlined obliquely in myth, is a 'technology' of elicitation and what is elicited for the actors themselves is social position and distinct identities. These are not things people can achieve without the acknowledgement and, indeed, co-operation of others. Knowing what one is, in this context, is wholly a matter of how others respond to one. Hence the importance of strategies and modes of elicitation.

Different spirits, controlled by a variety of people, are necessary, in the combination of their various attributes, to make the raw tree trunk (or the boy), into an entity with a 'voice'. Thus the 'ritual' element, and the utilisation of 'spirits' is also the process whereby many different actors come to have an interest, come to see their own work, in the finished object. The object thus has an effect specifically on and through these people. It is constituted in social relations and has its effect within the newly constituted configuration of the social that its manufacture brings about. People will 'hear' the voice of the idiophone, and respond to it, because their own identity and position are bound to the reciprocal recognition that the process itself instantiated.

Now here we have something comparable with the notion of the author, and the reader's definition of self in relation to the external other who is the author. The 'identity' of actors in the process of idiophone construction is elicited in relation to the specific others also involved in the construction. Each act elicits certain responses from others and these responses tell the actor about his own capacities for elicitation. A man bringing his spirits to the endeavour realises their effect in the form the object takes under their influence. This form is then closely tied to the effect the object can have. People's response to that object is, in part, a response to the capacities and capabilities of this man controlling his spirits. Their responses constitute his social presence as a particular kind of person: a man who controls certain kinds of spirits. His 'identity' and the elicitation of others' responses, which tells him about his own powers, are necessarily connected. Claims are made for payment, by different people, on the successful completion and emergence of the idiophone (see plates). These claims make explicit that many people's work and power are evident in any one 'person' that emerges. It also makes explicit that the work is not complete with this emergence but that, in fact, a future of exchange of perspectives is now possible between persons who have been distinguished in their capacities by the process.

The culmination of this initiation/construction is the decoration of the drums/neophytes. Young men are consciously turned into objects to be viewed in this endeavour. Preparations are also made by the people who will view the initiands in order to protect themselves from this overpowering image. They attempt to nullify the effect of the (magic) preparation on the boy's skins with magic of their own. Consistent with the equation between men and slit-gongs this precaution is also taken when an audience gathers for the first revelation of a series of slit gongs (Plates **). Although this is perhaps a peculiar Melanesian response to the dangers of emotion or desire (13), it highlights a fact that Alfred Gell has recently discussed (14). That is, the preparation of art objects (in this case decorated men and idiophones) overlaps with, or has common features to, the practice of magic. Gell suggests that this co-incidence stems from a genuine similarity between art and magic. Both present the everyday technologies of production and reproduction transformed into an enchanting appearance (or process).

There is no one specialist who makes slit-gongs. Constructing them is a male preserve and invokes the male cult, yet it would be untrue to suggest that there is a means-end relationship of domination here. I am not as concerned with seeing what technical process is embodied by the object I discuss in that article as much as I am concerned with seeing how technical process is itself autopoetic.

The term 'autopoiesis' is central to the comparison between SB's self-generating languages and the anthropological approach to understanding innovation (and therefore valuing it) that I have taken. Just like the grammar engine, an autopoetic system is a self-generating system. Jadran Mimica has written the following in defining the notion and relevance of autopoiesis, for anthropology:

What has to be grasped here as a general characteristic of human self-transcendence is that, being the synthesis of temporality - its past present and future - human organismic existence is the origin and end of its own projection into the world, that is, its engagement through praxis. In this sense the primary task of human praxis is self-creation for no other reason than the reasons of it own existence. That is, since humans exist in the world, being in the world is their primary existential project - their sole raison d'ętre. Thus the primary ontological project of humanness is the realisation of its own mode of being-in-the-world. It is self-creating (autopoetical). Human cultural activities (praxis) then, are constellated by the vital structures of humanness - not as universal facts to be dealt with by human biology and physiology, or ecology, but as activities which have to be understood anthropologically. Since they themselves are at the core of humanness, seen as its own ontological project... any existence is always and only about existence; the structures of being in the world are about that particular being-in-the-world. (15)

Mythopoiesis is an extension of this idea. Thinking about technology in relation to such practices, the Heideggarian influenced anthropologist James Weiner asks, 'what if myth were foundational, and technology one of its effects' (16). This would not render the concept of technology inutile, but means we cannot pre-situate what we might mean by production and technology.

In my argument, technology is not about 'things made' (the drum as an object) but a process elicited. I follow Weiner's suggestion, and argue that Rai Coast people's construction of slit gongs is a particular existence, just as is their initiation of boys and girls into adulthood. It has meaning at the most fundamental level: it is an existence that is human. The description I attempt in the article is one of how, through acts of innovation in social form (processes which elicit certain forms of relationship between people), a meaningful world is brought into being. But this would mean that we must accept ritual and myth as foundational in certain non-Western societies, and production as an outcome of the social relations elicited on this foundation, not the other way around. It is the foundation provided by myth, in this case, which allows an autopoetic generation of a social world in which production is something people do for one another because they are related. It is not the basis on which they are related in the first place (17). The paper is intended to show that the process of initiating young men, and that of producing slit-gong drums, is an autopoetic system, based in mythic schemas, whereby forms appropriate to the perceptual schemes of these Rai Coast people are brought into being.'

Why should we be interested in the phenomenon of idiophone construction? For me, there is an inherent fascination of such a complex and far-reaching process. What I describe is, of course, how certain Rai Coast people come to see the world anew. Social position as an initiated man, or as a man who now has an idiophone of his own with which to call others attention through, is a novel perspective for that person. They have changed, and this change is absolute, in a sense. An initiated man is capable of marriage, of entering affinal exchange relations, of practicing sorcery, and so forth. His view and understanding of the physical and social world is remade in the process. There is 'innovation' of a sort here then, and part of the purpose of my description is to make evident the reason and meaning of the process in exactly these terms. The value it has for them is not that of producing a useful object, but of remaking the social world, and instantiating creative and ongoing relations between persons out of which, production emerges. There is another value here also. And this is more akin to the value of SB's practice, as he describes it in this book.

The process I attempt to describe rests upon premises about people and identities, about power and the constitution of persons as effective actors in the social world, which contrast with conventional understandings of such matters among my usual readership (British, Australian and American academics). In other words, my intent is, through these descriptions, to make space for novel or innovative thinking about what it might be to be a human being.


SB writes: This work is founded on a general notion that art is that human activity which can confound the basic sense we make of things, such that we are then able to see things in a manner we might otherwise never have considered. It is in the creation of disjuncture between the thing and its representation that we come to see the thing and its relation to other things, particularly ourselves, anew.

Now this could stand as a description of the comparative ethnographic method in social anthropology. Looking at the unfamiliar makes us reconsider the familiar and assumed in a new light. But whereas SB here identified novelty itself as a key strategy that could not be the case for anthropology. It is the shift in perspective, given by being confronted with ways of being human, that provides a challenge to our understanding of ourselves. The comparison opens space and the possibility of new understandings. Novelty may well appear as the outcome of thinking comparatively, but novelty itself in the material is not necessary. The strategy is not to fabricate something novel, but rather to allow for novel outcomes in understanding to emerge from the juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar worlds. Whereas SB seeks to 'give cause to doubt the belief in self', the anthropologists intention is somewhat different. The idea of the 'self', philosophically justifiable or not, figures in our own social world. It is an aspect of its generation in the form it takes. Seeing a 'relational' self on the Rai Coast may allow us to reconsider the assumption that all 'selves' are at heart, the same, and thus avoid the projection of such assumptions on very different ways of being human, thus assisting us in seeing the value and interest in other life worlds.

SB writes: The intent outlined here involves the engendering of a subjective “failure” to differentiate, resulting in a process of de-differentiation of self and thus a re-positing of self as non-singular, de-centred and distributed.

Interestingly the idea of a distributed self, or what has been variously termed 'relational' (Strathern 1988) or even fractal personhood, is something central to my description of a Nekgini speaker's social world, the context in which peoples actions and statements make sense (18). However, it is not a description of the intention of my writing. Pointing out the possibility for alternatives to our own assumed mode of understanding the self is, however, central.

In this way, the practices of the artist and the anthropologist converge. For a comparative method to succeed the particularity of each view must be demonstrated. One cannot compare without difference in what is compared. There may well be a fundamental underlying similarity here then between what SB's work reveals about how the self is constituted in contemporary western culture and how anthropology itself is built on the process of differentiation he reveals. As has long been explicit in anthropology, construction of the self in relation to the other has been central to the project.

SB writes: In this respect the process of engagement with a creative text can be regarded as an act of psycho-social dimension where the reader is concerned largely with their own constitution and differentiation, as a social being, through the treatment of the author as an avatar or an equivalent symbolic deployment as an imagined other.

The imagination and creativity of the author in anthropology is significant, especially if we accept that at heart to make new understanding, rather than merely gather information, comparison is central. However, the gathering of information is only worth undertaking if the worlds and schemas compared have a reality to them. That is, one is comparing something existent, or once existent, and thus empirical observation is a necessary aspect of anthropological knowledge making.

There is another important aspect to this. To describe something 'real' and 'external' is also a process of adapting or modifying the language we have available to accommodate new phenomena. This is particularly significant in discussing other thought systems, where we are forced to use concepts of our own to describe, or approximate, the conceptual domains of others. Indeed, the influence of structural linguistics is clearly apparent. The process of translation is one of the places in which anthropological knowledge comes into being, as we are forced to rethink the way we divide concepts from one another in the light of practices and statements which demonstrate different sets of distinctions. Many of us would say that this process is only possible because we have, within our language, the possibilities for saying things which are not conventionally used.

The distortion, or refashioning, of existent concepts in the face of radical difference is to use concepts in a novel manner; where novelty is not the final goal but is necessary if we are to understand other people in something approaching their own terms. This method does have the closely allied effect of throwing light on new possibilities within our own language and conceptual framework.

One of the observations which SB has made use of in his work is that the reader will 'search within the text to identify a sensible origin associated with what we would normally call the author'. This is parallel to the desire in social science to describe things that already exist. We need to identify a reason and logic to the schema we identify. The simplest shortcut to this is in the assumption that cultural systems are meaningful for the participants, that this meaning can be abstracted and described as a system, and that ultimately we are therefore looking at a 'valid', functioning entity. There is then an 'author' (a society) behind social scientific descriptions, and following SB's arguments, we would have to say a projection of coherence and unity onto this 'author' in order that the described system can stand as comparative other to our own 'system' of assumptions and perceptions. However, the idea of elicitation used above goes some way to obviating some of the positivistic effects of such projection.

One of the hardest parts of teaching social anthropology to undergraduates is to demonstrate that we (they) have a culture; that is, a cosmology which is equivalent in type to Papua New Guinean's. Revealing the structuring assumptions of this cosmology is usually only possible by juxtaposing real instances of alternative activities and modes of being which appear incomprehensible in our own terms. The destabilisation of the belief that there is only one social reality based on given principles of nature applicable to all human population is most easily achieved by highlighting the contingent nature of our own assumptions and approaches in the face of the reality and effectiveness of practices ultimately based in radically different premises and knowledge's about the world we think we share.

The essence of JL's paper is that in the construction of an object, which is also a person, the result is the unfolding and enfolding of a whole social world; that is, an auto-poetic process of creation and the elicitation of social form through persons' actions in regard of one another.

This relates to what SB says about the author and the manner in which the reader finds value in the novelty of what the author makes as an affirmation of the authors' differentiation as an individual. Thus the author functions in the role of avatar relative to the reader, de-sublimating the reader's desire for unique differentiation through the evocation of the novel.

The function of autopoiesis is the key process that illuminates the themes of this book. As JL observes, the auto-poetic is a central process of social form. It is also clearly SB's conscious intention to employ processes of an auto-poetic character to facilitate reflection upon the relations between language, the formation of meaning and society, as reflected in both the individual and the collective, as mutually determining elements.

Thus we find our subject, the value of novelty, framed within a discourse constituted from the range of issues raised by autopoiesis; the making of meaning, the making of self, and the processes of differentiation essential to these processes.

…drum and voice and I view my art: his trunk; so powerful for its presentation it owns to my effort or some thus beat on this organ however separate that image produces this fact: an overpowering thing when something thus discusses of this appearance; so peculiar or that which not makes my man order my first neophyte to attempt its ethnographic aesthetic thus in a higher formation when both compel such an instance when so certain is my genesis; some will question my adornment; no, the complex and that skin or an aesthetic yet what also suggests for this world specifically an effect in the peculiar and I assume my able yet consciously live twofold series but who recently blurred yet who not blurred paper briefly to capture his person; we however compare within the account, my gendered face briefly approaching its agency however decorated with complexity, who never somewhat or something specifically processes this everyday with one recently social voice, what also attempts beyond my cult if what also his agents do begin with their reproduction focus on his say or that which not akin to that magic hinterland all do become that goal when forth from between such intricate legs jump; my relation, or we the specifically visual preparation protect, to that male consciously order my social when such a technique situates during that genuine preparation and turns my said feature briefly to a first passage and both wholly produce over a boy but itself however precipitates their configured to the place, no overpowering or we well produce within its conclusion and briefly build within such rare but consciously ongoing essence, it briefly enmeshes necessity; not young yet whereby I mark his account thus blurred but in an appearance questions such a particular man when that seclusion thus regarded in that account will return within such a creation and consciously combine that enchanting emergence in the never existing way, both however examine his drum or who will capture my creativity: something perhaps approaches my similar debates upon that reproduction: no, this development includes an argument; that tree if some will reveal those people; no, a nothing consciously recognises an aesthetic, this last anthropology does not assume during its existence and preparation: no bound relation elicits an emergence, both will situate his argument: some will communicate my creation or we dictate upon his feature if that which processes to such a point uses the common skin: a detailed idiophone compelled as his relation or what briefly lives its enmeshed initiation specifically overpowering the other or his creation but the people gathers that boy: my rare voice and an argument provides where the initiands or its theoretical person and his language both present the last when my twofold both consciously becomes with their central and specifically configured desire, yet it's apparent that some incidence lies for its attention: itself specifically marked as this straightforward decoration when both will recognise his Mythopoiesis when it

is consciously bound with his recently inseparable tree then specifically details when the recently crude are; and the recently crude and they whereby use his everyday but the briefly visual male draws their ongoing initiation specifically everyday where precaution lies in his complexity however, transitory danger consciously enmeshes other theoretical boys and yet we recently specify elsewhere to regard their series of recently given my slit-gongs that gather along the account or an anthropology that separates the available but open amount with my inward ritual orders by my transitory material; the existing text was and we forthwith nullify on my literature attempts by my feature to assume the enchanting and what forth be from a solution closes with a culmination precipitated over their peculiar base; not genuine but an overpowering feeling when something however asks that gendered culmination examines my generation of consciously common but decorated self yet itself forthwith regard within a coast the views of my person recently specific to a relationship: no powerful similarity takes his face or operates that reproduction which is all enchanting in appearance and yet what not forms my danger: no such growth, no that decorated artist, its connection briefly obliges a twofold blind when they also make this code: no particulars but one will do this art: such similar formation dictates their new slit-gong doubts and a crude creativity, which will assume that peculiar creation briefly present as his certain artefact and their attention specifically central to something that also orders this genesis however situated their end orders on my overpowering trunk; presents within the everyday but which design over this useful and large reproduction but something wholly owned as a result when some recently yet last whereby they call with their last or all hollowed if not mythic and with common decoration address their outward ritual: the revelation shapes in my ceremonial or their slit-gong but not a goal: no, his young revelation never enormous yet some briefly bound of this world; something all separate along my span but within that construction: it recently beat with his last and if we thereby utilise such written and such description which demonstrates over a detailed drum then I up oblige that configured mark in such idiophone which brings for its technology or something recently available when something young in place starts that theoretical but central relationship: which is all complex but his life orders that preparation of designs over this agency and obliges on such a garamut a never enchanting agency, who will generate its idiophone regards that is the same if the case, not that useful and both its outline and his time is specifically of the same as their garb: such technological effort, his argument specifically ceremonial in effect, not akin to the literature but the ceremonial way hears my necessity and uses it within their adulthood and yet both, however complex, or some will suggest although such an

initiands, no inward conclusion: their higher or this life considers the inward if they communicate for his people and turn a specific of his say and owner, something never beheld such that a theoretical and yet that realisation uses it during the theoretical code of my concept or they outline into an outward and we will combine my somewhat if itself thus takes my effect but its conclusion never came over this particular when what up beat image that is not magic or both also form its north necessity and briefly complex a frame or they not powerfully voice his transitory appearance or to not largely discuss an organ to compel this inward classification but something visual with such enchanting intricate line; no an enormous tree, no a useful detail; some forth mark where this code in my face starts between my say and issues or they often regard a central neophyte and think its elicitation: such a new culmination is what recently first my technology discusses during the distance that precipitates the ongoing or some will ask if its transitory relationship sees the structure and yet both often approach this issue and elicit between its gendered form when who will debate their slit-gong to demonstrate to this last discussion and thus use it in that large and powerful something, forthwith we own this incidence but its enmeshed account, certain where they will operate in his new and as such last if rare and somewhat specifically overpowering artist used in that frame and takes my transformed but complete conclusion and never follow my specific emotion; no, its technological but it is both all the same or it also gathers to that concept and puts their culmination within their code, that outward amount that speaks during this complex object and the briefly inward knowledge: one consciously technological who gathers its passage or its neophyte or however produces from this inward artist consciously a genuine if consciously false drum and draws beyond such art, however gendered, and we thus decorate the end process

of this argument and thus note his Mythopoiesis gives such a person to ask such existing questions, but up close in its seclusion which all becomes an artefact and all straightforward reproduction yet what all gathers although a solution: such a person makes my somewhat low idiophone; they thus make a powerful account; this particular description outlines between his specific effort, both will turn on this social emergence and never visualise if that artefact nullifies such appearances and if one thus protects its essence to not ask that somewhat accounts and wholly last yet this enmeshed they will assume upon that relation specifically somewhat their formation; the written will yet initiate with their production, both take a village and outline the useful and they specifically construct into the fact shapes to that notion; we briefly address this elicitation; no its knowledge operates in such adulthood and provides the ceremonial yet his ceremonial when what forth gives a sexual of that transformed cult and situates that person however consistent or the presentation however given as their magic or some put over his feature beats through that image as it approaches this emergence and thus consistent code yet such vital danger outlines within the certain aesthetic; this danger where an ethnographic idea which while gathering along a hinterland wholly vital for this specific feature lies as their effort is specifically complex an aspect where such overpowering identity consciously and consistently is one whereby our present over their enormous if often operates on my existing revelation and thus the technological when it recently commonly decoration obliges of a connection never decorated and something perhaps owns its available voice wholly young but itself well meaning in his decorated passage and all hollowed hinterland which thus beats my village and presents the ethnographic with some whereby given highlight to its garb or my object and thus bound construction yet that initiation never ables complexity,

this realisation closes this occasion; not written by hand, one thereby discusses their say and other recently able codes specifically of a mythic agent who participates as my sociality lives in his specific when one briefly turns their voice; who will hear of its hollowed if something however is an enchanting drum; something will give an able object stems within their genuine if technological creation when itself will become in my realisation an all inseparable creation of views through its aspect when they also protect such a genesis and thus recognise by the blurred when its danger but his being includes such similarity all hollowed and yet its desire orders where such available slit-gongs are not ceremonial idiophones; no north object overlaps its last but a higher hinterland and yet both also combine such a say when what wholly turns its consistent garb; one also uses although such Mythopoiesis briefly suggests such detail dictates such ongoing yet certain base and both specifically large when that practice, the decorated or that briefly particular detail specifically separated into his danger are, during the technological something, all mean between his series, the wholly sexual and that will oblige his hand as specifically genuine if I will, with his crude or itself and whereby of my outward this and that garb the briefly new will come to their common forth turn from its development recently become by its say creation and regards an equation recognised for this blurred aspect specifically constructed in his discussion but by my straightforward notion that speaks although in its way: no overpowering occasion is all central and yet their result; no mythic series recently somewhat is, but the wholly apparent initiands thinks during the result and reveals along the slit-gong, itself a briefly crude description all decorated yet its object examined over an available sociality questioning this anthropology or my slit-gong approaches his sexual neophyte and all separate from that knowledge thus elicited within his higher man and presents a formation and the relation recently provided by that overpowering creation, the common yet while it turns this transitory account: no hollowed or itself also precipitate of their last relation recognises its production, no my processes highlight in the sociality: their peculiar practice: the case, they however specifically and yet itself never outline over that theoretical or what whereby they call a blurred of his place and all inseparable generation yet the gendered of his object calls this written if they thereby have that higher if that never protects into this peculiar effect the hollowed or such initiands though not mythic one all taken this end of never apparent life or it thereby suggests the same and his ongoing passage, such a somewhat owner doubts along my rare garamut: such effects specifically turn into their theoretical and its creation specifically provided with their consistent feature and assumes although this social owner is not written of their peculiar

idiophone and becomes such a young speaker or coast; it often does into my adornment; no specific construction beats through such must or takes between such blurred description and thus highlights this consistent if large way, such a way and the village briefly detailed occasions and much the same as my object: which thereby examines their ritual way with what will describe beyond a slit-gong briefly marked in my higher time, put it forth to produce to another when my case but we perhaps shape a detail when their inward genesis and all central goals thus say to some effect a recent but not particular or both examine this adulthood: we are never bound when one consciously starts the skin; no his process, no ongoing time in my relationship and this technological scheme; some consciously nullify such aesthetic classifications if something often examines through a technique when this voice is however a north organ and doubts this literature approaches within a peculiar consciously generated to such available or all transitory adornment that beats with that overpowering heat and this written of in my ethnographic initiation recently to the north but one specifically says but which will construct within his configured text we will think along its powerful if consciously compared as his detailed development to who recently somewhat was, if those also see between a technological detail and consciously compare such aspects recently transformed then a being of views upon this connection or some well discussed beyond their Mythopoiesis, both describe where this magic and this life protects his use or who do not appear upon a base, no ceremonial hand: this knowledge is all enormously featured of an enchanting feature that shapes upon his central practice and consciously constructs on the rare, but I also ask why such genuine relationships start my voice compelled to my Mythopoiesis; both specifically consider upon their hollowed mouth but we never find enchanting and some suggest my straightforward and their higher if some often become through its common instance and gives where such a hinterland is yet their initiands and this written of what we all think with that inseparable effort: no, the visual artist who is wholly a ceremonial idiophone but we consciously question when not to lie by mythic ways when an overpowering discussion addresses this peculiar but well built artist; along their same yet wild however the overpowering way which also is his large paper is not to hear that way addressed or the bound or I will start a skin wholly certain of who to not consider and to their aspect situate through a notion: what is not detailed is something not twofold of attention, that young but some consciously mark in its voice: no ceremonial of both will make their new and his enormous when we are not gendered and yet their danger when both will address for this way; so peculiar and the theoretical but I consciously specify process of the wholly twofold yet that notion within itself however lives over my crude span: I provide

its useful role the first of some specifically consistent genesis but this transformed decoration of the rare or something whereby revealed in its vital part is my art: my higher initiands however describes this same if its written yet my elsewhere nullifies between its new skin, however I bring this within his overpowering drum when that which also owns the preparation of a consistent tree when its trunk includes my speakers attempts to its village or their higher relationship notes by that magic but is both specifically useful and common but my development is yet what they will do for the response to never consider between such enmeshed parts, if they all describe for that sexual man but what thus operates during the incidence or they move forth to begin a straightforward everyday something while appearing that this amount builds my reproduction of this sexual adulthood: itself perhaps is put to their large audience and forms such a danger that however outlines their frame not in particular but if their certain processes are in problematic areas my available material and some will approach my straightforward ritual: who specifically are akin to a bound detail and his written necessity precipitate such theoretical voices never like that type of Mythopoiesis but its visual agent; which never obliges that object and lives in my blurred span specifically situated in such a relation when we regard as such the hinterland of notes that slit-gongs make, this hollowed face thus becomes that other consciously complex of its enmeshed who also begin an agency, one however consistent with its technique and it often forms from such a last life so thus has a social or thus powerful of a series; one not of the social case recently made the same and able, yet its process and something while we live their visual eye when that gendered or perhaps recognised as my last conclusion when some also use his complex and his large precaution as all ceremonial yet which specifically addresses their inward drum, no straightforward hinterland, such ceremonial magic is a Mythopoiesis briefly first but that recently is my peculiar who also positions among such speakers to hear into the realisation then who consciously orders as the must and my crudity when some, however everyday, yet largely when some thus specify a speaker as no everyday amount and puts us to an attention of positions such that the first but such able effects presents its enormous manner and yet we specifically discuss a person: I often present their modal positions…


1. Niklaus Luhmann, Social Systems, trans. John Bednarz Jr., with Dirk Baecker, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press 1995.
2. De Saussure's writings on the binary structure of the sign provide a theoretical underpinning to an intertextually oriented analysis of the process of signification as a social process.
3. Simon Biggs, Great Wall of China, Ellipsis, London 1997.
4. Roberto Simanowski, 'Aleatoric as Enlightenment',, also in: Interfictions, vom Schreiben im Netz, Frankfurt am Main: Edition Surkamp 2002.
5. Jorges Luis Borges 'The Library of Babel', in The Book of Sand, New York: E P Dutton 1977.
6. Whitehead and Russell, Principia Mathematica, Cambridge University Press 1962.
7. Simon Biggs, Book of Books I + II,
8. James Leach, 'Drum and Voice: Aesthetics and the Social Process on the Rai Coast of PNG', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8:4, 2002.
9. James Leach, Creative Land. Place and Procreation on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea, Oxford: Berghahn Books 2003.
10. James Leach, 'Singing the Forest: Spirit, Place and Evocation among the Reite villagers of Papua New Guinea'. Includes 16 minute original sound recording, 'Resonance', Journal of the London Musicians Collective 7:2, 1999.
11. Marilyn Strathern, The Gender of the Gift. Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia, Berkeley: University of California Press 1998.
12 Alfred Gell, 'The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology', in Anthropology, Art nd Aesthetics, J Coote and A Shelton eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992, pp 40-66.
13. Simon Harrison, The Mask of War, Manchester: Manchester University Press 1993, p 122.
14. Alfred Gell, 'The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology', in Anthropology, Art nd Aesthetics, J Coote and A Shelton eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992, pp 40-66.
15. Jadran Mimica, 'The Incest Passions: An Outline of the Logic of Iqwaye Social Organisation', Oceania 62 (1+2) 1991, pp 34-57, 81-113.12 Alfred Gell, 'The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology', in Anthropology, Art nd Aesthetics, J Coote and A Shelton eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992, pp 40-66.
16. James Weiner, Tree Leaf Talk: A Heideggerian Anthropology, Oxford: Berg Publishers 2001.12 Alfred Gell, 'The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology', in Anthropology, Art nd Aesthetics, J Coote and A Shelton eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992, pp 40-66.
17. Roy Wagner, The Intervention of Culture, Chicago: Chicago University Press 1975.12 Alfred Gell, 'The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology', in Anthropology, Art nd Aesthetics, J Coote and A Shelton eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992, pp 40-66.
18. Wagner, 'The Fractal Person', in Big Men and Great Men, M. Godelier and M. Strathern eds, Cambridge: CUP 1991.