R. rO. S. E. Sel. A. Vy

by Roberto Giunti

4c. The Autopoietic Machine

The theme of a closed self-referential cycle, connected with the self-creation, has without doubts evocative and fascinating analogies with Maturana and Varela's autopoietic machine.

  An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network (Maturana and Varela, 78-79).

This quite difficult definition requires at least some brief explanation. As a system, the autopoietic machine described by the two authors is composed of parts (or units) and relations between the parts. Parts and relations constitute the structure of the system, and are described by an observer (a human being) that can operate distinctions and specify what he distinguishes as parts and relations. He notes that in such a machine they produce the maintenance and the continuous regeneration of the parts and of the reciprocal relations themselves.

An autopoietic machine is characterized by operational closure: it doesn't mean that the autopoietic system is closed (i.e. that it hasn't exchange of matter and energy with the outside) but that in the interaction with the outside the behaviors of the system are completely self-referential, i.e. the answer of the system to the external inputs depends exclusively upon the internal state of the system itself, not upon the nature of the external inputs. We express these facts by saying that an autopoietic system is structure determined. In other words, a system with operational closure answers to the perturbation of its equilibrium reorganizing itself in such a manner as to put itself in a new possible state of internal consistence, compatible with the self-maintenance and with the new context caused by the perturbation. The behavior of such a system is therefore defined as eigenbehavior.

According to this theory the recursive interaction between two systems allows them to co-evolve plastically, remodeling their own states of internal consistence, in such a manner as to create a new state of reciprocal consistence. This process is called structural coupling.

After Maturana and Varela, the cognition process is characterized by the same assumptions. Varela schematically specifies its characteristics, putting the autonomous systems (i.e. the systems with operational closure) in opposition with the heteronymous ones:

  - basic logic: internal consistence (vs. correspondence);
- Kind of organization: operational closure and eigenbehaviours (vs. input/output)
- Interaction modalities: production of a world (vs. instructive interaction, representation) (155).

After this necessarily very brief presentation of the concept of autopoietic machine, we now resume those aspects that are more interesting from the viewpoint of the argumentation of the present paper.

Some main ingredients characterize an autopoietic system: self-reference, recursion, closure, circularity, and capability of self-creation, self-organization, eigenbehaviors, and self-production of sense. We have seen above that these ingredients are widely scattered in Duchamp's work, even if often in an embryonic form. In addition, consider now that the kleinian bottle, which we recognized in several of Duchamp's works, is sometimes used, for its characteristic circular self-penetration, to symbolize the autopoietic systems. Palmer (2000), for example, also underlines how the bottle perfectly depicts that particular relation between parts and whole that we previously observed in Duchamp's work.

Thus, the notion of autopoietic system allows us to look at Duchamp's work and particularly at the Large Glass according to a completely unusual perspective. The Glass presents to us the parts (or units) of an extremely complex system; the notes of the Green Box prescribe the relations between the parts of the Glass. The Glass and the Box constitute the structure of a hermetically closed system. The hermeneut-observer operates a description of this structure. The description takes place in a context of structural coupling between the hermeneut and the Glass-Box system.

The interesting thing in this interaction is that the parts of the observed system seem to exhibit the extraordinary capacity of plastically reorganizing themselves according to more and more different and novel states of internal consistence, just like the mind of the hermeneut-observer during the cognitive process of reading of the Large Glass. This is probably due to the complexity (non triviality) of the Glass-Box system. Thus, the Glass-Box pair can be viewed as being a hermetically closed and self-referential system, which in the interaction with the hermeneut seems to be able to recursively reconstruct and remodel itself, co-evolving with the hermeneut's world; this reciprocal adaptation creates new worlds, i.e. it produces new sense, new hermeneutics, and new hermeneutics of hermeneutics. I like to read in such a perspective the evocative imagines by Madeleine Gins (2000):

  D. drinks M. drinking B.--drinks-toasts.
Symbols that gaze back at . . . . . . .
Forests of gazing-back symbols—

Maybe this capacity of an infinite production of sense (that we already observed on a lower scale in the linguistic exercise of the Duchampian wordplays) can be the true alchemic grand œuvre realized with the Large Glass.

Paradoxically, in the perspective of the autopoietic, just the impenetrable closure of the complex system Glass-Box can explain not only the incredible number of its hermeneutics, but, surprisingly, also the fact that none of those can be expelled by the others, and that in spite of their differences, they are mutually compatible, because each of them is really based on one of the possible states of internal consistence of the system.

Clair made an analogous consideration, observing that none of the previous hermeneutics, from that of Breton to Schwarz, contradicted his new reading of the Large Glass, related to Pawlowsky's romance Voyage au Pays de la quadrième dimension (103).  This is without a doubt one of the greatest reasons for fascination in Duchamp's thought and work, enigmatic and unfinished, i.e. capable of an infinite (self-production of) sense. >>Next

page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15