Chaotics by Oana Avasilichioaei
An essay by the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award winner for translation
Avasilichioaei won the translation category for Readopolis, which she translated from the French novel Lectodôme by Bertrand Laverdure.
Linguistic gesture —
A small language act —
Endeavour not entirely aleatory but —
Targeted in a complex fluctuating system that is unpredictable and resonant —
At first a small ripple forms, wells up into a swell, gathers force with the tide, picks up wind and momentum —
Halfway across the globe, in another time, in another history, Edward N. Lorenz forages weather into a metaphor that dramatically alters the course of 20th century scientific thinking —
A butterfly flaps its wings into the eventual complex causality of chaos theory, which undulates across fields as diverse as meteorology, physics, mathematics, philosophy, economics, ecology, biology, so why not language —
In one way, the idea is simple: complex systems are exceedingly sensitive "to initial conditions, to circular feedback, and to interactions with other complex systems" (Saltzstein) so that an infinitesimal change in the initial variables will produce drastically varied outcomes over time —
In another way, the idea is intricate and its impact, vast: the system is deterministic at the micro level in that one element will cause another element, yet unpredictable at the macro level since all the elements or component parts react to and feed back into a complex network of relationships that interact within a complex network of systems —
To apply chaos theory to language and therefore see language as a complex dynamic system that is intrinsically unstable, constantly evolving (for instance, the sense of "chaos" shifts from "gaping void" to "utter confusion" to "unpredictable behaviour"), profoundly interactive, and resolutely relational is to realize the potentially dramatic reverberations of small yet purposeful language articulations within this dynamic, creative environment —
A voice introduces a small language gesture — a phrase, a few words, a line — into the macrocosm, a gesture that touches another voice, inspires another mind to another small language gesture, which then prompts yet another mind into another language gesture, and so on and so on; the impact might be almost imperceptible at first: a small ripple, a tiny change in thought, a bare blip in the mind's flow, but this ripple can eventually, interactively, from person to person, become a tidal wave —
This is slow, microscopic language action, action at the molecular level of thought as language does its quiet but relentless work morpheme by morpheme, word by word, segment by segment; this is not language as slogan repeated ad infinitum in the grandstand of advertising, propaganda, cant, indoctrination, marketing; this is not language in the big theatres of coercion and manipulation, language meant to control, sway, and master subjective thinking, language meant to bulldoze idiolects, but rather language as spark and instigator, language as imaginative, unruly, unpredictable and restless stimulus —
In the logic of nonlinear causality, the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts since multiple causes interact to create an effect and the effect feeds back into the system to affect other causes, which is akin to how audio feedback works wherein a signal received by a microphone is amplified and transmitted by a speaker, then picked up again by the microphone, amplified further, and transmitted again by the speaker and so on and so on, all the while shaping the frequency of the resulting sound along with the many other factors that shape it such as the acoustics of the space and distance between the elements, which can be metaphorically extrapolated to how language gestures may work wherein —
A linguistic butterfly flaps its wings creating a small ripple in the "collective context" that is language, and just as "small actions in a collective context can produce systemic changes" (MacKinnon), this ripple travels, imperceptibly at first, almost invisible, perhaps across the city, across borders, across syntaxes, across oceans, circling back again, gets tossed about by other ripples, inflected by other tongues, minds, gestures, transforming, changing, evolving perhaps very slowly, at a snail's pace, over hours, over months, over decades, until it amplifies collectively into a roar, perhaps erratic, perhaps an uprising of thought and language, which are forever inextricably bound and forever remain profoundly intimate and public, dialogic and reverberatory all at once —
Some sources consulted:
MacKinnon, C. (2017). Butterfly Politics, Cambridge and London. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Saltzstein, P. (2016). Chaos & An Unpredictable Tomorrow. Philosophy Now, 14. https://philosophynow.org/issues/114/Chaos_and_An_Unpredictable_Tomorrow.
Scott, A. C. (2007). The Nonlinear Universe: Chaos, Emergence, Life, Berlin and New York. Springer.
About Oana Avasilichioaei
Oana Avasilichioaei won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for translation for the book Readopolis, originally written in French by Bertrand Laverdure. The novel follows a disillusioned young man named Ghislain, who reads manuscripts at a Montreal publishing house. Depressed about the state of literary arts, Ghislain creates a strange city to spend time in.
Avasilichioaei is a translator, author and multidisciplinary artist. Her books include We, Beasts and Limbinal.
About the series Chaos & Control
Each year, CBC Books partners with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a special series of new original writing by the winners of the Governor General's Literary Awards. This year, the award-winning writers were asked to reflect on the theme of Chaos & Control. Read the rest of the series:
- If you do come to stay... by Joel Thomas Hynes (fiction prize winner)
- After 'While by Cherie Dimaline (young people's literature — text winner)
- It is to that beside I go by Richard Harrison (poetry prize winner)
- Okay by David A. Robertson (young people's literature — illustration winner)
- The Tower by Hiro Kanagawa (drama winner)
Several authors also contributed to an episode of CBC Radio's Ideas, discussing the concept of balancing chaos and control. Listen to the episode in the player below: