by Manfred Mixner

The expression “open systems” is, in itself, a contradiction in terms. The development of systems always means bringing phenomena, perceptions, elements, rules, terms, signs, etc. into a context of meaning that is as closed, as clearly defined as possible. Most systems: scientific, mathematical, geometric, philosophical, political, social, ecological, artistic, architectonic are based on ordering principles ­ mostly of a logical or game-theoretically correct nature, aimed at establishing an inner unity, exclusivity. Systems are only to a limited extent transferable to fields of experience other than that for which they were originally formulated. Closed systems are normative phenomena. In this respect, an open system is no longer a system. For that reason, it makes little sense to refer to the coexistence, the sum or partial sums of systems like these as “open systems”. Should this charming Anglicism therefore be banned from further use? Is there not perhaps indeed an implementation of the term that has meaning, makes sense?

The attempt can be made to build a somewhat fragile house of cards in art-theoretical terminology, which is built of somewhat flexible psychological and artistic-philosophical chips ­ if one holds one’s critical breath, perhaps it won’t come crashing down immediately. So: we develop our conceptions of reality from our perceptions. In this way, every consciousness includes the representation of reality of which it is made up. This process is coupled to the use of language; it can be assumed that without language there is no consciousness. The affirmation of the validity and utility of the linguistic representation takes on form in communication. Our representation of reality can, therefore, be reproduced, communicated and, among others, be verified on this linguistic path. The reproductions become part of the perceptible reality that, in turn, can be reproduced as a representation. Beyond the verifiable representation of reality it is, furthermore, possible for consciousness to construct innumerable variants of reality: consciousness can measure, test, compare itself to other representations of reality, can expand and refine its abilities. Exactly how we do that and what happens in our brain when we imagine something, is unclear. At any rate, we can invent realities and thereby expand the potential of our consciousness and the scope of our field of activities. We can imagine in what position we will find ourselves if that which we are planning fails and what we can expect, if it can be realized. Can one refer to such prospective-fictional representations of reality, consciousness (works of art in general ­ literary texts, musical compositions, works of visual art, performances, installations, etc.) as “open systems”? Hardly, since every successful representation of reality, each work is, in and of itself, a composed and structured whole (even when it is “interactive” or “self-generating”), a closed system. Perhaps the possibility of a manifold meaning or the multi-functionality of a system could justify the use of the term “open systems”. Kafka’s novels and short stories, for example, have been interpreted according to psychoanalytical, philosophical, religious, sociological and other aspects and each of these approaches to interpretation makes sense on its own level, comments on at least one dimension of the texts. Kafka’s prose remains, in spite of its many levels of meaning, inaccessible, whatever that means. In the process of repeated rereading of the novel fragment “The Castle”, I pay less attention to the text than I do to what the text calls forth in me, I attempt not to be occupied with what the text means beyond the sensual representation of reality contained within it. On the contrary, I attempt to complete the representations of reality, evoke odors, noises, atmospheres, colors, light and darkness, the cold, the dampness, construct physiognomy, spaces, machines, vehicles, feel the snow under my feet. While reading I lose the perception of myself and my environment, at least temporarily. I have delivered myself into the hands of the representation of reality contained within the text, have become part of an imagination, the intensity of which causes the letters, the words, the sentences, the chapters, even the book itself to disappear. Did I find myself in an open system? Am I the victim of an illusion?

If one lets go of the static concept of a work (which refers to the product of an artistic process) and makes the performative character of aesthetic “taking action and observing” the central matter of interest, a central aspect of the “system” changes. Each artist is familiar with that: a text takes on a life of its own, it “writes itself”, distances itself from the point of origin. The music “develops itself” in directions that the composer could not anticipate. A picture “takes on form”. In the process of artistic production in which automatic poetry is allowed, the artist does not know where his action will lead, he has a feeling where it is going, trusts that his calculations will be true. The result of the aesthetic “game” is open as long as it is still in progress.

The result is, by the time the work is completed, once again a closed system. Aesthetic performance is potentially an open system. The structured whole of the work can be dissolved by the “performing” interpreter as if he would consume the work in a sort of ecstasy, as if he would reverse the creative process of the work, as if all rules and signs would lose their validity. One could understand the performance or reception of a work as antisystematic activity in the course of which an open system emerges out of the closed system. The listener or observer gives himself up to the artist for the duration of the “reception” of the work, as if he would step outside himself to make room for the work to come into existence, would make the creative process his own. Consciousness in the process of comprehending a work of art opens itself for the length of time that the performance demands. And in the reception, which does not relate the rules and signs of the performance to a normative pattern of terminology and meaning, rather transforms them into a representative reality of consciousness by means of an act of exponentially reversed perception, the meaning and sense of a work of art “develops” in the dissolution of rules and signs ­ yes, in this way, an “open system” would be born. “Open systems” as performative phenomena ­ is this speculation trustworthy?

A residual skepticism remains, for the experience of “open systems” is always no more than fleeting. Does the experience of the Aesthetic that dissolves all terminology really make forays into thinking in “open systems” possible or is this loss of Self in aesthetic experience an illusion? In any case, the documentation of such ecstatic-aesthetic performances reveals itself again as the closed system of a model of reality.