Cybernetic Syntax

Samuel Beckett Today / Aujour'hui

In a 2009 review of Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, J.M. Coetzee references cybernetics, structuralism, concrete poetry, and Samuel Beckett in the same train of thought. 

“Concrete poetry never made much headway: it was the musicians rather than poets who were best able to exploit mathematical procedures and the new cybernetic technology. But concrete music and concrete poetry were only one manifestation of a wider Zeitgeist in the years around 1960. In the plays of Beckett and Ionesco, with their formulaic patter; in the poetry of the early John Ashbery, with its loopy, dreamlike logic; in the general enthusiasm among intellectuals for structuralism, that is, for systems of thought that seemed to run themselves without need for intervention, we can detect an underlying scepticism and even despair about what human agency can achieve.”

Coetzee’s zeitgeist highlights a procedural method of composition. Human agency becomes eclipsed by a kind of machinic syntax—processes that seem “to run themselves”…