Jason Plein


I told her what I wanted to make, a set of instructions which would be followed by assistants or volunteers or by people coming to the show.

"There will be circular gears," I told her. "The circular gears will revolve inside larger toothed circles - like negative-space gears, basically. Like a Spirograph, but bigger. To the gears you attach a length of wood or metal or something; at the end of that length is a pen; the whole contraption is above a large piece of paper. It will be mechanical; it will be rigid and mathematical - once you put the pieces together you start the machine or turn the crank or whatever, and the process is basically automatic - but human error will enter in because it will have to."

"Hmm," she said.

"It's the interaction between this mathematical rigidity, this mechanical process, and the humans who follow it, the gap between the Platonic abstraction of the instructions and the errors in the execution. It's the errors that animate it: the errors turn it from math-y abstraction to the interesting, messy real."

"Hmm," she said again, unimpressed.

"I'd call it 'Hylozoic.'"

"What's a hylozoic?"
"You know, what Ptolemy thought about the planets, circles revolving on circular tracks, points on the circles rotating as the circles revolve."

"No, that's called something else." She took out her phone - a black plastic rectangle that was like an iPhone but was not an iPhone - and she searched on Google and she showed me the Wikipedia entry for deferents and epicycles.

"What's a hylozoic then?" I asked. It was the title of a Rudy Rucker book I'd never read (but I'd read the one before it), and it was in that Sonic Youth song.

She used her not-iPhone again to show me another web page, the OED's entry for hylozoism, from which I learned that hylozoism is the theory that life is a property of matter. From the entry for hylozoic (I borrowed the phone from her for a couple minutes) I learned from the OED's quotations that it was used as a synonym or semi-synonym for atheism.

I was glad my error had not been made public, that I had not named an entire show after what I thought was circles in circles and was, instead, the name for the idea of an inanimate universe, or a universe animated only by itself and not by God. It's academic, anyway: I do not make art; I only tell stories about art which will never exist outside the Platonic space in my head and in yours, stories I tell my wife or type into a laptop or write down in a notebook.

Jason Plein is not a young man, but he is a young writer. He works for a big software company.