Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003473, Thu, 5 Nov 1998 16:26:29 -0800

Re: Nabokoviana: "strange attractors" (fwd)
EDITOR's REMARK. I thank Joshua Roberts for responding to my query re the
meaning of "strange attractors". It all comes together now. I read
Gleick's CHAOS book some years ago hoping to find the key to my muddled
existence. Maybe I did, but have apparently lost it since.
I trust VN will be credited withthe coinage in the next OED.

D. Barton Johnson
Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies
Phelps Hall
University of California at Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Phone and Fax: (805) 687-1825
Home Phone: (805) 682-4618

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 5 Nov 1998 15:55:52 -0800 (PST)
From: JR <tract@voicenet.com>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@UCSBVM.UCSB.EDU>
Subject: Re: Nabokoviana: "strange attractors"

At 02:53 PM 11/5/98 -0800, you wrote:
>Brian Boyd writes:
>In Lolita I.8 one HH writes "it is not very likely that a prison library
>will harbor such erudite works. The one to which I am restricted these
>days, despite my lawyer's favors, is a good example of the inane
>eclecticism governing the selection of books in prison libraries." Not
>always inane. Humbert discovers there Who's Who in the Limelight, with the
>name "Clare Quilty" like a strange attractor between "Roland Pym" and
>"Dolores Quine." Look at this tangle of stresses:
>Harriet Hawkins, Strange Attractors: Literature, Culture and Chaos Theory
>(London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995), 76: "The complex 'nonlinear
>structure of a literary 'fractal,' in contrast to more linear works . . .
>is described in remarkably similar terms by John McVicar, who first read
>Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire while serving time in prison. McVicar had
>been used to reading novels by Harold Robbins, and the comparative
>complexities of Nabokov's novel struck him with the force of revelation:
>'In Pale Fire every surface of reality throws up other often inconsistent,
>contradictory interpretations that make equal sense. Reading it * and it
>can be read non-linearly, as Nabokov's biographer, Brian Boyd, suggests .
>. . there is always more than there seems, but whatever levels of
>complexity the reader understands, each works and satisfies and, most of
>all, delights.' (Sunday Times, 19 June 1994, p. 9)." [ellipsis in Hawkins]
>Brian Boyd
>English Department
>University of Auckland
>Auckland, New Zealand
>FAX + 64 9 373 7429
>e-mail: b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz
>EDITOR's Query: The term "strange attractors" rings faint, untraceable
>bells in my head. Astronomy? Nuclear physics? Help?
"Strange attractor" is a term common to chaos theory (which happens
not to be my field of expertise, but here goes....). It first appeared in a
key 1971 paper, "On the Nature of Turbulence," by David Ruelle and Floris
Takens, where it was coined to describe the nonrepeatable patterns of a
moving system within phase space (which is a type of abstract graph of any
3-dimensional moving "system," for instance, a fly buzzing around in a
room). Got that? Phase space patterns tend to be repetitive loops, but
Ruelle and Takens discovered that turbulent systems never repeated
themselves, were unpredictable and naturally chaotic. A strange attractor is
the eerily limitless shape formed by graphing such a system, and the term
has slowly entered aesthetic language in ways not always strictly related to
its original meaning. (Ain't that always the way!) Those of you whom I have
not already bored to tears may want to see the fifth chapter of James
Gleick's bestseller CHAOS.

Joshua Roberts