Oct 16, 2008


the workmanship of risk is the kind of work in which serendipity can make itself visible. one of the major characters of the workmanship of risk is the cumulative, irreversible trajectory of the work. a mistake made at any point in the work irretrievably affects everything up to that point and cannot be undone (hence the risk). "fixing a mistake" is frequently thought of as "undoing the mistake," but it can be a process of either undoing or of habilitation. undoing is the more certain mode and the mode of strong path determinism, but it leads to no final product that is more than was initially envisaged.

habilitation (making the mistake part of the work) only becomes likely where undoing is not possible -- the linear progress of the workmanship of risk is thus the element that opens the work to new and unexpected developments. horace walpole, who may be credited (if we believe wikipedia) with introducing the concept of serendipity to the english language, called it "accidental sagacity -- for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description": the elements of grace* and stochasticity in the habilitation of mistakes.

* on which, also see lawrence weschler's idea of grace. the event in which a mistake is transformed, habilitated is a combination of chance and preparation: "There is all that preparation -- preparation for receptivity -- and then there is something else beyond that, which is gratis, for free."

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