Oblique Strategies

oblique strategies

Whenever I’m trying to find my way around a creative block, I like to consult Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. The Oblique Strategies are (basically) a deck of cards, each containing a cryptic instructional aphorism. The deck came to be when Eno, a musician/producer and Schmidt, a painter, discovered that they both

…tended to keep a set of basic working principles which guided them through the kinds of moments of pressure – either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you’re running up a big buck studio bill. Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking – to jog the mind. (Gregory Taylor, “A Primer on the Oblique Strategies”)

Schmidt and Eno suggest several possible ways to consult the deck: “They can be used as a pack (a set of posibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from a shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case the card is trusted even if it appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.” Of course, the best way to get a sense for what the Oblique Strategies are all about is to try them yourself.  I recommend the online version here.

Since Aarseth counts the I Ching among his examples of “cybertext,” I wonder if he would also count the Oblique Strategies? While the deck itself is finite, the game-like format of consultation is designed to apply to any situation and hence yield limitless results. However, there’s some question as to whether consulting the deck really constitutes a “nontrivial effort” on the part of the consultee. Since the playing field of the game is real life (and not a more controlled cybertextual space) it’s entirely possible to consult the deck and not follow the suggested course of action (bearing in mind that the suggested course is totally open to the reader’s interpretation). Or is it?

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