U. Eco, The Open Work

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It is quite funny that The Open Work as a book resembles the notions it has introduced. It's in a way "indetermined"… The book is a collection of Umberto Eco's essays that appeared in press before being published in a book form. It had a few differing editions in Italian, and in consequence now, in different languages, the contents might be quite different from one The Open Work to another.

The central and probably present in all the editions is the essay "The Poetics of the Open Work" which introduces the notion of openness in art. This is applied to art in general, but inspiration claimed as main is music and Eco directly opens up with talking about:

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Klavierst├╝ck XI (1952)
Luciano Berio, Sequenza I for Flute (1958)
Henri Pousser, Scambi (1957)
Pierre Boulez, Third Piano Sonata (1955)

There are some recurring themes from different areas: James Joyce (literature), Bertold Brecht (theatre), John Dewey (philosophy), Zen Buddhism ("religion") and references some unusual areas like: theory of information (mathematics), Gestalt vs transactional (psychology) or quantum (physics).
Openness in art is analyzed in the context of wider cultural phenomenons.

Definition of Open Work (as in the Glossary)

A work of art which is not fully determined by its author.

The term was introduced in 1962 (first in Menabb journal and Umberto Eco's book Opera Aperta), and the above definition is only one of a few provided by the author (we refer here to "second degree of openness"). For Eco, open pieces of music were a main inspiration to develop theory around the term, but focus of the book is rather on literature and a wider understanding of openness, where it's not the shape of the work but it's meaning is to be co-created by the audience. As there were many degrees of openness introduced at once, the term was adopted rather inconsistently to different languages.

Music games are open works, as the performace of a single game (and btw also possible meanings conveyed by it) will always significantly differ from one to another.


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