Spring 1997

Oblique strategies

Long out of print, Brian Eno’s ‘worthwhile dilemma’ cards have been reissued by Californian software guru Peter Norton

Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies – subtitled “Over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas” - was devised in the mid-1970s as a way of circumventing ingrained habits of thought and resolving creative blocks that arose during their studio practice as musician and artist. “These cards evolved from our separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing,” they explained. “Sometimes they were recognised in retrospect … sometimes they were identified as they were happening, sometimes they were formulated.” The idea is that the user draws a card at random and attempts to apply whatever instruction appears to the problem at hand: “Abandon normal instruments”, “Discard an axiom”, “What mistakes did you make last time?”, “Overtly resist change”. Three editions were published, but the cards have been out of print since the last revision in 1979 – until now. For his “Fourth Again Revised and More Universal Edition”, Peter Norton, of Norton Utilities fame, spared no expense. Californian graphic designer Pae White has created a double-sided design for each card and a sleek Corian container, while Norton’s selection from Eno’s latest revision has been translated into Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. Norton has reduced the focus on music and painting to give the cards an even broader application and simplified and Americanised the language – with some loss of charm (the classic “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” becomes “Your mistake was a hidden intention”). This long-overdue reissue was initiated with Eno’s co-operation, as a Christmas present for 4,000 friends and contacts. It cries out for more universal release.

First published in Eye no. 24 vol. 6, 1997