It's been trendy these past few years to apply Chaos Theory to everything, perhaps because it seems to apply to most everything, from the stock market to planetary orbits. So it's not surprising that literary theorists have seized hold of this next Big Thing. One result has been some predictable silliness. On the other hand, it seems to me that a couple of fundamental notions of Chaos Theory apply quite well to the act of reading.

Some kinds of reading are intended to produce very similar effects (optimally the same effect) in all readers. Think of computer manuals, for example. The author wants a linear, predictable cause/effect relationship between the act of reading and the effect on the reader. Very non-Chaos.

Other kinds of writing are meant to be non-linear, particularly poetry. Chaos Theory posits that small, even tiny perturbations in the initial conditions of a scientific system result in wildly different effects later, the so-called "flapping butterfly effect." Consider how tiny changes in how an author's language use, the literary analog to a scientific system, produce huge differences in how the language is perceived by the reader. A verb change here, a new preposition there, really matters. And these changes give results which, although some are more likely than others, are unpredictable.

Now for the fun part. Although small changes in the language cause huge differences in the perceptions in individual readers, I suspect that the sum of these effects on readers defines a fractal, one which reveals a consistent pattern. Maybe even now some lit/crit mathematician is writing the equations. After all, research suggests that the brain itself is in fractal form.