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Between Science and Literature

An Introduction to Autopoetics

Ira Livingston

Publication Year: 2005

Between Literature and Science follows through to its emerging 21st-century future the central insight of 20th-century literary and cultural theory: that language and culture, along with their subsystems and artifacts, are self-referential systems. The book explores the workings of self-reference (and the related performativity) in linguistic utterances and assorted texts, through examples of the more open social-discursive systems of post-structuralism and cultural studies, and into the sciences, where complex systems organized by recursive self-reference are now being embraced as an emergent paradigm. This paradigmatic convergence between the humanities and sciences is autopoetics (adapting biologist Hubert Maturanas term for self-making? systems), and it signals a long-term epistemological shift across the nature/culture divide so definitive for modernity. If cultural theory has taught us that language, because of its self-referential nature, cannot bear simple witness to the world, the new paradigmatic status of self-referential systems in the natural sciences points toward a revived kinship of language and culture with the world: language bears witness? to the world. _x000B_The main movement of the book is through a series of model explications and analyses, operational definitions of concepts and terms, more extended case studies, vignettes and thought experiments designed to give the reader a feel for the concepts and how to use them, while working to expand the autopoetic internee by putting cultural self-reference in dialogue with the self-organizing systems of the sciences. Along the way the reader is introduced to self-reference in epistemology (Foucault), sociology (Luhmann), biology (Maturana/Varela/Kauffman), and physics and cosmology (Smolin). Livingston works through the fundamentals of cultural, literary, and science studies and makes them comprehensible to a non-specialist audience.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Writing Between

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pp. ix-xii

Years ago I had the exhilarating—and frustrating—experience of coteaching an interdisciplinary seminar on reflexivity with a physicist and philosopher. The physicist led us through Gödel’s incompleteness theorem to show how reflexivity...

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pp. xiii

Particular thanks to N. Katherine Hayles for her inspiration and her support of this book and to Joan Catapano, Steve Shaviro, and Susan Squier for their generous readings of the manuscript; to Samuel Delany for responding to my questions...

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1 The Livingthinglikeness of Language

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pp. 1-3

This book is an introduction to a constellation of ideas about selfreference and performativity. What these ideas have in common, to start with, is that they develop alternatives to the narrowly realist view of referential language. The focus on this common feature makes the book an introduction to the most important axis of...

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2 Words and Things

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pp. 4-10

This book takes off from a simple proposition: that language is kin to the world it inhabits; language bears withness to the world. Since I was trained as a literary theorist, I consider this mostly as a proposition and less as a truth, but the proposition itself suggests (in this case anyway) that there may be less difference between...

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3 Thirds and Wings

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pp. 11-14

If language is of the world, like galaxies and ecosystems, this means it participates in what it represents, though how privileged it may be either as a representative or as a participant remains to be seen. “Always part of the totality it represents” is how deconstructionist literary theorist Paul de Man characterized the operation...

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4 The Order of Things in a Nutshell

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pp. 15-24

Epistemology is the study of knowledge; an episteme is a paradigm or a kind of logic—or more descriptively a kind of ecology—that governs various forms of knowledge at a specific time and place. Foucault’s Order of Things traces shifts in the Western episteme since the seventeenth century, focusing on the interrelated histories...

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5A rtistic Interlude I: The Sick Mind Continues to Infinity

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pp. 25-30

Foucault milked the drama of “the sick mind” in implicit opposition to the supposedly stable and normal categories of language, science, and reason. Of course, it is more than a sick mind’s fancy that things are capable of being categorized in all kinds of ways, capable of entering into a range of different and sometimes mutually...

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6 An Introductory Vignette

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pp. 31-35

Once upon a time, about a billion years ago (or so geologists say), near the middle of the North American continent, the earth split open and oozed out vast amounts of molten rock. As it cooled, the rock collapsed in on itself and formed a giant depression that would later fill up with the waters of Lake Superior. Millions of small air bubbles petrified in the cooling rock, riddling it with hollow...

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7 Sometimes a Cigar

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pp. 36-38

Is there such a thing as things in themselves? We can at least circle around this question by thinking through one of the most famous pronouncements on the subject: Freud’s supposed assertion that “sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.” To begin with, it should be noted that this is an especially dubious assertion from a man who kept...

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8 On Meaning

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pp. 39-42

Occasionally, when I’ve been bored with a book I’ve been reading, I’ve flipped ahead through the pages and thought, there is nothing but words here! What was I expecting? Never mind that people have lived and died for what is written in books; at these moments, it is thoroughly dispiriting to reflect that the text to come— no matter how informative...

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9 Fact and Fiction

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pp. 43-50

Since the opposition between fact and fiction has come to seem such a given, it is surprising to find that the words fact and fiction both derive from Latin words that mean nearly the same thing—to do or to make (as does poetry from the Greek poeien). In English, fiction has always had the primary sense of something fashioned...

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10 How Bad Facts Make Good Theories

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pp. 51-57

It is a truism that a “higher truth” than the merely factual is evoked in literature. What this usually means is that by not getting bogged down in the facts (understood as particular historical details), a work of fiction or poetry is better able to paint a “big picture” of how the world works and what kind of world it is; it misses...

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11 Self-Reference I

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pp. 58-69

Linguist Roman Jakobson identified self-reference as the predominant linguistic function of poetry; he called it poeticity. The term refers to the way poetry tends to call attention to itself as an artifact of language—for example, by rhyme or meter...

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12 Self-Reference II

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pp. 70-77

This section develops another couple of important dimensions of self-reference via the consideration of three literary texts—from 1853, 1936, and 1970—that refer to themselves, circuitously, as economic transactions. These texts differ from the ones we have just considered, at least insofar as a text is not a running dog...

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13 Autopoiesis

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pp. 78-89

Among the most familiar of all science-fictional technology is Star Trek’s transporter, a device that can dematerialize a thing—even a living body—into a pattern of information that it transmits as a beam and rematerializes at another location. A living body, in fact, as construed by contemporary biology, is already more...

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14 Poetic Interlude: Defrosting

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pp. 90-96

Robert Frost, famously, called poetry “a momentary stay against confusion.” This description assigns an important function to poetry, perhaps even including a political role in affirming some of what dominant power and ideology might otherwise render unintelligible. Unfortunately...

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15 Performativity I: Power and Meaning

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pp. 97-108

If self-organization is a circle, or, just a little more elaborately, if organisms and communities are complex, self-enfolding fractal circuitries, then violence would seem to be a kind of straight line. A subject inflicting immediate violence on an object seems to be the most straightforward kind of violent...

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16 Performativity II: Metacleavage

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pp. 109-119

Realism and referentialism would like to align the way words (or, more generally, categories in language) are divided and joined together to the way things in the world are divided and joined together (and by the way, there is a word—one of those...

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17 Artistic Interlude II: The Abyss of Distinction

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pp. 120-123

I had only been in the Louvre once before, and only for a couple of hours. The immensity of it is too daunting; the nightmare of déjà vu corridors and endless, airless cocktail-party drawing rooms where grandiose paintings hang around stiffly, not speaking...

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18 Performativity III: Retroactivism

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pp. 124-133

In chapter 16, we looked at some examples of how, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, modernity and rationalization performatively shaped space and time and bodies and wood and labor, and how some of these articulations inform...

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19 The Return to Resemblance

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pp. 134-145

The shaping of scientific theory by its social context is a first principle of the critical position often called constructionism, of which an early example (see chapter 2) is Marx’s assertion that Darwin had found “among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labor, competition . . . and the Malthusian ‘struggle...

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20 Gravity Cannot Be Held Responsible?

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pp. 146-159

Albert Einstein may have said that “gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.” Since I haven’t been able to find where he is supposed to have said it, I have to doubt the attribution, but since much of what’s significant about the statement resides in what makes it definitive for a popular icon of scientific...

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21 Queer in a Queer World

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pp. 160-173

Samuel Delany’s science fiction story “The Star Pit,” written in 1965, traces intricately orchestrated dynamics of love, dependency, and entrapment; the story also features a series of figures of model ecological systems (“ecologaria”) that reflect on such orchestrations. When he wrote the story, Delany had just read Frank...

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22 An Alienist History

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pp. 174-182

I hope I won’t jeopardize the otherwise unassailable validity of this book by concluding in a somewhat different tack; in any case, this section will begin as pretty straightforward cultural criticism but slip quickly into the mode of fiction and attempt to do most...


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pp. 183-188


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pp. 189-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780252091742
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252030086

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2005