Bruce ClarkeMar 22, 2018
Neocybernetics and Narrative
University of Minnesota Press 2014
As Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science at Texas Tech University, Bruce Clarke has spent the last decade-plus publishing groundbreaking scholarship introducing the application of second-order systems theory to the analysis of literature and media more broadly. The staggering scope of Clarke's multidisciplinary erudition is on full display in the monograph, Neocybernetics and Narrative, out from University of Minnesota Press in 2014. In picking up Niklas Luhmann's neologism "neocybernetics" in place of a more standard second-order cybernetic label, Clarke carves out a theoretical continuum for his thinking that runs along a trajectory from Heinz von Foerster's notions of the observer, through George Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form, Maturana and Varela's biology of cognition, and right up to, and including, Niklas Luhmann's controversial extension of autopoiesis theory to metabiotic social systems; a theoretical move most often excluded from more orthodox second-order cybernetic thinking. The formidable theoretical apparatus he has assembled allows Clarke to frame the reader of literary texts as an observer of semantic structures facilitating the psychic construction of possible worlds of meaning, and to examine literary texts themselves as forms of communicative action that continue the autopoiesis of meaning-constituted social systems along the lines of Luhmann's tripartite process of information, utterance, and understanding. From this launch-pad, Clarke takes us on a stratospheric ride with stops on a variety of fascinating landscapes including the media theory of Friedrich Kittler, the socio-technical explorations of Bruno Latour, and encounters with artistic works as diverse as Virgina Woolf's iconic modernist novel, Mrs. Dalloway and James Cameron's quasi-Gaian special effects blockbuster motion picture, Avatar. As a result, Clarke has given arts and humanities scholars an entirely new set of tools with which to think about artistic production, reception, and mediation.