N. Katherine Hayles: Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (1990)

28 July 2014, dusan

“At the same time that the study of nonlinear dynamics came into its own in the sciences, the focus of literary studies shifted toward local, fragmentary modes of analysis in which texts were no longer regarded as deterministic or predictable. N. Katherine Hayles here investigates parallels between contemporary litera­ture and critical theory and the emerging interdisciplinary field known as the science of chaos. She finds in both scientific and literary discourse new interpre­tations of chaos, which is seen no longer as disorder but as a locus of maximum information and complexity. The new paradigm of chaos includes elements that, Hayles shows, were evident in literary theory and literature before they became prominent in the sciences. She asserts that such similarities between the natural and human sciences are the result not of direct influence but of roots in a common cultural matrix.

Hayles traces the evolution of the concept of chaos and evaluates the work of such theorists as Prigogine, Feigenbaum, and Mandelbrot, for whom chaos entails an unpredictably open universe in which knowledge is limited to local sites and scientific models can never exhaust the possibilities of the actual. But this view does not imply that scientists have given up the search for global ex­planations of natural phenomena, for chaos is conceived of as containing its own form of order. Hayles envisions chaos as a double-edged sword: it can be viewed either as a recognition that disorder plays a more important role in natural processes than had hitherto been recognized or as an extension of order into areas that had hitherto resisted formalization. She examines structures and themes of disorder in The Education of Henry Adams, Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook, and works by Stanislaw Lem. Hayles concludes by showing how the writings of poststructuralist theorists incorporate central features of chaos theory-such as an interest in relating local sites to global structures; a conception of order and disorder as interpenetrating rather than opposed; an awareness that in complex systems small causes can lead to massive effects; and an understanding that complex systems can be both deterministic and unpredictable.

Chaos Bound contributes to and enliven current debates among chaos theorists, cultural critics and cultural historians, critical theorists, literary critics interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, researchers in nonlinear dynamics, and others concerned with the relation between science and culture.” (from the back cover)

Publisher Cornell University Press, 1990
ISBN 0801497019, 9780801497018
309 pages
via author

Review: Tom LeClair (SubStance, 1991)


See also Hayles, The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century, 1984.

David Aubin: A Cultural History of Catastrophes and Chaos: Around the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, France 1958-1980 (1998)

31 October 2013, dusan

“This is the story of a group of scientists who, in the local context of the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHÉS), France, contributed to the elaboration of catastrophe theory and deterministic chaos theory. Starting with a study of the role of Bourbaki’s mathematics on the French intellectual scene (and especially with respect to structuralism), this dissertation examines the resources from topology, embryology, and linguistics used by René Thom to construct catastrophe theory.

It describes the foundation of the IHÉS by Léon Motchane in 1958 and the ideology of fundamental research that shaped it. It reviews the history of structural stability for differential equations, focusing on the work of Aleksandr Andronov and Solomon Lefschetz, among others, and the synthesis achieved in the 1960s by Stephen Smale at the University of California, Berkeley. These mathematical developments were used by Thom to develop new modeling practices. The IHÉS, which welcomed topologists such as E. Christopher Zeeman and Ralph Abraham, played a role in developing modeling practices based on recent advances in topology. A physics professor at the IHÉS, David Ruelle, together with Dutch mathematician Floris Takens, adapted the modeling practices of these ‘applied topologists’ and proposed a mechanism for the onset of turbulence, thereby introducing the concept of strange attractors. Looking at the history of fluid mechanics, I argue that Ruelle’s work displaced earlier emphases on fundamental laws, like the Navier-Stokes equations, and focused on the modes of representation rather than representations themselves. A certain Bourbakization of physics and the advent of the computer shaped this evolution.

Finally, focusing on convention, and taking the Rayleigh-Bénard system as a boundary system, various communities’ responses to the Ruelle-Takens model are examined, in particular hydrodynamic stability theorists, phase transition physicists and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes’s group, and chemical physicists orbiting Ilya Prigogine. Prior interest in developing interdisciplinary approaches for the study of turbulence helped the adaptation of a dynamical systems approach for the study of natural phenomena, greatly inspired by the work of Smale, Thom, and Ruelle.” (Abstract)

Ph. D. thesis
Princeton University
782 pages

single PDF (final section “Sources and Bibliography” missing; no OCR)
PDF chapters (from the author’s website)

Brian Massumi: Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002)

15 January 2011, dusan

Although the body has been the focus of much contemporary cultural theory, the models that are typically applied neglect the most salient characteristics of embodied existence—movement, affect, and sensation—in favor of concepts derived from linguistic theory. In Parables for the Virtual Brian Massumi views the body and media such as television, film, and the Internet, as cultural formations that operate on multiple registers of sensation beyond the reach of the reading techniques founded on the standard rhetorical and semiotic models.

Renewing and assessing William James’s radical empiricism and Henri Bergson’s philosophy of perception through the filter of the post-war French philosophy of Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault, Massumi links a cultural logic of variation to questions of movement, affect, and sensation. If such concepts are as fundamental as signs and significations, he argues, then a new set of theoretical issues appear, and with them potential new paths for the wedding of scientific and cultural theory. Replacing the traditional opposition of literal and figural with new distinctions between stasis and motion and between actual and virtual, Parables for the Virtual tackles related theoretical issues by applying them to cultural mediums as diverse as architecture, body art, the digital art of Stelarc, and Ronald Reagan’s acting career. The result is an intriguing combination of cultural theory, science, and philosophy that asserts itself in a crystalline and multi-faceted argument.

Parables for the Virtual will interest students and scholars of continental and Anglo-American philosophy, cultural studies, cognitive science, electronic art, digital culture, and chaos theory, as well as those concerned with the “science wars” and the relation between the humanities and the sciences in general.

Publisher Duke University Press, 2002
Post-contemporary interventions series
ISBN 0822328976, 9780822328971
328 pages

google books

PDF (thanks to esco_bar; updated on 2012-7-24)