Poetics as a Theory of Everything

Poetics Lab
3

Drawing on poetics and visual art as well as philosophy and the science of complex systems, Ira Livingston's Poetics as a Theory of Everything explores what our seemingly most artificial conceptual constructs (such as poems and metaphors) and even the most illegitimate offspring of the human brain (such as drug-induced hallucinations) can tell us about the natural processes that shape living creatures and other systems. Reviewers have described Livingston's previous books as "lucid, playful, and reader-friendly," "exhilarating and moving," and "high-level discursive performance art full of conceptual kicks." Poetics as a Theory of Everything begins by considering current obsessions with both sustainability and imminent apocalypse-- symptoms of the postmodern condition-- and follows them down to their roots, which extend all the way into our common predicament as living beings. Subsequent chapters take up constraint (a fundamental creative principle in poetry, games-- and thermodynamics) and meaning (understood as a Rube Goldberg-like process whereby systems interact with their fellow systems, subsystems, and environments). The book ends lyrically with a series of prose sonnets and illustrations that develop these principles. Throughout the book, text and images embody a principle shared by systems theory and Buddhist/Daoist thought: that the same process that leads to the fragmentation and dissolution of form also leads to its emergence, consolidation and elaboration.
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About the author

Trained first as a visual artist and then in poetics, cultural theory and the study of complex systems, Ira Livingston is the author of several books that bridge these fields. He teaches and directs the Poetics Lab initiative at Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York.
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5.0
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Additional Information

Publisher
Poetics Lab
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Published on
Sep 23, 2016
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Pages
377
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ISBN
9781912022670
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / Criticism & Theory
Science / System Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM free.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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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 Maturana’s 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.

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.
In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth—the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet— Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.

Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.

Some of the biggest problems facing the world—war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation—are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.

While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.

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