Highlighted Selections from:

Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science


Hayles, Katherine. Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1990. Print.

p.24: it is necessary to understand how and why certain questions became important in various disciplines before the appearance of the new paradigms. The dual emphasis on cultural fields and disciplinary sites implies a universe of discourse that is at once fragmented and unified. Cultural fields bespeak the interconnectedness of a world in which instantaneous global communication is a mundane reality; local differences acknowledge the power of specialization within contemporary organizations of knowledge. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.26: In the assigning of a positive value to chaos, information theories and technologies played central roles. In addition to creating the necessary technological landscape, they laid the theoretical foundation for conceptualizing chaos as a presence rather than an absence. Later chapters will explore this transformation, showing how a crucial move in the transvaluation of chaos was the separation of information from meaning. Once this distinction was made, the way was open for information to be defined as a mathematical function that depended solely on the distribution of message elements, independent of whether the message had any meaning for a receiver. And this step in turn made it possible to see chaotic systems as rich in information rather than poor in order. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.28: The more chaotic a system is, the more information it produces. This perception is at the heart of the trans valuation of chaos, for it enables chaos to be conceived as an inex haustible ocean of information rather than as a void signifying ab sence. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.29: As new meanings compete with traditional understandings within the sign of chaos, "chaos" becomes a highly charged signifier, attracting interest from many areas within the culture. The underlying forces that have fueled the new paradigms-the rapid development of information technologies, the increasing awareness of global complexities, and consequent attention to small fluctuations-do not depend on any single factor, especially one so slight as the choice of a name for the new theories. But the name is important, for in its multiple meanings it serves as a crossroads at which diverse paths within the culture meet. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.36: When a dichotomy as central to Western thought as order/disorder is destabilized, it is no exaggeration to say that a major fault line has developed in the episteme. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.36: Just as the new scientific paradigms challenge the primacy traditionally accorded to ordered systems, so deconstruction exposes the interrelation between traditional ideas of order and oppressive ideologies. The scientific theories show that deterministic physical systems become chaotic because initial conditions cannot be specified with infinite accuracy; deconstructive readings operate upon texts to reveal the indeterminacy that results from the lack of an absolute ground for language. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.37: The science of chaos reveals a territory that cannot be assimilated into either order or disorder; deconstruction detects a trace that cannot be assimilated into the binary oppositions it deconstructs. These correspondences are not accidental. They reflect what Christine Froula (1985), in comparing deconstruction with quantum mechanics, identified as a deepening crisis of representation in Western thought. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.38: Whereas the earlier division facilitated comparisons between literary and scientific concepts, this construction brings into play distinctions between discipljnary and nondisciplinary work. To work within a discipline is to be trained in 'such a way as to absorb the practices, knowledge, and presuppositions that define the discipline. Among the practices that maintain and replicate disciplinary presuppositions are graduate advisory systems, course contents and selections, comprehensive examinations, and dissertation defenses. Different as literature and science are, they are both clearly disciplines in this sense. -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.42: Starting after World War I, and increasingly after World War II, the energy/dissipation ambiguity within chaos was shadowed by a corresponding ambiguity within order. On the one hand, order connoted stability, regularity, predictability. On the other, it signified a directive or a symbolic configuration one is not free to disobey, as in a military order or Foucault's "order of things" (1970). As chaos came to be seen as a liberating force, order became correspondingly inimical, associated with the mindless replication of military logic or with the oppressive control of a totalitarian state (or state of mind). -- Highlighted aug 26, 2014

p.54: In an early essay, "From Science to Literature" (1967), Roland Barthes distinguishes between science and literature through their different attitudes toward language. Science, Barthes says, regards language instrumentally. For science, language (which is nothing) serves only to transmit concepts (which are everything). In literature, language is not a vehicle transmitting the object, but the object itself. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.56: In science, "theory" generally means a set of interrelated propositions that have predictive power and therefore have the potential to be refuted. In literature, by contrast, "theory" means a set of speculative statements that serve as guides to reading and interpreting texts. Literary critics do not attach much importance to the predictive power of literary theories, for most would agree that one's theoretical orientation determines what will be seen, at least in part. A literary "theory" falls into disuse not because it has been refuted but because its assumptions have become so visible to its practitioners that it can no longer effectively create the illusion that it is revealing something about the text that is intrinsically present, independent of its assumptions. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.148: While the stories have been showing various kinds of self-organizing processes in action within the narratives, the narrative space itself has grown increasingly complex and hence susceptible to self-organization in its own right. In Lem's view, literature-indeed, language itself-is engaged in a feedback loop in which articulating an idea changes the context, and changing the context affects the way the idea is understood, which in its turn leads to another idea, so that text and context evolve together in a constantly modulating interaction. Regulating structures provide a way to control this interaction and use it constructively. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.212: When Barthes contrasts rereading with consumption, he makes this difference in orientation explicit. Rereading, an operation contrary to the commercial and ideological habits of our society, which would have us "throw away" the story once it has been consumed (or "devoured"), so that we can then move on to another story, buy another book, and which is tolerated only in certain marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and pro fessors), rereading is here suggested at the outset, for it alone saves the text from repetition (those who fail to reread are obliged to read the same story everwhere).... Rereading is no longer consumption, but play. [1974: 15-16] The emphasis on play is thus Barthes's answer to Shannon's ideology of use. If texts are useful, then they can be used up. Only when they are infinitely equivocal, forever supplementing their original message with noise supplied by the reader, are they saved from the capitalistic economy that would consign them to obsolescence. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.229: The conflation of geopolitical with theoretical connotations is significant, for it signals a growing feeling that totalizing theories should be discredited because they are associated with oppressive political structures. Particularly important here are Foucault's archaeological analyses of the totalizing theories of the Enlightenment, from grammar to biology to penology, and their complicity with totalitarian political practices (1970, 1973, 1977). -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.232: to what extent are global theories social and linguistic constructions, inventing the reality they purport to describe? If the answer is "entirely, or nearly so," then the political and ideological functions global theories serve should be the focus of our inquiry, rather than the validity of the theories themselves. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.233: As only one example of the powerful analyses to which the privileging of local knowledge gives rise, consider Mary Poovey's article (1986) on the nineteenth-century debate within the medical community over whether ether or chloroform should be the anaesthetic of choice. Poovey demonstrates that this seemingly objective question in fact reveals fissure lines that follow the division of power between male midwives and surgeons, both fighting to establish their legitimacy against female midwives and to capture the lucrative practice associated with medical intervention in the birth process. The anaesthetized body of the woman is the blank space that each group textualizes according to its interests. Clearly, these totalizations do not reveal the experiences actual women had, much less the universal truth about such experiences; rather, they are the constructions that the two sides found expedient for their purposes. If either the medical discourse or its image of woman is seen as monolithic, the rifts that mark the play of power are hidden from view. In this instance as in countless others, attending to difference opens discourse to the kind of ideological analysis that can unmask totalizations for the political constructions they are. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.235: The ideological freight carried by the valorization of local knowledge is explicit in Jean-Francois Lyotard's conclusion to The Postmodern Condition (1984). He foresees that the rapid growth of teletronics in highly developed societies will further consolidate power in the hands of the elite who have access to data banks. He implies that this trend can be countered by the emergence within science of fractal geometry, quantum mechanics, catastrophe theory, and Godel's theorem. Grouping these disparate theories under the label "paralogy," Lyotard suggests that they will let us "wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name" (p. 82). Here, then, the new paradigms are enlisted under the banner of local knowledge to neutralize the totalizing potential of modern information technology. The argument that "paralogy" can rescue postmodern culture from totalitarianism is illfounded for several reasons. It is akin to social Darwinism, in that it confuses scientific theories with social programs. But even if this were not so, the argument still ignores the fact that the global is not absent from these theories, only redefined by them. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.238: Foucault considers the individual not as an autonomous point but rather as a microcosm constituted by the tropes and organizing figures characteristic of the episteme. For Foucault, individuals do not constitute culture; culture constitutes individuals. Moreover, the concept of the episteme implies that different sites within a given cultural period are self-similar. Foucault (1970) finds that during the age of classical reason, for example, the same organizing tropes appear in grammar, biology, political theory, and psychology. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.291: Among the first indications that separating messages from their contexts could have dramatic effects were the weapons-guidance systems that an improved information technology made possible. Primo Levi (1985), in his account of Jewish partisans fighting against the Germans in World War II, vividly recalls what it felt like for the weapons operator to be separated from the context in which the weapons were used.

I was in the artillery, you know. It's not like having a rifle. You set up the piece, you aim, you fire, and you can't see a thing.... Who knows how many men have died at my hand? Maybe a thousand, maybe not even one. Your orders come by field telephone or radio, through earphones: left three, drop one, you obey, and that's the end of it. It's like bomber planes; or when you pour acid into an anthill to kill the ants: a hundred thousand ants die, and you don't feel any thing, you aren't even aware of it. [1985:110-111).

Since World War II, weapons-guidance systems have of course be come much more sophisticated, transforming the psychology of modern warfare. The awareness that our entire social context can be annihilated by weapons that we will not even see is no doubt one reason why contexts in general seem to us precarious, capable of instantaneous mutation or extinction. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.292: G.W.S. Trow (1978), following a similar line of thought, has argued that contemporary Americans live "within the context of no context." According to Trow, context as such has disappeared be cause our lives are split between an enormous grid of two hundred million people and the intimate family circle gathered around the TV set. With very little in between, especially for the growing percentage of the population who live in large urban centers, these two very different communities of discourse try to pretend that they share the same context. Consequently, context becomes a construction rather than a natural result of shared activities. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.294: Consider the term "context control," which entered the vernacular as a euphemism favored by government spokes men. It implies that if one can control the context in whch damaging information is released, one has a much better chance of controlling the way the information will be interpreted. It goes with out saying that in these instances context is seen as a construction to be manipulated rather than a preexisting condition. Another example is the "disinformation" that government officials have acknowledged giving out to the domestic press as well as to foreign governments. Only in a (created?) context of national security is it plausible to distinguish between "disinformation" and lies. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.298: For Jameson, postmodernism is not a style but a "cultural dominant," emerging from capitalistic commodification carried to the extreme. As information replaces industrial production as the basis for the economy, capitalism does not disappear. Rather it enters its purest form, for now there is a quantifiable medium of exchange to which everything can be reduced, even human beings. Consequently, such high-tech buildings as the Bonaventure are not signifiers that point to technology as the signified. Instead, technology itself is a signifier, pointing to a mass of interconnected information networks of such enormous complexity that the human mind can no longer comprehend them. According to Jameson, that is why we structure our buildings and our narratives to image spaces so complex they elude human comprehension. Our technology is simply another im age we make to body forth our sense of the global networks that control our lives, but that are so far beyond our powers of perception that we cannot even see them, much less control them. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.299: Whereas space detaches itself from mundane reality and forms a richly configured realm of its own, time sinks into the media experience of constructed, repetitious packages and becomes a series of disconnected intervals. As with much else, Borges anticipated this development in his essay "New Refutation of Time" (1964), which observes that human identity depends on memory and memory depends on seeing time as a continuous orderly progression. If time is cut loose from the idea of sequence, Borges suggests, every man who reads Shakespeare becomes, for that moment, Shakespeare. The cutting loose of time from sequence, and consequently from human identity, constitutes the third wave of postmodernism. Time still exists in cultural postmodernism, but it no longer functions as a continuum along which human action can meaningfully be plotted. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.310: A similar correlation between culture and theory obtins between new scientific treatments of time. Time is rarely represented these days by pointers moving across a mechanical clock's face; instead it is signified by the blinking display of an electronic counter. Similarly, time in fractal geometry is not treated as the advancement of points along a number line. Rather, it is conceptualized as small changes in the iterative formulae that are used to generate fractal shapes. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.311: The science of chaos shares with other postmodernisms a deeply ingrained ambivalence toward totalizing structures. On the one hand, it celebrates the disorder that earlier scientists ignored or disdained, seeing turbulent flow not as an obstacle to scientific progress but as a great swirling river of information that rescues the world from sterile repetition. On the other hand, it also shows that when one focuses on the underlying recursive symmetries, the deep structures underlying chaos can be revealed and analytical solutions can sometimes be achieved. It is thus like other postmodernisms in that it both resists and contributes to globalizing structures. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.314: Assuming that cultural history is always a dialogue between critics rather than an objective record of what happened, one would suppose that this dialogue changes over time, and that this evolution itself constitutes a narrative, or more properly a metanarrative. When Lyotard defined postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition as "incredulity toward metanarratives," he had in mind such specific social narratives as the story of scientific progress and the rise of democratic education (p. xxiv). But what are the essential components of narrative construction, if not language, context, time, and the human? The denaturing of experience, in other words, constitutes a cultural metanarrative; and its peculiar property is to imply incredulity not just toward other metanarratives but toward narrative as a form of representation. It thus implies its own deconstruction. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.314: In a fully denatured narrative, one would expect the language to be self-referential; the context to be self-consciously created, perhaps by the splicing together of disparate contexts; the narrative progression to be advanced through the evolution of underlying structures rather than through chronological time; and the characters to be constructed so as to expose their nature as constructions. -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014

p.315: Although I have defined cultural postmodernism as the denaturing of experience and have placed it within the time frame of the twentieth century, the literary strategies mentioned above can be found in texts from virtually any period. What could be more self-referential than the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, or more effective at representing the denatured human than Frankenstein? -- Highlighted aug 27, 2014