Join Project Narrative for a talk by visiting scholar, Toon Staes. “Emergent complexity” is one of the most awe-inspiring notions in science today. Large-scale phenomena as diverse as insect colonies, global markets, the neurology of consciousness, and the evolution of species, all produce complex behavior from underlying, simple rules, without the guidance of a plan or pacemaker. Recent narratology has shown that emergence does not accommodate to narrative form (Abbott 2003, 2008; Walsh 2011, 2016). In this talk, Staes will discuss a number of ways in which novelists try to assimilate the rhetoric of complexity in their work. Staes first considers a cluster of central notions in the study of complexity, then turns to a discussion of Pfitz (1995), a short historical novel by Scottish writer and theoretical physicist Andrew Crumey. In the process, Staes digs up Tom LeClair’s definition of “the systems novel” (1987, 1989), a term LeClair used for the work of science-minded novelists such as Thomas Pynchon and Ursula Le Guin. Staes argues that LeClair’s work remains helpful today, with one caveat: Whereas complexity theory was still nascent when the novelists in LeClair’s corpus started writing, it has become a full-blown part of the intellectual horizons of the writers who have followed in their footsteps.
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