Feb 9, 2010

What good is systems theory?

I have two questions about systems theory (Luhmann et al):

First, it seems like a pretty good post-ontology ontology, a good description or accounting for the world that doesn't get stuck in essentialisms or attempting to talk about what is, in some Platonic way, but instead uses an evolution metaphor and talks about how the world functions and how it means. But, as a literary theory, how does it help us read?

Second, when we talk about what counts as a "system," don't we walk right into a real tangle of taxonomies? The definition seems clear and laid out -- emerges and differentiates itself from the environment, has boundaries against a boundless totality, "observes" itself, relates to itself, etc. -- but when we start identifying and naming systems, it gets confusing and impractical and a little bit crazy. Like, music is a system, and within that pop music is a system, and then Chuck Berry's music would be a system and Lady Gaga's and Billy Joel's. But then it seems like "love song" would also be a system -- it meets the definition for what counts, I think -- and that system would include some parts and not others. And doesn't our taxonomy then turn into a zoo? Wouldn't any art about love be a system, and all non-liner narratives, and all words with the letter "e"? I just don't see how the systems remain clear, or relate to each other, but maybe all of this is worked out with the "poly" of polysystemic or with the kind-of-awful description of "inter-penetration"?

This seems like a problem, unless it's just going to be a good metaphor for how the world works semantically. Maybe this has all been explained, though. Is there something of Luhmann's I should read?

Note Book Monsters: Geoff