Materialitet i förändring
The project explores conceptualizations of nature, and discourses on cognition within the natural sciences and the humanities, how they relate to each other, and how they are reflected in cultural representation.
Project manager at MDU
The project explores conceptualizations of nature, and discourses on cognition within the natural sciences and the humanities, how they relate to each other, and how they are reflected in cultural representation. Historically, Western views of the world have typically been anthropocentric, treating nature as an object and a resource for human purposes. Underlying these views are humanist ideas about humans’ superior reason and a materialistic understanding of the world, drawing on early modern conceptions of causality, intentionality, and agency. During the last few decades, however, this view has been challenged by what Hayles describes as "the second wave of cybernetics", concretized in everyday life by the increasing presence of various types of artificial, intelligence. Informed by theories within physics and theoretical biology, this technological development seems to ascribe presumably human qualities such as cognition and, consequently, agency to natural phenomena: Maturana & Varela suggest that knowledge is a biological phenomenon and that all life, even the life of the simplest organism or a plant, should be understood as a process of cognition. Kauffman maintain that presumably mental phenomena such as agency, creativity and purposeful action are "physical" and therefore may be studied as natural phenomena. Based on these theories Denning predicts a new paradigm of natural computing that will come from mimicking the techniques by which biological organisms process information.
These theories, in turn, inform and coincide with new materialist ideas within the social sciences and the humanities, which undermine the focus on social construction and direct its interest towards the physical reality. Via the concept of agential realism, Barad provides a framework for understanding humans and human knowledge as being reliant on human embodiment and embeddedness in the physical environment. Alaimo predicts a profoundly altered sense of self, based on trans-corporeality, or movement across bodies and nature. Drawing on Barard’s and Alaimo’s theories Operman & Iovino call for a material ecocriticism which focuses on bodily experiences and practices, and the interplay between the human and the non-human.
While recognizing that there can be no simple passage from natural to social sciences or cultural expression, in this research I will take seriously the notion that mental spaces intersect with physical spaces and apply this to complex contemporary articulations. The project will in this spirit discuss reflections of this new materialism in Swedish contemporary literary texts such as Kerstin Ekman’s essays Herrarna i skogen and Se blomman!, Tomas Bannerhed’s novel Korparna, and Peter Törnqvist’s novel Koskvridning 140 grader. By examining textual representations of nature’s agency, how natural things configure meanings, the overreaching aim will be to assess literature’s ability to enhance our environmental imagination.