Publication 7849

Slater A. (2020) Autopoiesis between literature and science: Maturana, Varela, Cervantes. In: Collective T. T. (ed.) The Palgrave handbook of twentieth and twenty-first century literature and science. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham: 283–308. Fulltext at
This chapter traces how the concept of autopoiesis, originating in the field of theoretical biology with Chilean scientists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, has generated a wide range of disciplinary uses outside the sciences. The unlikely transit of autopoiesis was made possible in large part by the interdisciplinary ferment of postwar cybernetics that recast living organisms as information-processing machines. This chapter highlights the overlooked significance of the literary model that inspired this paradigm shift in the re-description of cellular life: Cervantes’s seventeenth-century novel Don Quixotede la Mancha. Through a reading of cybernetics, autopoiesis, and Cervantes, this essay compares scientific concepts of self-organization with the literary stakes of autopoiesis and “languaging” for theorists such as Sylvia Wynter and Michel Foucault.

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