You are here

Talk by Sean Silver, Rutgers University: "The Emergence of the Novel: Jane Austen and Complex Systems”

February 20, 2020 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Austen’s novels achieve a dizzying complexity from a limited amount of material.  They confine themselves to small worlds, composed of no more than three or four families in a country village.  But these same novels offer figures for different ways of calculating content: spaces with interiors larger than their boundaries and wholes greater than parts, in which decisions are made without intentions and effects occur without cause.  This talk positions Austen’s novels against an alternative history of Enlightenment knowledge, locating in some of the foundational documents of Enlightenment empiricism a countervailing interest in a relational theory of knowledge.  This theory has important affinities with the body of thought now known as network theory of complex systems analysis.  Recovering it can help us reposition the novel as a genre constructed to model relationships rather than realisms, networks rather than individuals—the literary form uniquely concerned with the irreducible interweaving of persons and things, the bewildering state of affairs which we have come to call “complex.”