Autopoiesis: Autology, Autotranscendence and Autonomy: Thesis Eleven Critical Theory and Historical Sociology # 88/2007. London: SAGE Publications

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportAntologiForskningfagfællebedømt

This issue of Thesis Elevenelaborates connections between the notion
of self-organization and creativity. These are inspired in part by proposals,
re¿ections and ideas in the work of Cornelius Castoriadis. Castoriadis
addressed debates on self-organization on more than one occasion in the
1980s and 1990s – particularly in a French context. While his work has
remained (to date) at distance from the rising number of suggestions, especi-
ally regarding social and cultural theory, that have come out of these debates
on self-organization, Castoriadis made a speci¿c and original contribution to
them. His work touches importantly on two aspects of self-organization. First,
it takes issue with the problem of how self-organization – and its relations
to various aspects of systems theory – may be thought at all within the
options and constraints of a ‘human strata of the real’. Second, it probes
central aspects of how human social and historical forms may be related to
the issues of self-organization by indicating a novel domain of ‘self-creation
deployed as history’ (Castoriadis).
For one thing, debates on self-organization have tended to rationalize
issues of the human – for example through ‘reality-modeling’ (John Casti) –
whether via cognitive frameworks or models of society and culture. Secondly,
attempts to adapt debates within the humanities, e.g. in philosophy, social
theory and cultural studies, have tended to end in anti-humanism, ranging
from Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘abstract machine’ to Friedrich von Hayek’s
‘spontaneous order’ or Niklas Luhmann’s idea of social auto-poiesis.
Put differently, there are interesting interpretations, interventions and
appraisals to be found in approaching self-organization with a Castoriadean
inspiration, not least in relation to the human domain. And, vice versa,
there may be new important perspectives on his work by relating it back to
the larger discussion of self-organization. This is so not only in terms of
possible quali¿cations and comments, but in an altogether more ambitious
way that contributes to rethinking self-organization via Castoriadis’s models
of human self-creation, and that adapt his re¿ections on meta-instable forms of cosmological or trans-regional self-creating to the regional speci¿cs of the  human strata.
No discussion of self-organization is possible today without reference
to the major contribution by Luhmann, and it is to Luhmann that Michael
Schlitz’s article in this issue turns – or more speci¿cally to Luhmann’s use
of Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form. Schlitz argues that criticisms of the Laws
of Formfrom a mathematical standpoint fail to understand the distinctive
character of a ‘protologic’ in Spencer-Brown’s work, which is based on a
topological conception of mathematics. Moreover, the protological character
of the Laws of Formindicates a framework for self-organization by an
extended questioning of how self-reference may be conceived as self-
organization. Schiltz explains how the drawing of a distinction is a form.
Form emerges through the distinction (say) of inside and outside, or surface
and depth. But what happens when the surface of something is the surface
of a torus? In this case, the strict distinction between inside and outside or
surface and depth is undermined. This example translates into a theory not
just of ontological non-identity (or distinction) but of the paradoxical
epistemological autology of self-referential forms where the inside is the
outside. The paradoxes of self-referential forms in Luhmann’s work make it
possible to open the rational underpinnings of self-organization, e.g. within
cybernetics, to the prospects of imagination, not least because imagination
is driven by such paradoxes. The depth of the imagination is all surface, and
all of its surfaces are deep structures.
Schiltz’s exploration of autology grows out of one of a number (a
growing number) of programmes that deal seriously with the idea of
autopoiesis in society and nature. The notion of an autonomous society or
the radical phusis of nature are two typical examples of revealing attempts
to understand autopoietic phenomena. Suzi Adams steps off also in this
direction when she confronts and aligns Francisco Varela’s notion of
autopoiesis with the later Castoriadis’s work on trans-regional self-creating.
Adams attempts, ¿rst of all, to open a connection between the propositions
of a self-organized living being and Castoriadis’s outline of a cosmology of
fragmented self-creation. Second, Adams re¿ects on the implications of this
for Castoriadis’s philosophy. She argues that a focus on the self-organization
of the living being implies not only a distinct move towards an ontology of
radical physis in Castoriadis’s later work, but also, along with it, a revised
version of his project of autonomy.
Autonomy, like autology and the other theme of this issue, autotran-
scendence, are all variations of the autopoietic. The theme of the autotran-
scendent, alongside autonomy, is explored in both the work of Dominique
Bouchet and Anders Michelsen.
Bouchet discusses the issue of self-organization in terms of autonomy
conceived of as a de¿ning (indeed perhaps the de¿ning) problem of
modernity. Castoriadis suggests a mutual and complementary relation between subjective and collective autonomy. Bouchet’s interpretation of this is very  radical and in certain respects quite startling. He considers how in modernity
emerge spontaneous social orders (like markets or publics) that obey their
own laws, and that develop independently of social actors’ will and
consciousness. What is at stake here is not the liberal account of autonomy,
nor is the action of the spontaneous at all like the heteronomy of traditional
authorities. The autonomous workings of the modern social bond mark out
a radically new problematic – that of autotranscendence, which at once
represents both the immanence and transcendence of the self-organized
human realm.
Michelsen also turns to the theme of autotranscendence along the way
to Castoriadis’s theory of autonomy. Michelsen prefaces his discussion of this
theory with a genealogical exploration of various post-1945 theories of
self-organization. Like Bouchet, this genealogy culminates in re¿ections on
Castoriadis’s brilliant revision of these theories. Michelsen elaborates this with
the help of two contrasting criticisms of Castoriadis – one in Arnason’s work
and the other in Dupuy’s work. The ¿rst engages with Castoriadis via a
cultural hermeneutics; the second via a complex methodological individual-
ism. Michelsen moves through this interesting debate and then goes on to
propose ways in which Castoriadis’s philosophy of self-creation contributes
to a notion of autonomy that, akin to Dupuy and Bouchet and to Luhmann
and Schiltz, has its own paradoxical character. In Castoriadis’s theory, creation
is organization, society is phusis, effectuations are effects, and conditions are
conditional. This is a feat of remarkable conceptualization. Beyond the
speci¿cs of any particular theory or theorists, beyond the philosophy wars,
it resonates deeply with the paradoxical autonomy of modernity and the
paradoxical logic of the torus. Like the spontaneous but unwilled social order
or the inside surface turned outside, Castoriadis, from his earliest days to his
last days, insisted that meaning is circular. Upon that impossible condition
rests the possibility of autonomy.

ForlagSAGE Publications
Antal sider144
ISBN (Trykt)1-4129-2146-5
StatusUdgivet - 2007

Bibliografisk note

Særnummer af Thesis Eleven om Cornelius Castoriadis

ID: 15172608