LITERARY EMERGENTISM

DIMITAR KALEV

Abstract. This essay introduces the philosophy of emergentism to literary theory. The emergent perspective examines the emergence as genesis of a new system that, before its appearance, cannot be predicted or explained by its previous conditions. In our opinion, the most relevant application of the emergent approach is in epistemology and interpretive theories in the philosophy of language. Virtually, in all contemporary literary theoretical discourses epistemological "abyss" between the sensory-represented phenomena of reading and their praphenomena from the text, are necessarily present. Applied to emergentism, this "abyss" always appears as intelligibility of literary creation, perceived first as immanent and then as transcendent. Literary emergentism contemplates the genesis of the text, i.e., it describes the logic of its becoming, giving it strict hierarchical quality and methodological indivisibility. Our concept refers to Rudolf Steiner's philosophy of freedom and insists that literary interpretation inevitably comes to the need to revive in thinking the act of intelligible entities contemplation (according to Plato), whose morphology of motion is the science of logic. Two emergent approach examples from Bulgarian poetry are offered. In conclusion, nine principles of literary emergentism are formulated.

Key words: emergentism, literary theory, emergent approach

1. The intentions of these literary and theoretical speculations are determined by the disappointing and boring prejudices of modern interpretive theories. Reader and text continue to meet on the "neutral" territories of language, structure, hermeneutical and semiotic confabulations, etc. Even literary personalism seems no more than witty chatter between author and critic at an art cafe. The sense of deficiency of epistemes, hierarchy and methodology is palpable and can be defined as yearning for the lost literary mystery.  

2. Emergentism is a concept of interpreting the reality of natural and social human life in all its procedural complexity and forms pertaining to physics, biology, metaphysics, philosophy, neurophysiology and social sciences1. The Cambridge social ontology in the person of Tomas Lawson promotes emergentism as denial of any kind of dualism, implying total independence between the realms of matter and mind, of physical and social, but at the same time insisting on avoiding any reductionist causal explanation of the connections between them2.  

3. Generally, emergentism is concerned with the emergence of certain phenomena, characteristics and properties as a result of the interconnection of other existing units (elements), which, however, they cannot be completely reduced to3. The emergent perspective examines the emergence as genesis of a new system that, before its appearance, cannot be predicted or explained by its previous conditions. According to Geoffrey Hodgson, emergence is a hierarchical category providing means for focusing on higher-level elements and relationships and for avoiding the potentially unsolvable problem of analytical reductionism to lower-level elements4.  

4. Some thinkers propose the thesis of "transformative emergence" and develop an ontological framework in which basic and structured systems or individuals undergo fundamental change, acquiring new forces that are not "latent", i.e., there is no preceding, ontologically justified predisposition for their subsequent emergence5. Naturally, with the emergence of new forces, new laws describing their evolution are already in place.  

5. It would be naive to impute to emergentism psychologism exploring the intentions and qualia of experiences so as to challenge physicalism, opposing to it epiphenomenalist version of emergence. According to Timothy O’Connor of the Stanford School, the most indisputable emerging force is free will, that is, the conscious control of one's own actions through exercising the power of choice6. It is this thinking will that most convincingly opposes the physicalist conception, according to which the behavior of any system is determined by the structure and activity of its parts.  

6. In short, emergentism arises as a natural philosophical and anthropological doctrine that views man as a culturally emerging being and claims that all entirely new traits that appear in the course of human evolution and cultures (symbolic languages, transmission of ideas through languages, autobiographical self, etc.) are typically emerging from the bottom up and are then strongly influenced by the context of the environment7-9. However, with Terrence Deacon of the University of California, USA, author of the theory of incomplete nature, the emergent perspective is somewhat more metaphysical: human consciousness is not just an emerging phenomenon, but arises as a ceaseless creation of something out of nothing – a process that constantly transcends itself. Being human, Deacon argues, means knowing what evolution feels like8.  

7. Recognizing the religious potential of emergent worldview, some researchers classify it as religious naturalism, describing personal interpretations, spiritual and moral responses to emerging human understandings of nature, where these spheres are not experienced as separate categories, but as overall orientation. According to Ursula Goodenough of the University of St. Louis, USA, this orientation encompasses three spheres of human experience: (1) interpretive (theological, philosophical, existential), describing the answers to the Big Questions; (2) spiritual, describing such internal personal responses to existence as gratitude, awe, humility, reverence, etc., and (3) moral, describing external social reactions, such as care, compassion, justice, and trust9. Used in this way, the emergentic approach is readily conductive to atheistic findings in which the perspective of emergence structurizes models for creation that do not require a creator.  

8. Other researchers use the word magical for emergentism, insisting that it opens up countless opportunities to meet and celebrate the magical while remaining aware of the completely natural basis of each encounter. Thus emergentism inevitably reaches transcendence and reverence. In the works of Michael Kalton from the University of Washington, USA, transcendence is used to both denote the vertical ("top-down") interruption in the actions of the transcendent deity, and to describe phenomena of emergence where the interruption (something else) occurs, remaining attached to its predecessors (nothing else)10. Formulating it as "horizontal transcendence", Kalton believes that in this way he deconstructs arrogance in human sensibility, replacing it with awe, gratitude, and the ability to feel that our context is much larger and more important than ourselves. Thus, emergentism is released from evolutionism and moral relativism, i.e., from those arguments according to which without supreme authority, without some arbitrator of plan and purpose, there is no ontological basis for human moral behavior, therefore everything is allowed. In short, the emergent perspective allows us to understand man not as an interrupted, but as an emerging moral unit.  

9. In our opinion, the most relevant application of the emergent approach is in epistemology and literary theory, where each object or text is considered as a function linking sensory perceptions and representations with their conceptual (intelligible) correspondences, i.e., as thinking and logical system. Traced in different perspectives – formalist, hermeneutic, structuralist and other, the object of the literary-critical toolkit is solely and only the existence of the literary work. But in this way, literary history involuntarily ignores its own ontology and accepts it as a gnoseological constant, and the concrete literary discourse remains to function in the concrete literary-historical plot with the naivety for representativeness outside the history of logic, i.e., outside the emergence of consciousness. But existence, Hegel would say, must metamorphose into nothing, and nothing into becoming. “When I think, I shake off my subjective features, immersing myself in the object, allowing the thought to develop from itself, and I think badly if I add something from myself.”11 Here Hegel cannot be identified with any other thinker, because only with him the object of thinking is allowed to swim in this inimitable style in the praphenomenology of thinking ideas. And were it not limited to triads, Hegel's science of logic would be the science of initiation into emergentism.  

10. Literary theory can apply the emergentic approach as a scientific methodology describing the emergence of the text only if interpretive thinking clearly differentiates within itself the transition from conventional reflective logic (which science uses today) to contemplative logic. Transformation (metanoia) would be quite natural, because in his thinking man is actually busy connecting his individual sensory perceptions and ideas with their ideal counterparts circulating by the transcendental intelligentsia (Rudolf Steiner)12. Thus, knowledge inevitably comes to the need to revive in thinking the act of contemplation of these intelligible entities (according to Plato), which, as archetypal prafenomena, are experienced reflectively in the phenomena of concepts, and the morphology of their movement is the science of logic.  

11. For contemplative logic, knowledge is an act of synthesis between the perception and the concept (idea) of the thing and only it constitutes the whole thing. The transition from reflective to contemplative logic evokes the process of world development (ontology) in human sensory reality itself and makes it available to thinking consciousness. Constantly starting out of and returning to the dialectical triad, contemplative logic is internally strictly organized in such a way that the synthesis again undergoes Hegelian "removal", appears to us in its archetypal (conceptual) form and transforms the time process into a two-dimensional space inherent in the figurative and geometric world. Here, the contemplation of synthesis is the key fourth degree of logic in which the thinking subject willfully generates such love for the object of knowledge that it gets free from itself and becomes one with the object itself. Thus, the pure individual will is united with the intelligible entities, which apparently are of volitional nature, too. And in this connection, the researcher experiences the emergent nature of logic, experiences emergence as conceptual perception and/or intuitive insight. Some authors from the anthroposophical school describe three more degrees (seven in total) of contemplative logic – moral intuition, moral fantasy, and moral technique13.  

12. Transposed to literary theory, everything inherent in emergentism in contemplative logic can be applied as an interpretive toolkit, i.e., any text can be "contemplated" as a meta-text in which epistems (more precisely, moral epistems) directly infused into the mind of the literary critic and/or reader, arise from the connections between semantics and intelligibility. Virtually, in all contemporary literary theoretical discourses epistemological "abyss" between the sensory-represented phenomena of reading and their praphenomena from the text, are necessarily present. Applied to emergentism, this "abyss" always appears as intelligibility of literary creation, perceived first as immanent and then as transcendent14. Therefore, in any real attempt at literary reconstructions, there must necessarily be "destruction", which from an epistemological point of view is the designation of this transcendence as "interruption" of the divine "top-down". It is also the Hegelian antithesis of nothingness. Just when we ask ourselves the question of what is anyway going on inside this "interruption" before it becomes a phenomenon of individual literary writing, the hour of emergentism strikes.  

13. In fact, literary emergentism contemplates the genesis of the text, i.e., it describes the logic of its becoming, giving it strict hierarchical quality and methodological indivisibility. It would be misleading to identify emergentism with a variety of literary hermeneutics, at least because the two approaches work with different gnoseological (logical) instruments. Hermeneutics favors prejudices in interpretations and their variable uniqueness, a property of reflective logic. Emergentism does not interpret the literary event, but participates in its becoming, identifying itself with the contemplative logic of the writer, because it possesses an existence of ideal objectivity and universal accessibility. Georg Mead of the University of Chicago, USA, defines hermeneutics as the absence of a special privileged perspective in which traditional thoughts are presented as correct, which is why the activities in which consciousness participates are both irrevocable and revocable15. Both approaches work with the phenomenology of the present, but exploit it at completely different levels. Paraphrasing Scott Taylor, hermeneutic prejudices are transmitted by tradition, whereas literary emergentism is an objective present arising from both the past and the future of the text itself16.With the emergentic approach, literary history ceases to experience texts as old but constantly renewing messages, and recognizes that semantics is always explored in the present, which arises from nothing and therefore without prejudice. In short, emergentism restores the experience of literature as a mysterious practice.  

14. It is appropriate to illustrate the mission of the emergentic approach in literary reconstructions, where (as in any construction) only the question of what can be asked, but there is no answer to the question of how – how the text arises in and from the "interruption" of its transcendent substance. In these cases, the specific goal of the method is to save sensory semantics from abstract attrition and to transpose it into the transcendent.  

15. In a literary-historical plot, Mihail Nedelchev defines Botev's ballad "Hadzhi Dimitar" as a text-substrate and meta-text capable of reincarnation into immanent motifs from the lyrics of the Bulgarian symbolists, through Yavorov, the "September Four", and all the way to Ivan Peychev, Ekaterina Yosifova and Petar Karaangov14. And above all of them, as a kind of parameta-text, according to Nedelchev's profound find, the national mythopoetic text is present. Our hypothesis is that by contemplating this mythopoetic text, the quoted Bulgarian poets pierce it with their thinking will (initially similar to artistic fantasy), behind which intelligible entities (beings), prafenomena of things, necessarily begin to show through. As we have seen, in the literary-emergent aspect, the lyricist operates with a completely different, that is, contemplative thinking, and quite naturally and psychophysiologically leads his logic beyond the concepts of things, connecting them to their transcendent myth-like essence. There, the objects (again quite naturally) undress their static geometric images and one can see and hear (in the literal sense of these words) how behind their illusory reflections the life of real disembodied beings – dwarves, fairies, dragons, small and large gods - dances. This volitional act of lyrical thinking, which connects the shadows (imitations) in the senses with the reality of the imaginations that give them life, is actually the knowledge of the mythopoetic and in this sense it is the contemplative emergence sought by Mihail Nedelchev’s reconstruction.  

16. In our illustration so far, the emergent approach turns literary history into knowledge of knowledge, i.e., into a plot about how the logic of individual lyrical thinking contemplates, achieves and metamorphoses the national mythopoetic text. In the sense of Mihail Nedelchev's interpretation, the emergence literally splits Botev's ballad with the last verse in the fourth quatrain: "But shut up, heart!". Lyrical thinking suddenly collapses into the epistemological abyss between the day-sensory (premortal) and the night-astral (immortal) existence of Hadzhi Dimitar. And from this "interruption" the ingenious Botev's contemplation explodes: in the premortal panorama of consciousness (here the lyricist and the dying hero easily become identical) nature strips its materiality and with all the nakedness of its figurative and tonal reality pulls down the mythopoetic praphenomena, turning them into a stream of consciousness. "Hadzhi Dimitar" is not a ballad, but a frantic attempt by contemplative logic to achieve the truth of death as sacrifice and freedom. Finally, like any perfect logical cycle, it returns to the daily sensibility as an idea before and after things: "But it is already dawn!".  

17. Yavorov's emergence is completely different. The quatrain "It's morning, the sky is burning…" (Yavorov, "On the Fields") is undoubtedly a reminiscence of "Evening falls, the Moon Rises...", but only by its rhythmic and syntactic structure17. As a lyricist of genius, Yavorov clearly feels obliged to legitimize once and for all the contemplative emergence in Bulgarian poetry. In this case, he does it by a completely different, non-heroic scenario – not on the mountain, as with Botev, but in the lowlands, in the fields, and not through the senses of a hero, but of a pragmatic peasant. In the utilitarian spirit of the 20th century, this view is of course more reliable. Therefore, contemplation here refuses to continue to the transcendent, withdraws, remains in the daily materiality and naturalness, and the mythopoetic stays hidden. "But we are afraid to drink, we the suffering..." (Yavorov, “Nirvana”). In general, fear of the occult nature of the mythopoetic text often arises (and will continue to arise) in the lyric as a kind of guardian of the threshold. And it is in these cases that literary reconstruction should not fail to notice this "interruption" caused by mystical fear. It is appropriate to define it as an emergent wandering of lyrical thinking. In general, "wandering" is the literary surrogate of the mythopoetic, so typical of modern lyrics.  

18. In conclusion, nine principles of literary emergentism can be formulated: First, literature can be considered as a gnoseological phenomenon, i.e., as a kind of knowledge. Second, as a kind of knowledge, each text is busy connecting sensory perceptions/ideas with their ideological/intelligible counterparts, i.e., each text can be considered as thinking and logical system. Third, literary epistems arise from the connections between textual plot/semantics and intelligibility. Fourth, in the description of the connections between plot/semantics, on the one hand, and intelligibility, on the other, epistemological interruptions inevitably occur “top-down”, that is, every text is occult. Fifth, the description of phenomena where epistemological interruptions arise from, while remaining attached to their predecessors, is the essence of the emergent approach in literary theory, i.e., text and author’s thinking are seen as an undismembered system of "consciousness-awareness". Sixth, in the interpretation of each text, the objective of the emergent method is to formulate and answer the question of how, not what, i.e., the method describes how the text arises, not what it is in content, structure, style, etc. Seventh, through the emergent method, each "text-author’s thinking" system can be described as a logical system of seven hierarchical degrees. Eighth, the logism inherent in the emergent method allows for each text and/or author's thinking to be classified according to the scope (number of degrees) in the seven-degree logical spectrum. Ninth, the emergent method in literary theory unites the conditionality and autonomy of the text, discovering in it an occult content that is neither an artifact nor is subject to physicalistic interpretations.  

19. The applicability of literary emergentism as a theory and interpretive methodology is yet to be tested in literary studies.  

20. As with any manifesto, accusations of pretentiousness and hubris would be warranted for this text as well.

 

References

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11. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, Volume 1. LIK Publishing House, Sofia, 1997.

12. Steiner, Rudolf. Die Philosophie der Freiheit. Rudolf Steiner online archiv. http://anthroposophie.byu.edu 4. Auflage 2010.

13. Bondarev, Gennady. "Philosophy of Freedom" Rudolfa Steiner as a basis of contemplative thinking logics. Religion of thinking will. Organon of the New Cultural Epoch. Moscow, 2006.

14. Nedelchev, Mihail. Five Nedelchev’s reconstructions. Faber 2022.

15. Mead, George Herbert. The Philosophy of the Present. Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books. 2002.

16. Taylor, Scott C. G. H. Mead’s Philosophical Hermeneutics of the Present. Eur J Pragmatism Am Philos 2019; XI-2.

17. Yavorov, Peyo. Following the shadows of the clouds. Bulgarian writer, 1982.

 

27 December 2023, Varna
dimitar@kalevi.eu