A groundbreaking look at Gaia theory’s intersections with neocybernetic systems theory
Often seen as an outlier in science, Gaia has run a long and varied course since its formulation in the 1970s by atmospheric chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis. Gaian Systems is a pioneering exploration of the dynamic and complex evolution of Gaia’s many variants, with special attention to Margulis’s foundational role in these developments.
Bruce Clarke assesses the different dialects of systems theory brought to bear on Gaia discourse. Focusing in particular on Margulis’s work—including multiple pieces of her unpublished Gaia correspondence—he shows how her research and that of Lovelock was concurrent and conceptually parallel with the new discourse of self-referential systems that emerged within neocybernetic systems theory. The recent Gaia writings of Donna Haraway, Isabelle Stengers, and Bruno Latour contest its cybernetic status. Clarke engages Latour on the issue of Gaia’s systems description and extends his own systems-theoretical synthesis under what he terms “metabiotic Gaia.” This study illuminates current issues in neighboring theoretical conversations—from biopolitics and the immunitary paradigm to NASA astrobiology and the Anthropocene. Along the way, he points to science fiction as a vehicle of Gaian thought.
Delving into many issues not previously treated in accounts of Gaia, Gaian Systems describes the history of a theory that has the potential to help us survive an environmental crisis of our own making.
Introduction: An Epistemological Transition
Part I. Gaia Discourse
1. A Paradigm Shift
2. Thinkers of Gaia
3. Neocybernetics of Gaia
Part II. The Systems Counterculture
4. The Whole Earth Network
5. The Lindisfarne Connection
6. Margulis and Autopoiesis
Part III. Gaian Enquiries
7. The Planetary Imaginary
8. Planetary Immunity
9. Astrobiology and the Anthropocene
Bruce Clarke is Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English at Texas Tech University. He is the author or editor of ten books, among them Neocybernetics and Narrative (Minnesota, 2014) and Posthuman Metamorphosis.
"Where William Blake found the world in a grain of sand, Gaia finds the planet in a bacterial cell. Bruce Clarke, eminent scholar of literature and science, leads us through the evolution and elaboration of the notion—where complex systems can easily get complicated and cybernetics loopy—with sustained precision and clarity. The necessity to understand is evident throughout."—Douglas Kahn, author of Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts
"Gaian Systems is a brilliant labor of love. Intellectual love for a major system of thought and for those who have built it, especially the towering figure of Lynn Margulis. But also profound love for our living planet as a whole, for the complexity and subtlety of the complex assemblages that compose it. Combining rigor with generosity, Bruce Clarke explores the genealogy, the key concepts, and the major implications of a symbiogenetic vision of our planetary system. Humble and yet visionary, this remarkable study instructs, illuminates, and gives us hope."—Rosi Braidotti, Utrecht University