Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Trump Stories: An Antimimetic, Unnatural, and Postmodern Narratology

The last of the four approaches to narrative discussed in Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates (2012) is the antimimetic approach of Brian Richardson, who focuses on the ways that narratives do or do not conform to the usual expectations of representation. As he says:

… nearly every narrative represents some portion of the world we inhabit in one way or another. … That manner of representation may be conventional or unconventional, stylized or straightforward, unmarked or outrageous, clumsy or artistic; it is always constructed. Mimetic narratives typically try to conceal their constructedness and appear to resemble nonfictional narratives, while antimimetic narratives flaunt their artificiality and break the ontological boundaries that mimetic works so carefully preserve. (p. 20)

In broad strokes, then, narratives, whether fictional or factual, are always constructed (certainly by authors — I'm not sure if Richardson considers co-construction by the audience), and while most narratives try to hide or ignore that construction, some narratives play with the details of construction. This distinction holds even for clearly fanciful narratives: on the mimetic hand, Star Wars tries to hide the scaffolding for its outrageous characters, props, and plot lines, whereas the antimimetic Spaceballs reveals the scaffolding, largely to mock it.

Fictional narratives have more flexibility in this respect as factual narratives are usually held to higher standards. Even when a fictional narrative uses a historical event, readers are usually more tolerant of factual inaccuracies — at worst, considering it sloppy writing; at best, creative license. Not so with Trump's tales of the stolen election. Those of us who do not believe that the story matches the facts probably believe that Trump and his followers are at best delusional and at worst liars and cheats. Richardson says that he is dealing primarily with fictional narratives. Still, I think I can make use of this rather focused approach. Again, it will not by itself provide me the resources to discuss all the issues that I want, but it should give me some tools to explore the Trump stories.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Trump Stories: A Mind-Oriented Narratology

Mind-oriented narrative theory focuses on how the human mind uses narrative to create worlds that humans can imaginatively enter and, presumably, leave. David Herman says that he focuses on "narrative worldmaking as a central heuristic framework" and that this worldmaking "encompasses the referential dimension of narrative, its capacity to evoke worlds in which interpreters can, with more or less ease or difficulty, take up imaginative residence" (Narrative Theory 14). Herman supports his focus with the insistence that worldmaking is the root function of stories and the correct starting point for any critique of a story. I agree with him. I will have to read more of his narratology to make sure I understand what he is saying, but what I understand now makes sense to me and resonates with the questions I have about those people who believe in the stories of Donald Trump. They so clearly live in a different world than I do, and I want to understand that world.

Herman is interested in "how storytellers, using many different kinds of symbol systems (written or spoken language, static or moving images, word-image combinations, etc.), prompt interpreters to engage in the process of co-creating narrative worlds" (15). I share this interest. I want to know how Donald Trump (storyteller) used Twitter and other social media to prompt his followers (interpreters) to help him create a narrative about how the Democrats stole the election from him and them. Like Herman, I want to understand the protocols and practices necessary for this kind of worldmaking. Herman claims that understanding these protocols requires closer engagement with the sciences of the mind.

Herman relies on his reading of Wittgenstein to contend that the protocols and practices of our various symbol systems frame our understanding of the world — they inform and structure our worldmaking. This both enables and limits the worlds that we can create and inhabit. I would say it like this: once we adopt a certain conversation space, then the DNA of that space unpacks in certain ways, often rich with variation, but it won't unpack in other ways. Once you inherit human DNA, you can develop (if you develop at all) in a rich variety of ways, but you will not develop as a dog or a carrot or an automobile. Those conversations are not available to the human DNA. One of the wonderful riches of language is that we are able to adopt many different conversations — though it does require some effort, often extreme effort, to shift from one conversational space to another.

And this brings me to another point about Herman's approach that I like: he references the existence of multiple narratives and the interactions among them. He says:

Narratives do not merely evoke worlds but also intervene in a field of discourses, a range of representational strategies, a constellation of ways of seeing—and sometimes a set of competing narratives, as in a courtroom trial, a political campaign, or a family dispute. (p. 17)

This addresses an important issue for me: the ecosystem of any narrative, which always emerges and finds its place within a rich ecosystem of interacting knowledge systems. Thus, I can't understand Trump's narratives without also understanding the fertile ground in which they could take root and grow. As with any complex system, I need to be able to critique both the internal DNA of the system and the ecosystem within which that DNA can unpack and express itself. Focusing merely on the narrative itself can be illuminating, but eventually it obscures more than it clarifies, I think.

I like the introduction to Herman's thinking about narrative and mind, and I think I agree with his assumption that understanding the mind can help us understand narrative, and vice versa. As he says in conclusion: "the study of narrative worldmaking can inform, and not just be informed by, understandings of the mind" (p. 18). However, there is something teasing me about extending narrative beyond mind, but I haven't worked that out yet.

Next, I'll look at the antimimetic narratology of Brian Richardson.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Trump Stories: A Feminist Narratology

Feminism forms the basis for Robyn Warhol's presentation of the second approach to narratology in Narrative Theory (2012) by Herman, et al. Warhol begins with a simple enough definition of feminism: "the conviction that dominant culture and society are organized to the disadvantage of everyone who does not fit a white, masculine, middle- or upper-class, Euro-American, not-yet-disabled, heterosexual norm" (Narrative Theory 9). She elaborates feminism with intersectionality "because white privilege, class privilege, heteronormativity, and other positions of relative power complicate hierarchies of gender" (9).

Feminist narrative theory, then, is a corrective to traditional critical approaches which "developed in a pointedly masculinist academic culture, based on theories developed by men who grounded their models in the study of male-written texts" (9). From its inception then and at its core, feminist narrative theory (Warhol objects to the term narratology which is too "cut off from questions of history and context") has been particularly sensitive to the position of the critic towards the work and to the relations between the author and reader — in other words, to social, political, economic, and intellectual contexts of the narrative. Warhol sees feminist narrative theory playing well with the rhetorical narratology of Phelan and Rabinowitz and with the antimimetic theory of those such as Brian Richardson. I, too, like the insistence of feminist narrative theory to place the narrative within a rich context of information, organization, material, and energy flows and at the nexus of social, political, economic, and intellectual relationships. I also like that feminist narrative theory places the critic within the narrative, always conscious of and accountable for her critical position. Warhol finds the least overlap with the mind-oriented theory of David Herman, which she considers too essentialist in its orientation.

As Warhol defines feminist narrative theory, then, it is primarily distinguished from other narrative theories by placing "at the center of the inquiry … gender, sexuality, class, or other politically significant and historically grounded differences" (11). In contrast, I place complexity theory at the center of my critique of narratives. Complexity theory, of course, includes the resources and insights of feminist theory, but does not limit itself to those issues.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Trump Stories: A Rhetorical Narratology

I've become frustrated with my study of Trump stories, and I realize that I need a working narrative theory, a narratology. Fortunately, I've been reading Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates (2012) by David Herman, James Phelan, Peter J. Rabinowitz, Brian Richardson, and Robyn Warhol, all of Ohio State University. So I intend to work through their book and work through my own narratology that will help me analyze Trump's stories more systematically.

However, I've also been reading and writing about complexity over the last 10 years, so I aim to develop a complex narratology, or a rhizo-narratology. Much of the writing in this blog provides me with a rather rich field of ideas that can be worked into a coherent approach to narrative based on complexity theory. We'll see.

Herman, et al. explore four main approaches to narrative: rhetorical, feminist, mind-oriented, and antimimetic — their labels. All of them afford useful ways into a narrative and reliable grounds for critique. However, I think I have something to add to this conversation, primarily because of all the complexity theory that I've been reading. I'll position my own thinking about narratives against the positions outlined in this book, and I'll start with the rhetorical approach of Phelan and Rabinowitz.

Phelan and Rabinowitz define narrative as: "somebody telling somebody else, on some occasion, and for some purposes, that something happened to someone or something" (3). They note that each of these propositions about narrative merits significant development, which they provide in due course, but this definition gives us the skeleton of their approach to narrative. Using a Donald Trump tweet, I can rephrase their definition this way: Donald Trump tweeted his followers on January 6, 2021, in hopes of stalling or even undermining the certification of the 2020 Presidential election by Congress, the narrative that Vice-President Mike Pence could stop the steal of the election by Democrats and give the election to Trump. The full tweet is below:

January 6, 2021 06:00:50 If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency. Many States want to decertify the mistake they made in certifying incorrect & even fraudulent numbers in a process NOT approved by their State Legislatures (which it must be). Mike can send it back! Retweets: 66961 Favorites: 289835 ("Tweets of January 6, 2021")

Of course, this is not the only tweet from Trump on this day. According to UC Santa Barbara's site The American Presidency Project, Trump tweeted 25 times that day starting at 2:45 am and ending at 11:01 pm. All of the tweets were about the stolen election and, thus, could be joined into a single narrative arc, but this one tweet is concise and to the point, making it convenient for this post.

Phelan and Rabinowitz' definition of narrative is barebones, and they immediately try to flesh it out by listing 6 principles that support their definition:

  1. Narrative is a purposive event, "a multidimensional purposive communication from a teller to an audience" (p. 3). Purposive means that they are interested in how larger purposes shape a narrative and its various elements. Multidimensional means that they are interested in not just the meaning of a narrative but the experience of it, its affective, ethical, and aesthetic effects and the interactions among those effects. I see here a pathway to my own thinking about rhizo-narrative: an ecological approach that involves any critique of narrative in first situating the narrative in its ecosystem and tracing the flows of energy and information from the system into the narrative and back out and tracing the perturbations between and within the narrative and its ecosystem.
  2. Rhetorical narratology assumes an a posteriori rather than an a priori stance, not preselecting "for analysis particular issues such as gender or cognition or particular kinds of narratives such as those deploying antimimetic elements of story" (p. 5). I appreciate the openness of Phelan and Rabinowitz to all forms of narrative, but I wonder if they, too, by their very definition are preselecting what they consider as narrative. I think I can make a case for a soccer match underway in situ as a narrative, but I have the feeling that Phelan and Rabinowitz would limit narrative to the story I tell my friends later, after the game itself is played out, about the amazing victory or crushing defeat. In terms of my Trump discussion, I can consider the unfolding events of January 6, 2021, as a narrative as they are happening; whereas Phelan and Rabinowitz may consider as narrative only the retelling of those events by a news reporter to her television audience at a later time, or even at the same time. Of course, I am running the risk of defining everything as a narrative, but at the moment, I'm quite comfortable with that risk. It's story, all the way down.
  3. Rhetorical narratology assumes a feedback loop "among authorial agency, textual phenomena (including intertextual relations), and reader response" (p. 5). This feedback loop works very well for rhizo-narratology, though I think Phelan and Rabinowitz limit it too much, tracing only those feedback loops among the author, the text, and the reader. I want to expand to include the entire ecosystem within which the narrative unfolds and all the flows that inform and sustain the narrative.
  4. Rhetorical narratology is keenly interested in the progression of a narrative from some beginning point, through various other points, to some ending point. Understanding the progression of a narrative is key to understanding its design and its purpose. This morphological approach also works well for rhizo-narratology as it introduces time into the understanding of form. The form of a narrative is not a static structure — fixed and done by an author or a printing press, but an unpacking of DNA over time in different environments leading to different expressions and meanings, to different stories. As the events of January 6, 2021, unfolded in Washington and on television, different participants and different viewers were seeing different stories with different meanings. Of course, the narrative form of the events that day are still not fixed but continue to unfold as its DNA unpacks in different contexts for different purposes. The DNA of Huckleberry Finn (the work that Phelan and Rabinowitz use in their discussion) also continues to unfold, as the juxtaposition of the Black Lives Matter narrative highlights. Again, to my mind, Phelan and Rabinowitz limit the dynamics in this progression to the author, the audience, and the text. I think this is too narrow for my critique of the Trump narrative.
  5. Rhetorical narratology assumes three different ways for a critic to think of audiences: the actual audience of a given narrative in a given event, the authorial audience that the author imagines addressing, and the narrative audience that the narrator addresses in the narrative. These different audiences can overlap, but often do not, and they are useful for rhizo-narratology, I think. To my mind, this fragmenting into various audiences highlights the complex nature of every element within a complex system. It's complexity, all the way down.
  6. Finally, audiences engage narratives in three broad ways:
    1. mimetic: "interests in the characters as possible people and in the narrative world as like our own" (p. 7),
    2. thematic: "readers’ interests in the ideational function of the characters and in the cultural, ideological, philosophical, or ethical issues being addressed by the narrative" (p. 7), and
    3. synthetic: "interest in and attention to the characters and to the larger narrative as artificial constructs, interests that link up with our aesthetic judgments" (p. 7).
      Audiences tend to judge narratives by how well they ring true to the audience, deal with relevant issues or make the issues relevant to the audience, and how well they present to the audience. In short, most audiences want stories that are true, relevant, and well told.

Phelan and Rabinowitz's definition of narrative is useful as far as it goes, but I can already see points at which it constrains me uncomfortably. My first objection is that it appears to define narrative from the outside-in from the traditional objective position. It is as if they are standing outside the narrative situation looking in on it from some meta position that I don't think exists. Once we engage a narrative, then we have no way of removing ourselves from the narrative — no more than does the somebody telling or the somebody listening or the somebody or something being narrated. We become as much a part of the narrative as are those other agents that Phelan and Rabinowitz mention. We don't have a privileged position apart from and above the narrative from which to analyze and assess the narrative. I need a definition of narrative that involves me from the beginning so that I analyze the narrative from the inside. This is a particularly crucial point when studying the Trump stories as I am not an objective, impartial analyst with a clipboard and white coat, and even if I were, I still would have to account for the limitations and peculiarities — the biases — of that positioning within the narrative's unpacking. It's positions, all the way down.

Next, I'll look at feminist narratology.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Trumpism and Me

I have more to say about how to situate myself within Trumpism. My first tendency is to explain how I am not a part of that ecosystem, to deny it, but I have to remember that I am engaged with Trumpism whether I like it or not. My sense of identity may matter, but it does not remove me from Trumpism. My beloved friends and family are Trumpers, and much of my country is Trumpist. If I look wider, then I see that much of the world is Trumpist. I'm engaged. So how do I situate myself within this place?

I can start with Bill.

Bill and I were childhood friends. We went to the same school and the same church in Buford, Georgia — some thirty-five miles northeast of and, in the mid-60s, distinct from Atlanta, with a rural, small town feel. Buford was conservative and voted Dixie Democrat, a political allegiance seriously challenged by the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Anyway, Bill and I played together. We had sleepovers. Life was safe and comfortable where kids could stay outside and play past dark and no one worried much. Buford coddled its young — to the point that we were allowed at 14 and 15 years of age to illegally own and operate scooters and motorcycles on Buford streets, at least until several accidents drove some common sense into the city elders' heads.

Then in January, 1967, during my tenth grade of school, my family relocated from Buford to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I lost contact with most of my Buford friends, including Bill. My new high school was all sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and the University of New Mexico downtown was a hotbed of anti-war enthusiasm that proselytized the lower schools heavily. I was entranced. I wore my hair as long as my parents would let me. My new best friend Kerry introduced me to poetry and philosophy, and I met Anna at my school and Julie from the next school over. I still remember standing in our backyard in the Summer of 1967, a transistor radio to my ear, hearing the Beatles' "A Day In the Life" for the first time. Church could not compete.

At the end of high school, I left for a short stint in a commune near Taos, while over in Buford, Bill left for a long stint in Viet Nam. Our life trajectories had split.

I didn't see Bill again until Fall, 2019, at the fiftieth reunion of the Buford High School Class of 1969. I was living in Georgia again, and the organizers kindly included me even though I had graduated from a school 1,400 miles and a universe away. The gathering was not at all political, but it was clear to me that politically I was out of sync with my old classmates. Still, I enthusiastically swapped emails and befriended people on Facebook, and I learned that Bill had fought in Viet Nam, had a career with the US Postal Service, had married and had sons, then a few years ago had lost his wife to cancer, and now had a new girlfriend. He had also abandoned our pentecostal heritage and worshipped now as a Catholic.

Bill and I especially promised to get together soon, but the pandemic intervened, so we communicated over Facebook, but it didn't go so well. I quickly learned that most of the people in Bill's Facebook circle were enthusiastic Trumpists, and I made some injudicious comments during one exchange that inflamed everyone's tempers, including Bill's. I shouldn't have said what I did on Facebook — I've never seen a political challenge go well on social platforms — and I had to scramble to repair relationships and forestall a series of unfriendings.

Still, the incident highlighted the core issue for me. Bill and I had started life in very similar situations and we were ending in similar places, yet our paths had been very different, and now despite our shared interest in being friends, we found our different views confusing and challenging to each of us. I could say, of course, that we had different DNA and different life experiences so that both nature and nurture led us to different political views, but that explanation seems way too glib and dismissive to me. I think something more interesting and human is at work, and I want to explore that deeper movement.

I've come to believe that humans create or adopt stories by which they try to explain and live their lives. As I've said in a previous post, I accept Walter Fisher's claim that homo narrans is one of the root metaphors for humanity. We create, share, and live by stories, and our narratives are at the core of what we are and describe us just as our muscular, circulatory, and neuronal systems do. I think that these narrative structures are embedded in us and, thus, are only partially explicit. Mostly they are implicit, but they form the frames through which we see life and the channels by which we try to live our lives. Forming stories is what maturation and enculturation are all about. We learn stories and live those stories. Most stories are shared within some group that we identify with, but most of us have a few stories peculiar mostly to ourselves.

To believe on one hand that Donald Trump is the last, best hope for saving the United States, you have to believe certain stories about the world. To believe on the other hand that Trump is a threat to the United States, you have to believe different stories. I want to understand these stories. I want to know what they are, where they come from, and how they inform, frame, and sustain our world views. I do not aim to reconcile these stories through some dialectic. Rather, I hope to turn them into a dialogic that allows for conversation enlivened by curiosity and compassion.

I also hope to test my own stories, to measure them against other stories to see how well they hold up and where they are weak. As a liberal, I like to believe that I have no inviolable stories, stories that I will defend at all costs, but I suspect that isn't the case. My conversations with obvious liberals have demonstrated to my satisfaction that most people have a story that they will not change or even challenge because doing so threatens such trauma and loss of identity that they cannot face it. I'm wondering what story I cannot do without.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Critical Complexity and Four Cs

What I have in mind is applying Preiser's program of critical complexity to my issue with Trumpism among my friends and family. I'm comfortable enough with Preiser's critical complexity to try to use it — comfortable in the dual senses of finding it congenial to my own thinking and of believing that I understand it well enough not to butcher it too badly. I do it in the hopes that I will come to understand the issues with my heritage better and will be better positioned to cope with them. Trump has crystallized a number of issues that have for years distressed me about my religious heritage. I have tried rejecting it, ignoring it, or educating my way out of it, and while those approaches have changed the way I think, believe, and act, they haven't satisfied me. I still have this large force of energy that pushes and pulls on me, perturbs me usually at the most sensitive moments, and I don't understand it well enough. I want to turn and face the elephant and, if possible, make friends with him. Yes — I see a bull elephant with enormous tusks that can gore me, but I'm hoping to learn that it's really a cow, a mama elephant, fiercely protective of her calves and herd, no doubt, but willing to tolerate a prodigal.

I'm taking a two-path approach: I'm analyzing complexity and narrative in this blog, and I'm writing a novel in another space. The analysis here helps me define the skin of the people I'm studying, and the novel there helps me get under their skin. I hope ideas from both paths can illuminate each other, can provide soundings that keep me from straying too far from either path. My suspicion is that writing here will help ground my other writing, has already wandered all over the place. Those lateral wanderings in fiction are important, I think, but just as they can lead to new insights, they can also lead astray, and I'm not always sure which way I've wandered. We'll see.

It seems to me that my first task is to recognize the issue and to begin to define it. Critical complexity has several implications here. First, I am included in the issue. I am not apart from that which I study. I'm in the middle of it. I was born and raised in the pentecostal faith that I want to understand better, and while I no longer worship in that faith and disagree with it on numerous issues, I am still perturbed by it, and I still perturb it. Moreover, the act of questioning this faith community entangles me with it and exposes the entanglements that have been there all along. I cannot ignore my own role in any analysis of this complex system. I read sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild's 2016 study of the Tea Party community in Louisiana (Strangers in Their Own Land) and noted how she — even as a liberal academic from California — was drawn into this foreign community as she tried to understand it. Hochschild did not convert to the Tea Party, but she did come to like and respect these people and to understand better why they believed and behaved as they did. Understanding a complex system of beliefs and behavior rearranges boundaries, sometimes boundaries that we thought were inviolable. But as critical complexity insists: no boundaries are inviolable. They are all provisional, but that means that any researcher is responsible for making those boundaries explicit, demarcating the limits of what is known or even knowable.

Critical complexity also says that I must position myself in relation to the limits of my knowledge. I was raised a pentecostal and attended a pentecostal church (Church of God) until I went to college. Most of my family and many of my friends are still active within the pentecostal community or within the wider evangelical community. I might presume that I am quite knowledgeable about these conservative communities, having been raised in them, but of course, that isn't the case. My knowledge is quite intensely focused on three families: my mother's and father's and the single family they created. My knowledge is as much emotional as it is intellectual. I have a bit of reading to do. Fortunately, the Church of God is not so old — about 130 years — so I can cover most of its history. I even met as a child some of the folk from its earliest history.

Then, I must keep in mind that any definition of a complex system necessarily reduces the complexity of the system in the very act of generating a manageable, understandable model of that system. Saying it works two ways, as Cilliers caution us: it enables what we know and at the same time obscures what we know. To use terms from physics, as soon as we focus on and define the position of a particle, we lose focus on and definition of its velocity. I have no privileged position outside and independent of the system from which to observe all the system at once. I only have positions within the system that afford me certain angles of insight but that also obscure other angles that may be just as insightful if not more so. I prefer some angles over others and will choose them over the others to form my knowledge of Trumpism. These choices carry ethical implications, and I must remain aware that I am making them. Those choices carry responsibilities and obligations that I must address.

In short, any study of a complex system such as Twenty-first century Trumpism among southern American pentecostals is likely to generate far more questions than answers. I will know more, but I will also know how much more I don't know. This causes me no dismay. I'm with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who in her 1997 introduction to her translation of Derrida's Of Grammatology says:

And if the assumption of responsibility for one's discourse leads to the conclusion that all conclusions are genuinely provisional and therefore inconclusive, that all origins are similarly unoriginal, that responsibility itself must cohabit with frivolity, this need not be cause for gloom.

Actually, I find it cause for celebration. I am truly dismayed by those who believe that "we'll understand it all by and by" (the religious reductionists) or that we are about to discover the "theory of everything" (the scientific reductionists). Both present me with the dismal hope of having nothing left to learn, and I can think of no eternal punishment more hellish than this.

Fortunately, any one person's life is worthy of and will amply sustain a novel-length study. The study of a whole group of people over several lifetimes is more than ample for any study and for any work that I am likely to write with my remaining time. I especially like the promise inherent in Spivak's snarky comment that responsibility must cohabit, must couple with frivolity. What a nice way to live.

So this is not a problem that I will solve and put away. Though I may abandon study of the issue, I will not resolve it to anyone's satisfaction or cease to engage it. These are my people, my country, my world, and I must learn to live, and perhaps even thrive, within the ecosystem we all create together. At best, I  can hope to understand our ecosystem better and better position myself within it so that we all may thrive. I think this, then, may be an appropriate way to position myself within the complex system that I wish to study: responsible, frivolous, heterogenous cohabitation and coupling spurred by curiosity and some compassion.

That's a lot of Cs: cohabitation, coupling, curiosity, compassion all woven together by critical complexity. I wonder if my thinking here has been guided more by delight in language than by rigorous reason. Probably. I suspect it often is. I often devise a clever arrangement of words long before I figure out what it means — if I ever figure it out. I like when I write something that I can then read and learn.

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Problem of Complexity: Summary

In the final chapter of her dissertation, Preiser summarizes her argument by looking at how her interpretation of the problem of complexity develops over three parts. In Part I, she presents complexity as a problem for traditional science that relies on the Newtonian/Cartesian reductionist paradigm. Complexity calls into question our traditional knowledge claims that our theories mirror the world. Rather, our models of the world are always a reduction of complex reality and expose the limits of knowledge. In short, complexity presents any rigorous study of complexity with more questions than answers.

In Part II, Preiser examines the philosophical implications of complexity, situating the study of complexity within poststructural and postmetaphysical positions that challenge any grounding norms from which to launch a critique, questions inherited theories and models for explaining the world, re-examines our meaning-making strategies, and thus, undermines its own ability to be critical. She claims that we can reinvent the notion of critique as originally conceptualized by Kant and revive critique. Her re-reading of Kant's notion of judiciary critique connects critique with Derrida's concepts of stricture and diffĂ©rance to change critique's role as a measurement grounded in some normative framework to a generative, reflexive movement that informs a certain kind of thinking. For Preiser, critique becomes a dynamic process of cutting and joining opposing paradigms, working within both without being grounded in some fixed ideology and without reconciling them or reducing one to the other. Through its liminal, provisional position, critique legitimizes itself and operates by exposing the limits of both paradigms. This revision of critique fits best within Derrida's concept of general economy, which overcomes the restrictions and reductions of thinking about oppositions in a binary juxtaposition. Critique becomes at once a mode of questioning the limitations of inherited thought structures and a strategy of thinking about complex reality. In short, complex critique grounds itself in reference to its limitations, its horizons.

Finally in Part III, Preiser claims that critical complexity is a radically critical and normative turn in the the study of complexity as it reframes complexity as a human condition that needs to be negotiated afresh every day and not as a problem that can be resolved and put away. Her three self-undermining but non-arbitrary normative imperatives mandate a perpetual and radical self-critique that calls us to proceed differently in the world by remaining sensitive to how the self, the other, and society as a whole is co-constituted relationally.

Preiser believes that critical complexity implies that any intervention into complex systems is always provisional and temporary in nature as it cannot promise any unambiguous solutions to wicked problems. Moreover, interventions cannot be based on an a priori set of rules or programs but must remain based on the dynamic interactions of the components of complex system as a whole. Critical complexity is not a foolproof method for solving problems but a flexible engagement with the intractable human condition that can lead us to the edge of what analysis can accomplish and then point beyond to what the human spirit can attempt.

Then, Preiser claims that critical complexity as she has developed it makes a number of contributions to the study and critique of complex systems:

  1. To counter the absence of any general theory of complexity, her study presents a list of ten common characteristics of complex systems to form an economy of concepts that can help orient newcomers to the field and guide complexity studies.
  2. Critical complexity follows a middle way through the dilemma of critiquing reductionism on the one hand while using reductionist strategies on the other in order to say something meaningful about complex systems. Critical complexity thus avoids the loss of reference by maintaining a dialogical point of reference to a complex reality.
  3. Critical complexity challenges the strict distinction between epistemological and ontological complexity — between knowing complexity and living complexity — through the issue of wicked problems, ultimately claiming that such complex issues remain insolvable because of our incomplete, contradictory understandings of changing parameters. Thus, complexity issues are better approached as conditions to be engaged — accepted, understood, and wisely managed — rather than problems to be resolved and dismissed.
  4. Preiser insists that her study of critical complexity responds to the call to think differently by redefining key concepts in terms of the double bind that can be teased out from their conceptual structures so that complexity becomes general complexity, knowledge becomes difficult or hybrid knowledge, critique becomes critique as stricture, and thinking becomes complex thinking — all of which leads to critical complexity.
  5. The three critical imperatives form non-foundational (or self-undermining) groundings for provisional, open-ended strategies by which to respond to complexity.
  6. Critical complexity is distinct from other understandings of complexity in two ways. First, it converges critique and complexity in the general economy of the double bind which builds a path for complexity to engage the humanities in addition to the natural sciences. Second, it makes no claim to be better than other approaches to complexity. It calls us to think differently but acknowledges no prescriptive devices by which to measure how critical complexity is better than any other approach.
  7. Critical complexity can serve as a transversal meeting place between the natural sciences and the humanities, allowing both sides to illuminate shared issues through the common lens of critical complexity.
  8. Finally, Preiser's study serves as an example of how such a transversal process that weaves together ideas and methodologies from various fields of study can be implemented.

After listing her study's unique contributions, Preiser lists several limitations:

  1. Preiser first notes her focus on Kant's interpretation of critique, with too little engagement with the larger field of critical philosophy.
  2. Then, her study does not engage the ethical aspects of complexity thoroughly enough as she has already done that in previous studies.
  3. Her study does not clarify the epistemological status of the three imperatives, presenting them mostly as ethical formalisms. She recognizes that more analytical and conceptual work is needed.
  4. The study weaves together the ideas of a number of philosophers, all of whom could have been explored more deeply.
  5. Finally, the study fails to provide a concise Theory of Complexity, with solid answers for how to apply its concepts.
Preiser concludes her study with several suggestions for future research:

  1. She insists that while such complex phenomena as non-linear causality, emergence, and self-organization have been studied in-depth by the analytic sciences, this phenomena has received too little attention from other philosophical traditions.
  2. She is intrigued with Niklas Kompridis' elaboration of Heidegger's concept of world-disclosure and thinks his work is a new generation of Critical Theory scholarship.
  3. Critical complexity could inform other fields of study such as neo-institutional theories of global culture, global legal pluralism, and global civil society as all these theories acknowledge the importance of difference and moral pluralism.
  4. Because the notion of the general economy of thought depends on the presence of an excess of thought that refuses to be incorporated into the calculating structures of the restricted economy, then an in-depth study of a theory of excess could be valuable for understanding the general economy of thought.
So Trumpism is a wicked problem, and just maybe Preiser offers me a pathway toward understanding this problem better than I do now and situating myself in relation to this problem. I think the question becomes for me: do I have faith that Preiser's critical complexity can help me generate some actionable knowledge that will, first of all, match reality well and, secondly, benefit my community? I have enough faith to try it, and I'm certain that critical complexity as Preiser outlines it has enough rigor to enable my journey. So try it.