front cover of Complementarity
Anti-Epistemology after Bohr and Derrida
Arkady Plotnitsky
Duke University Press, 1994
Many commentators have remarked in passing on the resonance between deconstructionist theory and certain ideas of quantum physics. In this book, Arkady Plotnitsky rigorously elaborates the similarities and differences between the two by focusing on the work of Niels Bohr and Jacques Derrida. In detailed considerations of Bohr’s notion of complementarity and his debates with Einstein, and in analysis of Derrida’s work via Georges Bataille’s concept of general economy, Plotnitsky demonstrates the value of exploring these theories in relation to each other.
Bohr’s term complementarity describes a situation, unavoidable in quantum physics, in which two theories thought to be mutually exclusive are required to explain a single phenomenon. Light, for example, can only be explained as both wave and particle, but no synthesis of the two is possible. This theoretical transformation is then examined in relation to the ways that Derrida sets his work against or outside of Hegel, also resisting a similar kind of synthesis and enacting a transformation of its own.
Though concerned primarily with Bohr and Derrida, Plotnitsky also considers a wide range of anti-epistemological endeavors including the work of Nietzsche, Bataille, and the mathematician Kurt Gödel. Under the rubric of complementarity he develops a theoretical framework that raises new possiblilities for students and scholars of literary theory, philosophy, and philosophy of science.

front cover of The Knowable and the Unknowable
The Knowable and the Unknowable
Modern Science, Nonclassical Thought, and the "Two Cultures"
Arkady Plotnitsky
University of Michigan Press, 2002
This book investigates the relationships between modern mathematics and science (in particular, quantum mechanics) and the mode of theorizing that Arkady Plotnitsky defines as "nonclassical" and identifies in the work of Bohr, Heisenberg, Lacan, and Derrida. Plotinsky argues that their scientific and philosophical works radically redefined the nature and scope of our knowledge. Building upon their ideas, the book finds a new, nonclassical character in the "dream of great interconnections" Bohr described, thereby engaging with recent debates about the "two cultures" (the humanities and the sciences).
Plotnitsky highlights those points at which the known gives way to the unknown (and unknowable). These points are significant, he argues, because they push the boundaries of thought and challenge the boundaries of disciplinarity. One of the book's most interesting observations is that key figures in science, in order to push toward a framing of the unknown, actually retreated into a conservative disciplinarity. Plotnitsky's informed, interdisciplinary approach is more productive than the disparaging attacks on postmodernism or scientism that have hitherto characterized this discourse.
Arkady Plotnitsky is Professor of English and Director, Theory and Cultural Studies Program, Purdue University. Trained in both mathematics and literary theory, he is author of several books, including In the Shadow of Hegel: Complementarity, History and the Unconscious and Reconfigurations: Critical Theory and General Economy.

front cover of Mathematics, Science, and Postclassical Theory
Mathematics, Science, and Postclassical Theory
Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Arkady Plotnitsky, eds.
Duke University Press, 1997
Mathematics, Science, and Postclassical Theory is a unique collection of essays dealing with the intersections between science and mathematics and the radical reconceptions of knowledge, language, proof, truth, and reality currently emerging from poststructuralist literary theory, constructivist history and sociology of science, and related work in contemporary philosophy. Featuring a distinguished group of international contributors, this volume engages themes and issues central to current theoretical debates in virtually all disciplines: agency, causality, determinacy, representation, and the social dynamics of knowledge.
In a substantive introductory essay, the editors explain the notion of "postclassical theory" and discuss the significance of ideas such as emergence and undecidability in current work in and on science and mathematics. Other essays include a witty examination of the relations among mathematical thinking, writing, and the technologies of virtual reality; an essay that reconstructs the conceptual practices that led to a crucial mathematical discovery—or construction—in the 19th century; a discussion of the implications of Bohr’s complementarity principle for classical ideas of reality; an examination of scientific laboratories as "hybrid" communities of humans and nonhumans; an analysis of metaphors of control, purpose, and necessity in contemporary biology; an exploration of truth and lies, and the play of words and numbers in Shakespeare, Frege, Wittgenstein, and Beckett; and a final chapter on recent engagements, or nonengagements, between rationalist/realist philosophy of science and contemporary science studies.

Contributors. Malcolm Ashmore, Michel Callon, Owen Flanagan, John Law, Susan Oyama, Andrew Pickering, Arkady Plotnitsky, Brian Rotman, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, John Vignaux Smyth, E. Roy Weintraub


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