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“The truth of our scattering”: (Post)Human Complexity in Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker

Nicola Brindley (Keele University)

In The Echo Maker, Richard Powers draws upon the science of agent-based complex systems to investigate the possibility that the emergence of selfhood mirrors (or echoes) the emergent patterns of ecosystemic order. The sustained analogy created in this novel between brain damage and ecological harm represents Powers' most significant contribution yet to the recent environmental turn in American literature. With reference to research currently being undertaken into complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute, I will suggest that The Echo Maker shows humanity as a system operating through continuing feedback cycles of echoing, mirroring, and model making. Since it proposes that the narrative of selfhood is an emergent fiction, and that the boundaries of 'the human' extend out beyond the skin, we can situate this novel within the twenty-first century discourses of complexity and posthumanism, which together encourage contextual, 'environmental' thinking.

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ISSN 1753-5794