chapter  12
Literature, psychoanalysis, chaos theory
Iteration, re-iteration, recursion
WithGraham Shulman
Pages 14

This chapter is an attempt at an interdisciplinary dialogue between literature, psychoanalysis and chaos theory. These three fields are linked by the phenomenon of ‘recursion’. Recursion is the repetition of a self-similar feature, pattern or dynamic across different scales, levels, frames or time. Recursion is a well-recognised phenomenon in literature, psychoanalysis and chaos theory. A convergence of research from different disciplines (including neuroscience, psychology and linguistics) indicates that recursion is a primary characteristic and defining feature of the human brain and mind. Literature and psychoanalysis have a shared interest in the mind and patterns of the mind. They also share an interest in the correspondence between literary and psychic process. Chaos theory – with its concepts of non-linear dynamics and the recursive structures and patterns of self-similarity across scale – offers a scientific frame for the study and understanding of the recursive mind. Recursion as a feature and theme of literature is discussed, and a critical reading of William Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom! is considered as a literary expression and illustration of the recursive mind. Finally, the same recursive property of the mind is shown to underlie two core psychoanalytic concepts: deferred action (Nachträglichkeit) and transference.