A selection of Niklas Luhmann’s articles published in English and loosely arranged into categories. Where no abstract is provided the first paragraph is given instead.


The Improbability of Communication
Luhmann, N. 33(1) International Social Science Journal (1981) 122

Without communication there can be no human relations, indeed no human life. Communication theory cannot therefore be confined to examining only certain sectors of life in society. It is not enough to engage in exhaustive discussion of particular techniques of communication, even though, because of their very novelty, such techniques and their consequences are attracting special attention in contemporary society. It is equally inadequate to begin with a discussion of concepts. That would serve a useful purpose only if one already knew what the concept was intended to achieve and in what theoretical field it was to be applied. But no consensus on such points can be assumed, and we shall therefore begin by distinguishing two different theoretical approaches whereby a scientific theory can be constructed. …


Notes on the Project ‘Poetry and Social Theory’
Luhmann, N. 18(1) Theory, Culture and Society (2001) 15
Philosophy and Poetry: Philosophy has a primary interest in things, in the world and not so much in language. It attempts to introduce into the world a description of the world and in so doing irritates itself in its encounter with the difficulties involved. The fact that this also entails problems of language is plainly the case, but this is not philosophy’s ‘existential’ problem. Not so with poetry. In contrast to philosophy, it installs itself not in things but in language. Unlike philosophy, which has apparently never experienced moments of embarrassment in its talk, just problems regarding the relevance of the same, poetry is existentially affected by the problem of incommunicability. That is why it is the problem of incommunicability in particular that makes its presence felt in poetry and lyrical expression. There are, if one can put it in this way, non-linguistic language devices available here for making visible what cannot be formulated.
    It is a coincidence that at the very moment when poetry wishes to express the problem of incommunicability as its own existential problem, when the description of the social system has lost its power to persuade and therefore, as if in ruins, makes material available, that poetry is able to join together into bizarre forms and into persuasive ‘un-persuadedness’? If one views evolution not as systems planning but as an onward movement via such coincidences, this explanation may suffice. On the other hand, it is no pure coincidence that modern society both enforces the communication problem and is initially in the awkward situation of not being able to describe itself adequately. One could trace both of these to the conversion from stratified to functional differentiation. But in its evolution, this context is only coincidentally effective as a cause.


Speaking and Silence
Luhmann, N. 61 New German Critique (Winter 1994) 25

A communication does not communicate [mitteilen] the world, it divides [einteilen] it. Like any operation of living or thinking, communication produces a caesura. It says w hat it says; it does not say w hat it does not s ay. It differentiates. If further communications connect [anschließen], systemic boundaries form which stabilize the cut. No operation will find its way back to what was before – to the unmarked space (Spencer Brown). Proceeding from within the system which thereby operatively reproduces itself, each enactment of such a return would mean another step forward.
    The world is not a piece of information, for it is not a choice among different possibilities. The world is therefore also not something that would have to be understood – or could be misunderstood – so that communication could carry on. It is only that which endures the cut produced by communication – and this circumstance, likewise, can only be effectuated and stated but not avoided.