Archive for the ‘barad’ Category

Hail the introjective, additive critic

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I am reading Elizabeth Wilson’s most recent book Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010), and as before with her writings, really enjoying the fresh, interesting and quirky take on the intertwining of the human/cultural with the material (earlier more about physiology, as with her Psychosomatic-book, now with technologies of AI). I will be writing a short review of the book for Leonardo, so more there; now, I just wanted to point towards her good way of tackling the lack of critique about critique — or how we cultural and media studies scholars so easily embrace our stock-in-trade tools for tackling cultural reality (the axis of evils in relation to gender, race, capitalism, and so forth), and engage what could be a paranoid/projective mode of analysis. Wilson is far from a naive critic of such critique, and not so much dismissing such – neither am I despite my interest in finding alternatives – and connects to some more recent rethinkings of how should we engage with our sources and readings. How to rethink critique?

Revealing is her epigraph, from Bruno Latour: “What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction“. Such a figure of the analyst and critic is one that resembles an “assembler” (as in another passage where she quotes Latour, on page xi of Wilson’s book), and that in a manner resembling DeleuzeGuattari tries to embrace the naive experimentor over the already educated and cognizant critique who is able to unveil forces of ideology in cultural reality. Like the additive mode of the experimenter of DeleuzeGuattari who adds, asks for more connections, instead of hermeneutic-critic subtraction (reduction of cultural realities to underlying effect, meaning, structure, plot, ideology, oppression, etc), this mode of critique is keen to add more insights, more ideas, more fresh paths, and more alternatives where to continue – critically. It uses its sources to go forward, not just read back. Luckily, we are seeing more and more of this kind of work that I have often referred to as “post-representational” – something that is not interested only in representation analysis but seeks to go forward with the sources. (Good examples of such work that has always been inspirational to me include Rosi Braidotti and for instance Karen Barad — material feminists!).

Through such methodological choices, Wilson is able to bring fresh readings. The early AI research and figures as Turing are cast in new, interesting, passionate light – where Turing is not only a tragic victim but an intellectually and emotionally bursting, giggling figure – and where the seemingly cold, and rationalized modes of artificial intelligence research are actually filled with passions, desires and introjections. Indeed, to quote her on this point :

“While the figure of the paranoiac will appear now and again in later chapters, this book is interested in turning critical analysis of the artificial sciences away from projective, paranoid readings. The tendency to read artificial agents as screens for projection (projection of masculine, late-capitalist, or heterosexual anxieties, for example) will be displaced in favor of reading for the introjective bonds that have been established between us and artificial worlds. Affect and Artificial Intelligence is interested in the large-hearted, easily inflamed attachments that Ferenczi attributed not only to neurotics but to anyone capable of object love.” (28)

I admire Wilson’s style to weave her theoretical points from inside the empirical case studies, and in this case for instance, to bring ideas regarding readings of psychoanalysis (Sandor Ferenczi’s ideas about introjection from 1909) to how we do cultural theory.

(Note: an earlier, brief discussion about critique after my Coventry talk of Jan 25, 2011 can be found here.)

What is New Materialism-Opening words from the event

June 23, 2010 4 comments

As promised, please find below the opening words to the recent New Materialisms and Digital Culture-event by Milla Tiainen and me. The event was filled with great talks by a range of scholars with differing disciplinary backgrounds, and ended up with the dance/technology-performance Triggered (composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall and Richard Hoadley, choreography by Jane Turner). In the midst of the text, images (taken by Tim Regan) from the performance and the conference. A warm thank you to all speakers, performers and our great audience in both parts of the day!

Anglia Ruskin University
CoDE: Cultures of the Digital Economy –research institute and Dept. of ECFM, convened by Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
21-22 of June, 2010
Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka

Opening words: What is New Materialism?


As stated in the programme we’d like to begin by just briefly engaging with one of the key components, or actants, of the symposium’s setup: the concept of “new materialism.” The purpose of this is definitely not to identify a stable referent for that term so much as to point towards some of the problems it arguably connects with. Whereas I will in few words consider the concept’s broader resonances across current cultural, social and feminist theory, Jussi will subsequently comment on ‘new materialist’ modes of questioning in conjunction with digital media culture.

Aptly, there are three books forthcoming soon whose respective titles include the concept “new materialism”—while it in each case links with varying further concepts and associated planes. “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”, to be published by Duke, features such writers as Rosi Braidotti, Sara Ahmed and Jane Bennett; the essay collection “Carnal Knowledge: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts” is edited by Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett and involves contributions by Australian and European scholars including a chapter by Jussi and myself; and two of the speakers of this symposium, Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn, are currently working on a book on philosophy of science that is entitled “New Materialism” and will come out later this year. Thus, as these particular ‘capturings’ of ongoing research for their part evidence, the concept of new materialism is increasingly partaking in the flows of language and thought of specific areas of cultural and critical thought; its “rhythms of arrival and departure”, to borrow Brian Massumi’s expression (Parables for the Virtual 2002, 20), as well as connections with various other concepts are becoming growingly regular and rich in intensity within these flows. A momentum of at least some intensive magnitude is gathering round “new materialism.” Or, perhaps better put, the concept is being utilized so as to try and couch such a momentum which is unravelling transversally across fields of inquiry whilst at the same time displaying a notable degree of consistency in terms of the implicated topics of concern.

What, then, are the problems that would lend “new materialism” its meaning or usefulness? Evidently, the precise configurations of sense and effect that the concept invokes are singular to its every usage along with being more generally in the making within the debates involving it. At its broadest, nonetheless, new materialism can be said to concern a series of questions and potentialities that revolve round the idea of active, agential and morphogenetic; self-differing and affective-affected matter. Indeed, this summary would probably be endorsed by most proponents and sceptics of new materialisms alike. To be sure, this ideational assemblage or its part-problems have also already inspired incisive critique from prolific scholars. These critics remain unconvinced about both ‘new materialism’s attempts to reconfigure the persistent dichotomies of nature/culture, body/thought, concrete/abstract etc. and the allegedly dubious politics of the category of the ‘new’ in the concept of new materialism. To paraphrase one prominent critic, Sarah Ahmed (it will be interesting to see what her contribution to the New Materialisms essay collection looks like!), the new materialist conceptions of dynamic human and non-human materialities that acquire shapes, operate and differentiate also beyond human perception and discursive representational systems are, at least within feminist new materialisms, in danger of positing matter as an it-like fetish object precisely because of their insistence on its ontological distinctiveness (Ahmed, “Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’” 2008, 35). This fetishizing is moreover enabled, according to Ahmed, by strategic amnesia regarding the previous rich engagements with biology, the body and matter that were carried out within science and technology studies and other areas of human and social sciences (again her focus lies mainly in feminist genealogies). Ahmed therefore concludes that despite intentions to the contrary many new materialist gestures actually solidify rather than ‘fluidify’ the boundaries between nature/culture and matter/signification. At the same time these projects’ declarations of the newness of their endeavours conveniently conjure up an image of theorists who embark “on a heroic and lonely struggle” (32) against the collective non- or anti-materialism of former cultural and social-theoretical stances.

Now unhinging and confounding habitual dual oppositions remains undoubtedly a challenge for any ‘new materialist’ (as well as a theoretically differently oriented) project. Yet in order to end my part of these opening words I would like to point out three aspects that go some way in responding to the criticisms Ahmed presents—along with hopefully resonating with the talks of today.
1) First of all, one of the signalling features that cuts across the heterogeneous projects we would like to propose as new materialist is their sustained commitment to developing models of immanent and continuously emergent relationality. Through insisting on the felt reality of relations for instance in the wake of William James, on the irreducibility of the in-betweens to the connecting terms, and on the intensive topological spaces of co-affectivity these models, we would argue, provide some of the most effective means on offer at the moment for thinking past the traditional rigid dualisms of nature/culture, subject/object and so on and for articulating the intuited processual co-substantiality of these facets.
2) Secondly and connectedly, the notion of the outside or virtual, which within new materialist undertakings relates or overlaps with such more specific concepts as affect, potential and variation, certainly diminishes the risk of ending up with a re-essentialized and reified conception of matter.
3) Thirdly and finally, we would like to think that the newness in the ‘new materialism’ refers less to a discrete stage let alone a point of culmination on a teleological line of theoretical understanding than to a multiplicity of attempts to live with newly composed problems whilst refreshing the vocabularies of cultural, artistic and feminist theory with “conceptual infusions” (Massumi 2002, 4) from hitherto overlooked or presently rediscovered sources.


In the context of digital media culture, the notion of “materiality” occupies a curious position in itself. As observed by Bill Brown in his entry for the recent Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago UP, 2010), our understanding of the media historical modernity has been infiltrated early on with the idea of “abstraction” — abstraction as a driving force (as with standardization of techniques, processes, and messaging) and an effect (represented in forms of power, subjectivities, cultural practices) of modernity. Recognized by a range of different writers from Karl Marx to Debord and Baudrillard, such a process has been influential in forcing us to rethink not materiality but dematerialisation as crucial to understanding the birth of technical media culture. Regimes of value, and regimes of technical media share the same impact on “things” – homogenisation, standardisation, and ease of communication/commodification in a joint tune with each other are in this perspective, and a perspective that branded critical theory for a long time, crucial aspects in any analysis of media culture’s relation to materiality.

Hence, the move from the critical evaluation of emergence of capitalist media culture seemed to flow surprisingly seamlessly as part of the more technology-oriented discourse concerning “immateriality” of the digital in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, in a new context, materiality was deemed as an obsolescent index of media development overcome by effective modes of coding, manipulating and transferring information across networks that become par excellence the object of desire of policies as much cultural discourses.

Yet, the recent years of media theory introduced an increasingly differing elaboration of how we should understand the notion of “medium” in this context. Instead of being only something that in a Kantian manner prevents access to the world of the real or material, or things (Brown, p.51) the medium itself becomes a material assemblage in the hands of a wave of German media theorists, who have develop a unique approach to media materialism, and hence new materialist notions of the world. Here the world is not reduced to symbolic, signifying structures, or representations, but is seen for such writers as Friedrich Kittler (and more recent theorists such as Wolfgang Ernst in a bit differing tone under media archaeology) as a network of concrete, material, physical and physiological apparatuses and their interconnections, that in a Foucauldian manner govern whatever can be uttered and signified. This brand of German media theory came out as an alternative exactly to the Marxist as well as hermeneutic contexts of theory dominating German discussions in the 1960s-1980s, and carved out a specific interest to the coupling of the human sensorium with the non-human worlds of modern technical media. In this insight, and ones shared by writers such as Jonathan Crary, on the one hand, the birth of modern media culture owed to the meticulous measuring of the human sensorium in various physiological settings and extending to experimental psychology labs in the late 19th and early 20th century. On the other hand, modern technical media showed such wavelengths, speeds, vibrations and other physical characteristics in itself that it escaped any phenomenological analysis, and hence tapped into a material world unknown per se to humans.

Without wanting to sound too reductionistic, I believe this is one of the key directions where media theory more recently has developed its own enthusiasm concerning a new more material understanding of media. Naturally filtered into new contexts, and transforming the way it works, such directions have however inspired also in the Anglo-American world new directions, new interests in material constellations of “platforms, interfaces, data standards, file formats, operating systems, versions and distributions of code, patches, ports and so forth”, to paraphrase Matthew Kirschenbaum. Naturally, post-representational approaches are present in a wide range of work and other thinkers, from the Deleuze-inspired cinematic philosophies of Steven Shaviro to sociological ideas of Nigel Thrift, the new materialist mappings of subhuman bodies such as blobs by Luciana Parisi to the politically tuned analyses of network culture of Tiziana Terranova — and the range of theories and theorists we are able to enjoy today.

Indeed, if I would be forced to summarize the intimate link between the analytical perspectives that go under the general umbrella term New Materialism and media theory and digital culture, it would have to do with at least three directions
1) The seemingly immaterial is embedded in wide material networks; information is informed by the existence of material networks, practices, and various entanglements, that expand both to the materiality of political economy of ownership, access and use, but also to the material assemblages which govern the way we are in media milieus.
2) Yet, technical media is also defined by non-object based materialities, which makes it slightly more difficult to conceptualise. As a regime of electromagnetic fields, of pulsations, electricity, and such fields as software, technical media and digital culture escape the language of solids.
3) The intimate connection between the dynamic human/animal body and media tech, which since the 19th century and for example experimental psychology labs has now extended to the various design practices in HCI and such that tap into the physiological thresholds of the human being in novel ways – hence the interest in affect, emotion, non-conscious and somatic levels of the human body, and emergence of various forms of interfacing, whether from the consumer tech of Kinect-gaming body-in-movement-meets-Xbox interface to still very aspirational Brain-2-Brain, B-2-B, networking and such. Its here that the knowledge about the kinetic, dynamic, and relational body feeds into understanding the moving-situatedness of us in mobile network cultures.

Time-Critical Media – a short reminder of a book that deserves attention

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

I have flagged in many contexts my interest for new materialist cultural analysis, and how it should be articulated together with a new sense of temporality. When I say “a new sense” it’s a bit misleading, but I mean the rigorous rethinking of temporality that we find across the board from Delanda to Whitehead-inspired accounts and so forth. Whereas Grossberg already pointed towards a non-signifying accounts as a mode of spatial materialism, we need to develop similar approaches that stem from radical temporality; that the world outside the human being is too dynamic, unfolding, temporal; that temporality is itself folded together with the various material assemblages of the world; that temporality is a crucial non-human force we need to articulate to understand the molecular, as well as the long durations of nature (not least in the midst of our eco crisis).

One key context for my interests comes again from Germany, and has been recently been “summed up” as a book. Axel Volmar as the editor of Zeitkritische Medien (Time-Critical Media, Kadmos Verlag, Berlin, 2009 ) has done a good job in collating together recent trends in German media theory, and approaches to the very peculiar, but even more so exciting version of media archaeology that they have been developing in the Media Studies department at Humboldt University, Berlin. Under the guidance of Professor Wolfgang Ernst, the notion of “time-criticality” and an eye towards temporal processes as a key to understand modern technical media we find a brand of media archaeology that extends not so much historically into past media but towards the microscopic workings of media machines; and how they modulate time, and the structuring temporal processes of societies.

By digging into the “microtemporalities” of media machines the introduction and the chapters try to excavate how such micro-layers are articulating the perception of reality. This means extending the media studies agenda (not surprisingly as we are in the territory of German, Kittlerian inspired media theory after all) to non-human agents and processes that however structure the phenomenological worlds of our perception and reality-effects as well. This leads furthermore to the realisation of the new realms of relations between machines themselves — no link to the human is always needed in the age of automated processes and machines communicating between themselves before they talk to the human (Guattari — who however is missing as theorist from this volume).

Paul Virilio who is well used in this book has argued for the importance of time and speed for war (and hence a link to media as well), but this book extends this to a very meticulous technical excavation into the dispositifs of how actually time gets articulated and articulates media. Technophobes beware! This brand of German media theory is not afraid of getting its hands greasy, whether we are talking of analogue media or digital algorithms (or algorythmics as Shintaro Miyazaki extends the concept in his chapter). This is where Virilio’s ideas gain real strength, or a new context when by systematic and rigorous steps machines and technologies are opened up from the logic of bitmapping (Peter Berz) to the problems of noise and signal-transmission (Hirt and Volmar).

It would be crucial to see more work of this kind in English in order to really start rethinking fundamentals of media studies. This is happening already, partly due to a Kittlerian influence, and other new waves coming e.g. from Italy (post-Fordist thought), France (e.g. Latour, Guattari, Deleuze of course) and onwards to e.g. games (Pias) with an amount of chapters that with ease move between visual media, the sonic and computational platforms. But definitely new German media studies and archaeology has a lot to say to the problems of materiality of technical media. It would benefit itself from a more elaborated discussion and joining of forces of some other similar approaches that come from different directions. Ideas of temporality have been developed e.g. in materialist feminism (Barad) and e.g. Whitehead inspired radical empiricism (Massumi, Mackenzie,etc.) and through creations of new circuits for circulation of ideas, we could have soon something really exciting on our hands. Well, the previous sentence was not to mean that all this stuff is not already that — exciting. Just that developing such creative clashes might be seen as a good method for movement of thought. Of course, its not the Germans who are the only ones doing this work; recently I have been following the stuff coming out from Utrecht direction as well whether in terms of some of the feminist work in the wake of Braidotti but also the great ideas from the New Media and Digital culture programme who also address materiality with historical, temporal methods.

Anyhow, media studies is developing into a great articulation of the interlinks between science, art and cultural analysis/philosophy, and we need to keep this movement alive with more translations and engagements. Such are the directions where UK media studies field should turn its attention to.

Apparatus theory of media á la (or in the wake of) Karen Barad


Reading through Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway is a rewarding but time-consuming event. A very durational event, at least for me. Summer is usually the time of metaphysics and other stuff that cannot be subsumed in the 1 hour slots one has between teaching etc. during term time; hence, I have ended often carrying Whitehead, Simondon and now Barad with me to the beach and other places more suitable for Ruth Rendell’s etc.

Writing the draft version of my text for Fibreculture Media Ecologies-issue and reading Barad at the same time produced this very short, but I think fascinating realisation; what Barad says about the apparatus in quantum theory and specifically Nils Bohr’s philosophy of quantum theory is actually something I try to touch in thinking through what media is in the text ( a certain kind of milieu theory of media). In short, Barad outlines Bohr’s stance how practices embody theories and more dynamically, how practices are specific practices in time that enact and differentiate theories in their work. In this context, Barad produces this six-part summary of what apparatuses are – especially in the context of physical measurements and laboratory work but something I would suggest you to read as media theory as well. In other words, replace in the text below quoted from Barad (Meeting the Universe Halfway, 2007, p. 146) every word “apparatus” with “media” – I find it a very good and material-dynamic way to understand the ontology of media technologies.

“1) apparatuses are specific material-discursive practices (they are not merely laboratory setups that embody human concepts and take measurements); 2) apparatuses produce differences that matter—they are boundary-making practices that are formative of matter and meaning, productive of, and part of, the phenomena produced; 3) apparatuses are material configurations/dynamic reconfigurings of the world; 4) apparatuses are themselves phenomena (constituted and dynamically reconstituted as part of the ongoing intra-activity of the world); 5) apparatuses have no intrinsic boundaries but are open-ended practices; and 6) apparatuses are not located in the world but are material configurations and reconfigurings of the world that re(con)figure spatiality and temporality as well as (the traditional notion of) dynamics (i.e. they do not exist as static structures, nor do they merely unfold or evolve in space and time).”

Of course, the full impact of this idea is hard to grasp outside the context of Barad’s intriguing book. And I am sure she would not mind my appropriation of her ideas to media theory as well; after all, she herself is reading quantum theory as offering the key challenges towards rethinking key notions of subjectivity, agency, causality, etc. in feminist cultural theory. (And anyway, reading laboratory apparatuses etc. in the context of media history has been done before anyway, from Jonathan Crary to Henning Schmidgen etc.)

This idea offers a fascinating “new apparatus theory” of media – that differs from what is usually referred to as apparatus approaches in film studies.

>“Radical Temporality and New Materialist Cultural Analysis”


Inspired by some of the discussions in Utrecht, I thought to remind myself of an article I need to write. We did a piece on “neomaterialist cultural analysis” with Milla already in 2006 for the Finnish journal of Cultural Studies – Kulttuurintutkimus — but never found time after that to produce anything similar in English. We had the idea of writing a short book on the topic but that’s also on ice due to lack of time. However, I believe that we should revisit again our article idea that could be something like “Radical Temporality and New Materialist Cultural Analysis.” Here an extended abstract/idea of something we would need to write with Milla.

In the midst of various “strange materialities” that we encounter through such crucial contemporary issues as ecocrisis, financial crisis, and more generally high tech network culture, an interest in what could be called new materialist cultural analysis has emerged. The interest in new materialist notions for cultural analysis can be connected to this horizon of contemporary culture where, to use Karen Barad’s idea, we need less critique than more creative modes of engagement with such issues. Ideas of new materialism can be connected to various sources and thinkers that range from Manuel DeLanda to Bruno Latour, materialist feminisms in the mode of Karen Barad to German media theory (e.g. Friedrich Kittler and Wolfgang Ernst) and from such nomadic perspectives as Rosi Braidotti’s to the earlier “spatial materialism” of Lawrence Grossberg. And then there would be a number of other people writing in this field as well, whether acknowledging themselves as “neomaterialists” but still clearly adopting such positions; e.g. Luciana Parisi, Tiziana Terranova and for example Tony D. Sampson whose non-representational Virality-book is coming out next year from University of Minnesota Press. So the list is not exhaustive, but does already point to the complexity of the notion itself. Is there even such a thing as “one” new materialist mode of cultural analysis? How do the various thinkers contribute to the notion? How do they develop such notions of materiality that move beyond both Marxist notions of materiality as analysis rooted in the material practices of reproduction of culture and philosophical notions of the material as a substance, distanced from “mind” or meaning, and in itself passive? As a pragmatic vehicle, neomaterialism provides both a spring board from “old” cultural studies to “new” cultural studies where thinkers that range from Deleuze and Guattari to Agamben and others are integrated in an increasing pace to the curricula of media and cultural studies as well as an important crossing between humanities and sciences/technology.

What we want to argue, and focus on here, is the move from spatial notions of materialism to “radical temporality” as a theme that connects various otherwise quite heterogeneous thinkers of the differing materialisms that characterise for example biodigital culture. In terms of temporality, we can tap both into the by definition temporal processes of network culture and computers, but it lends itself as much to a thinking of time-critical arts, such as performance and sonic arts where the philosophical grounding of the messy temporality can find concrete assemblages through which to illuminate further the philosophies. This does not mean a simple “applicability” but a mode of diffraction and entanglement directly with the material (Cf. Barad) as exemplified through embodiment, relations between bodies, and temporality as the connecting concept.

In other words, the focus is going to be on Karen Barad’s quantum physics orientated feminist materialism that feeds both into new notions of temporality as a continuous reiterative reallocation; on the inhuman temporal perspectives that are crucial to take into account in a consideration of the non-human ecological contexts of subjectivity; the process ontological perspectives that offer a way to think such ecologies (whether of the psyche, the social, the natural or of medial kinds) as ones based in such milieus that are primarily time critical and hence dynamic.

However, despite the role such notions of new materialist brand have played in contexts of science and technology – and quite understandable so –we want to point towards its usefulness also in art contexts. Curiously the radical temporal new materialism finds here a common ground with Massumi and Manning’s own radical empiricist and Whitehead inspired accounts of how to approach art and movement as a continous transition and displacement – the primacy of movement. Hence, radical temporalities can be found through singing bodies, performing bodies, and other such assemblages of art.

The idea needs of course much work, but I think it should focus primarily on temporality as the defining theme, and thought through such time-critical arts as sonic and performance arts. Here the link to work, creativity and post-fordism could be explicated (and has been noted by Nigel Thrift) but that is outside this article; we actually touch on that theme on another text that should be coming out this or next year in a book on new materialism edited by Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett.

Categories: barad, new materialism

>Karen Barad and the entanglement of physics with feminism — Utrecht Feminist Research Conference

June 6, 2009 1 comment

>Karen Barad did just one of those lectures of which you are not sure which end to start. Conducted in an interview format with Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, she was able to elaborate on a range of her key concepts, basics of quantum physics and some entry points to neo-materialism. As Iris pointed out at the beginning, Barad’s work bears strong resonances with Manuel Delanda and others — for example Bruno Latour’s name popped up every now and then, and indeed she used a lot of Latourian concepts. But its not only that — the neomaterialism that stems from a reading of certain feminists such as Haraway or philosophers such as Deleuze, but the dual-role, the two hats she is wearing; between physics and feminist theory. Naturally, this was one of the things she tried to articulate; how the two hats are not necessarily that separate after all, in a similar manner that all attempts to bring humanities and sciences “back” into contact have to take into account the way they have been entangled all along.

What was refreshing was Barad’s insistence on the mode of “critique” as harmful for contemporary cultural analysis. It does not provide the solutions we need, or is not useful as a tool to tackle the problems we face. I agree completely. We need accounts of the “weird materialities” that haunt technical media culture; biodigital lives; ecocatastrophy; etc. — accounts that do not rely on a) mode of reflection/representation as the key “method” or assumption, b) and hence do not rely on dualist ontologies but acknowledge how such issues as ethics are distributed on all levels of being, so to speak. Of course, these point resonate strongly with the points re. vitalism that Colebrook and Braidotti talked about yesterday.
Key notions that hence emerged were: entanglement (of matter and meaning); agential realism (that I would see as a relevant partner for ecological ontologies in the manner of e.g. Matthew Fuller’s media ecologies etc); scientific literacy that should not only be a literacy of the scientists and engineers; complex notions of temporality that do not rely on the past presence of pastness, and the coming arrival of future but in a continuous relocation and reiterative reconfiguration of temporalities (sounds very Serresian). Barad’s brilliant quantum physics example demonstrated this well. (I won’t even dare to try to explicate that). Also the notion of diffraction was continous on the table, so to speak. Diffraction is an alternative concept to that of reflection, and hence a good vehicle for a post-representational cultural analysis. Barad produced this useful division:
– geometric optics
– knowledge based on distancing the knower from the object
– and hence the division of subject vs. object
– objectivity based on such notions
– physical optics (based on a different distribution of differences)
– quantum physics
– knowing is about direct material engagement
– subjects and objects are intertwined, entangled
– objectivity is about accountability to the marks on the body; responsibility to the entanglements of which we are a part.
What is remarkable to my eyes is that these ideas can be made resonate very strongly with research that deals with actual cultural practices. Even without direct references to Barad, for example Katve-Kaisa Kontturi is doing work with visual arts that takes into account such modes of knowing that the “model” (excuse me for calling it a model) is suggesting; Milla Tiainen is doing similar stuff with performance and vocality; both of them involving ethnographic methods in their neomaterialist works. As well I could imagine Barad’s ideas’ usefulness for considerations of network culture, with its heterogeneous assemblages that cannot be reduced neither to any human agencies nor to the various layered technicalities of protocols, hardware, software, networks, etc. (And I guess the fact that her talk was a video lecture, streamed live from California testifies to the modes of transition, connectivity, etc she talked about ). Instead, we are dealing with such ecological agencies that involve the various parts in a mutual becoming that I have so far tried to open up with notions such as “assemblage”, or ethologies, but increasingly aware that for example Whitehead or Barad might give as interesting clues.
As my computer battery is dying the death, I need to finish early. Through some of the discussions, its still clear that some of the feminist thinkers are way ahead of their time (if such an idea of “ahead of time” can be said to exist after Barad’s talk!) in rethinking the practices and discourses that are crucial not only for particular politics of gender but also for the wider ecological contexts (whether ecologies of nature, or of the subject/psyche). Another thing is the question whether such huge conferences are necessary, or good for the psyche. Or whether anyone should be booked to stay at Ibis Hotel Utrecht. But then again, perhaps that’s just my personal bitterness.
Categories: barad, new materialism, utrecht