Archive for the ‘utrecht’ Category

New materialism still feels new

Silhouettes of the iconic Haraway and Braidotti

Seeing two such iconic scholars as Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti on stage at the same time is always a treat.  This was in the context of New Materialism: Naturecultures, a wonderful continuation of last year’s New Materialisms and Digital Culture, and continuing the vibrant discussions surrounding how to think the material as dynamic and alive – and diffractively leaking across disciplinary  borders of knowledge, assembling into new theory war machines, intensive encounters, and problematics that themselves offer milieus for fresh thought. Organized by Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphjin, the conference featured speakers such as Haraway, Vicky Kirby, Adrian Mackenzie, Milla Tiainen and Melanie Sehgal – as well as yours truly. It’s clear that Haraway was the main feature, starting the whole day with her energetic talk “Playing Cat’s Cradle with Companion Species: Naturecultures-in-the-making.” It drew on the figure of the string – and the Cat’s Cradle game – which visualizes, embodies and is a tool-to-think-with knots knotting, ties engantgling, and relations in-the-making. In other words, companion species and the importance of the “with”.  At the same time, all presentations worked towards interesting directions in aesthetics and science of mattering dynamics. My own emphasis was on “medianatures” as a version of “naturecultures” topological continuum.

Again the conference succeeded in moving across science, technology and philosophy, and the importance of material feminisms was present (not only because the event was organized in Utrecht, easily one of the leading gender studies centres of the world). As such, as van der Tuin nicely elaborated in her opening words – new materialisms are transversal at their heart. Next year’s event is organized in Linnköping (with Cecilia Åsberg), and is themed “Genealogies of Matter”. The name already promises even more transversal connections,  cartographies of though-movements and forging discussion across different ways of engaging with matter, the real, and things/processes non-human too.

For instance, it would be interesting to articulate something about the relations between the mode of questioning in speculative realism and object-oriented-philosophy and new materialism. With such figures as Shaviro, Delanda and for instance Whitehead (and as always, Deleuze) quoted frequently on “both sides”, it is actually slightly surprising no further discussion has emerged. New materialisms is very strongly affiliated with feminist discussions which is one of its strengths and points towards a different set of politics that engage not solely with ontology – but with labour, sexuality and a range of cultural practices. Of course, its not that OOP is solely about ontology, but its clear that the direction of discussions has been taking it to a different set of questions than new materialism that has a very strong relation to other disciplines outside philosophy too – cultural and gender studies, Science and Technology, as well as media theory, I would add.

Meanwhile, while returning from the Netherlands to Berlin, this advert on Schiphol airport reminded me of what we need to address: the cultures of mobility, at the core of circulations of neoliberal regimes of governing too, articulated together with the seeming lightness of cloud computing, which however is at the core of the new materialities of digital culture – which far from immaterial are embedded in very heavy materialities as their sustaining “background forces”…

Cloud computing takes trust - and energy

>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