Theory of Everything; List, List, O, List

In some recent academic writing, perhaps to convince of the comprehensiveness and/or adequacy of a particular theory or approach, or perhaps to forestall objections in advance (prolepsis, in one of its meanings), there is a tendency to create lists and, indeed, to insert second-order lists into first-order lists.

Karan Barad is not entirely innocent of this writing practice. For example, in Meeting the Universe Halfway she writes,

“Haraway’s critique of models of spatialization that reify complex practices and make them into things inside containers captures some of the key elements of the kinds of shifts in refiguring space, time, and matter that I am interested in exploring here, including [spacing and line breaks added by AP]

the dynamic and contingent materialization of space, time, and bodies;

the incorporation of material-social factors

(including gender, race, sexuality, religion, and nationality, as well as class)

but also technoscientific and natural factors in processes of materialization

(and where the constitution of the “natural” and the “social” is part of what is at issue and at stake);

the iterative (re)materialization of the relations of production; and

the agential possibilities and responsibilities for reconfiguring the material relations of the world.” (Barad, 2007: 224)

Barad uses such listing relatively sparingly. For a more wholesale approach to listing, one might consult William Connolly’s The Fragility of Things. In the quotation below, he is discussing how “a world of becoming” (Connolly, 2013: 28) might be characterised. He suggests that such a world is made up of force fields. Thus,

“The world of temporal force fields includes [spaces and line breaks added by AP]

solar energy fields;

radioactive decay in the interior of the earth that periodically activates volcanoes;

flows of molten metal in the lithosphere that periodically erupt on the crust as mountains, earthquakes, and volcanoes;

slow movements of tectonic plates that change the composition of continents and oceans and occasionally generate earthquakes and volcanoes;

ocean current systems with a degree of self-maintaining power and susceptibility to change by tectonic plate activity, atmospheric changes, changes in the ratio of ice to water, changes in water temperature, and differentials of salt density between sections of the ocean;

a climate system with both impressive powers of self-maintenance and susceptibility to feedback loops with other systems, including capitalist expansion, shifts in ocean currents, and changes in the ratio of ice to water in oceans;

a system of species evolution, periodically modified by asteroid showers, aesthetic tastes, climate change, gene and disease transfers across species, changes in the pace and scale of world travel, and capitalist evolution;

a magnetic field providing the Earth with its atmosphere, connected to several other systems;

systems of soil maintenance, imbricated with species evolution, climate change, capitalist agriculture, and oil spills;

a civilizational system with internal rhythms of change that can accelerate, turn, or become overwhelmed by a perfect storm of changes in climate, soil quality, disease transmission, volcanic eruptions, military invasion, and new intensities of regional and/or class resentments;

regional religious systems, fluctuating in their degree of affirmation or resentment of the most fundamental terms of human existence, intercoded at various times with the several systems noted above;

bacterial and viral disease species jumps, some enabling human life and others threatening it through interactions with systems of place transportation, livestock, droughts, soil erosion, and so forth;

a few hundred years of capitalist expansion, tethered by a thousand threads, pulleys, and osmotic processes to these other systems; and

interacting secular, theological, and philosophical cultures, many of which have heretofore been organised around contests over whether an omnipotent God dominates creativity, a benign telos governs things, or human beings can master the forces around them to become supreme.” (Connolly, 2013: 28-29)

The questions are: what kind of discourse is this? On whom does it depend? Here, another list is called for:

“If we scope down to recent thought in the West, we can identify several theologians and philosophers who articulate various interpretations of a multitiered cosmos of becoming. They include [spacing and line breaks added by AP]


William James,

Henri Bergson,

Alfred North Whitehead,

Catherine Keller,

Stuart Kauffman,

Karen Barad,

Ilya Prigogine, and

Gilles Deleuze.” (Connolly, 2013: 29)


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.

Connolly, W.E. (2013). The Fragility of things: self-organizing processes, neoliberal fantasies, and democratic activism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


2 thoughts on “Theory of Everything; List, List, O, List

  1. Pingback: Listing, Cataloguing, Collecting | Open Readings

  2. Pingback: List, Apparatus/Dispositif, Conjuncture: Detournement | Open Readings

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