Staff and students at the University of Westminster now have access to Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway as an e-book, available from the library catalogue.
The question that arises is: to what extent does ‘the list’ displace or replace ‘the apparatus’?
(See Listing, Cataloguing, Collecting; Theory of Everything, List, List, O’List; and Apparatus, Dispositif, Material-Discursive Practice)
[Sub-text: such that a field of inquiry becomes ‘academic’]
A related question is: what are the criteria of relevance for inclusion in ‘the list’?
[Sub-text: given that it may harbour an ‘academic’ ‘methodology’]
The issues at stake concern ‘contextualisation’, as an active process, a bringing-together of phenomena, environments and atmospheres in a field of active inter-relation, and indeed generation, and the creation of what can be described as ‘conjunctures’, moments, as fields of events, that are always plural, always differential and may relate through linear or non-linear progression or aleatory succession.
How does ‘apparatus’ relate to ‘conjuncture’, as process of contextualisation?
What is the provenance of ‘conjuncture’? [For example, is it: “The central concept of the Marxist science of politics (cf. Lenin’s ‘current moment’); it denotes the exact balance of forces, state of overdetermination of the contradictions at any given moment to which political tactics must be applied” (Brewster, 1969)?]
Furthermore, how may such processes of contextualisation, whether apparatic or conjunctural, become subject to detournement or diversion (Internationale Situationniste, 1959); or simply change?
Brewster, B. (1969). Althusser Glossary 1969. Marxists Internet Archive. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/althusser/ [Accessed August 26, 2014].
Internationale Situationniste, (1959). Détournement as negation and prelude [Internationale Situationniste #3]. Situationist International Text Library. Available at: http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/315 [Accessed August 26, 2014].
As noted in Theory of Everything; List, List, O’List, lists are a significant part of contemporary academic writing practices. We may wish to contemplate the significance of the list before remarking upon one in Karen Barad’s (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway.
According to Umberto Eco (Beyer, Gorris, and Eco, 2009, 11 November),
“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.”
Bearing this thought in mind, Barad writes that reading phenomena, such as scanning tunneling microscope (STM) images, and it is worth noting that it is images or pictures that we are talking about here, “allows the frozen images to thaw out and the subject matter to come alive.” (Barad, 2007: 300)
To understand such images, Barad argues, requires a grasp of the practices which go into their making. Thus, she compiles a list of such practices [spaces, indentations and line breaks added by AP]:
“The entangled set of practices that go into the making of these images include:
STM microscopes and practices of microscopy,
the history of microscopy,
scientific and technological advances made possible by scanning tunneling microscopes,
the quantum theory of tunneling,
IBM’s corporate resources and research and development practices,
scientific curiosity and imagination,
scientific and cultural hopes for the manipulability of individual atoms,
Feynman’s dream of nanotechnologies,
capitalist modes of producing desires,
the production and public recognition of corporate logos,
the history of the atom,
the assumption of metaphysical individualism,
complex sets of visualizing and reading practices that make such images intelligible as pictures of words and things, and
the intertwined histories of representationalism and scientific practice.” (Barad, 2007: 300)
Barad comments that this is an abbreviated list that barely begins to cover the kinds of genealogies that are needed to give an objective accounting of the micrograph. [Here, it might be noted, we are close to a fusion of accounting as providing an explanation and accounting as providing a set of accounts, as a computed list, much as a (financial) accountant does; the scientist as accountant of the material world].
Having said this, Barad further notes, anticipating a possible comment that seems to arise, that,
“This is not to say that each particular scientific practice includes everything under the sun, but rather “only everything relevantly related” (Rouse 2002, 83)” (Barad, 2007: 301)
What are the criteria of relevance, though, that would put a boundary around this (compulsive?) listing?
How far are we from Jorge Luis Borges’s fantastical encyclopaedic list, discussed in his essay
“The analytical language of John Wilkins” and mentioned in the preface of Foucault’s The Order of Things?
Beyer, S., Gorris, L. and Eco, U. (2009, 11 November). “We like lists because we don’t want to die.” Spiegel Online, 11 November 2009. Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577-druck.html
Borges, J.L. (1993). The analytical language of John Wilkins. In Other inquisitions 1937-1952. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Foucault, M. (1994). The Order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences, New York, NY: Vintage Books.
How does Barad’s discussion of ‘exteriority’ and ‘objectivity’ relate to parallel discussions in psychoanalysis? For example, Weems notes that,
“Psychoanalysis teaches us that the boundaries between inside and outside are blurred as we interiorize (external) symbolic figures through fantasy, desire, projection, and transference.” (Weems, 2007: 40)
If, indeed, relations between inside and outside, for humans as part of the world’s intra-active becoming, are mediated by:
how does Barad propose to sort among these blurred relations in her agential realism, such as to distinguish and perceive the ‘phenomenon’ in question, and to enact an ‘ethical’ relation to the ongoing situation, event or process?
We might agree that this is an ‘entanglement’, but can insights from quantum mechanics help us here?
Weems, L. (2007). To be mindful of otherness: toward a post-psychoanalytic problematic of ethics and education. Philosophical Studies in Education, 50, pp.37–50. Available at: http://www.ovpes.org/2007/Weems.pdf
On page 226 of Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad states that,
“In this chapter, I diffractively read [Leela] Fernandes’s notion of the structural-discursive relations of power and an agential realist understanding of material-discursive relations of power through each other.” (Barad, 2007: 226)
The question motivating Fernandes’s study is why did the economic crisis in the jute industry in India in the 1980s result in the disproportionate ejection of women from the jute labour force.
1. The value of Barad’s agential realism
Karen Barad makes broad claims for the explanatory power of her agential realist approach, arguing that it draws on, “the insights of some of our best scientific and social theories, including quantum physics, science studies, the philosophy of physics, feminist theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, (post-) Marxist theory, and poststructuralist theory.” (Barad, 2007: 25)
However, the primary value of Karen Barad’s agential realism may be as a contribution to the interpretation of quantum physics. The nature of that contribution, as she herself expresses it, is to present, “a way of interpreting quantum physics that builds on Bohr’s interpretation while removing its humanist elements” (Barad, 2007: 248).