Karen Barad Material Discurse
Post on 22-Oct-2015
Karen Barad 1
Karen BaradBorn April, 1956
Occupation professor, theoretical physicist, feminist theorist
Karen Michelle Barad (born April, 1956) is an American feminist theorist best known for her theory of AgentialRealism. She is currently Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at the Universityof California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and theEntanglement of Matter and Meaning. Her research topics include feminist theory, physics, twentieth-centurycontinental philosophy, epistemology, ontology, philosophy of physics, cultural studies of science, and feministscience studies.
Barad earned her doctorate in theoretical physics at Stony Brook University. Her dissertation presentedcomputational methods for quantifying properties of fermions and quarks in the framework of lattice gauge theory.
Agential RealismAccording to Barad's theory of agential realism, the world is made up of phenomena, which are "the ontologicalinseparability of intra-acting agencies". Intra-action, a neologism introduced by Barad, signals an importantchallenge to individualist metaphysics. For Barad, things or objects do not precede their interaction, rather, 'objects'emerge through particular intra-actions. Thus, apparatuses, which produce phenomena are not assemblages ofhumans and nonhumans (as in actor-network theory), rather they are the condition of possibility of 'humans' and'non-humans', not merely as ideational concepts, but in their materiality. Apparatuses are 'material-discursive' in thatthey produce determinate meanings and material beings while simultaneously excluding the production of others.What it means to matter is therefore always material-discursive. Barad takes her inspiration from physicist NielsBohr, one of the founders of quantum physics. Barad's agential realism is at once an epistemology (theory ofknowing), an ontology (theory of being), and an ethics. Barad coins the term onto-epistemology. Because specificpractices of mattering have ethical consequences, excluding other kinds of mattering, onto-epistemological practicesare always in turn onto-ethico-epistemological.Much of Barad's scholarly work has revolved around her concept of "agential realism," and her theories holdimportance for many academic fields, including science studies, STS (Science, Technology, and Society), feministtechnoscience, philosophy of science, feminist theory, and, of course, physics. In addition to Bohr, her work draws agreat deal on the works of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, as demonstrated in her influential article in thefeminist journal differences, "Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality." Barad'straining is actually in theoretical physics, and her 2007 book, Meeting the Universe Halfway, includes a chapter thatcontains an original discovery in theoretical physics, which is largely unheard of in books that are usuallycategorized as 'gender studies' or 'cultural theory' books. In this book, Barad also argues that 'agential realism,' isuseful to the analysis of literature, social inequalities, and many other things. This claim is based on the fact thatBarad's agential realism is a way of understanding the politics, ethics, and agencies of any act of observation, andindeed any kind of knowledge practice. According to Barad, the deeply connected way that everything is entangledwith everything else means that any act of observation makes a "cut" between what is included and excluded fromwhat is being considered. Nothing is inherently separate from anything else, but separations are temporarily enactedso one can examine something long enough to gain knowledge about it. This view of knowledge provides aframework for thinking about how culture and habits of thought can make some things visible and other things easierto ignore or to never see. For this reason, according to Barad, agential realism is useful for any kind of feministanalysis, even if the connection to science is not apparent.
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Barad's framework makes several other arguments, and some of them are part of larger trends in fields such asscience studies and feminist technoscience (all can be found in her 2007 book, Meeting the Universe Halfway): She defines agency as a relationship and not as something that one "has." The scientist is always part of the apparatus, and one needs to understand that in order to make scientific work
more accurate and more rigorous. This differs from the view that political critiques of science seek to underminethe credibility of science; instead, Barad argues that this kind of critique actually makes for better, more crediblescience.
She argues that politics and ethical issues are always part of scientific work, and only are made to seem separateby specific historical circumstances that encourage people to fail to see those connections. She uses the exampleof the ethics of developing nuclear weapons to argue this point, by claiming that the ethics and politics are part ofhow such weapons were developed and understood, and therefore part of science, and not merely of the"philosophy of science" or the "ethics of science." This differs from the usual view that one can strive for apolitics-free, bias-less science.
Nevertheless, she argues against moral relativism, which, according to Barad, uses science's "human" aspects asan excuse to treat all knowledge, and all ethical frameworks, as equally false. She uses Michael Frayn's play,Copenhagen, as an example of the kind of moral relativism that she finds problematic.
She also rejects the idea that science is "only" a language game or set of fictions produced only by humanconstructions and concepts. Although the scientist is part of the "intra-action" of the experiment, humans (andtheir cultural constructs) do not have complete control over everything that happens. Barad expresses this point bysaying, in Getting Real, that although scientists shape knowledge about the universe, you can't ignore the way theuniverse "kicks back."
These points on science, agency, ethics, and knowledge reveal that Barad's work is similar to the projects of otherscience studies scholars such as Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Andrew Pickering, and Evelyn Fox Keller.Karen Barad is currently at the University of California Santa Cruz. According to her University web page, "KarenBarad is Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at the University of California atSanta Cruz. Her Ph.D. is in theoretical particle physics. She held a tenured appointment in a physics departmentbefore moving into more interdisciplinary spaces. She is the author of Meeting the Universe Halfway: QuantumPhysics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke University Press, 2007) and numerous articles in thefields of physics, philosophy, science studies, poststructuralist theory, and feminist theory. Her research has beensupported by the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Hughes Foundation, the Irvine Foundation,the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is the Co-Director of the Science &Justice Graduate Training Program at UCSC."
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Library resources aboutKaren Barad
Resources in your library 
Resources in other libraries 
By Karen Barad
Online books 
Resources in your library 
Resources in other libraries 
(de) "Diffraktionen: Differenzen, Kontingenzen und Verschrnkungen von Gewicht," in Corinna Bath, HannaMeiner, Stephan Trinkhaus, Susanne Vlker (Eds.), Geschlechter Interferenzen: Wissensformen -Subjektivierungsweisen - Materialisierungen. Berlin/ Mnster: Lit, 2013, S. 27-68. ISBN 978-3-643-10904-0
(de) Agentieller Realismus. ber die Bedeutung materiell-diskursiver Praktiken. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012. EditionUnseld, Band 45. ISBN 978-3-518-26045-6
(en/de) What is the Measure of Nothingness? Infinity, Virtuality, Justice / Was ist das Ma des Nichts?Unendlichkeit, Virtualitt, Gerechtigkeit, Book N099 of dOCUMENTA (13): 100 Notes 100 Thoughts / 100Notizen 100 Gedanken, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012, 36p. ISBN 3-7757-2949-6. ISBN 3-7757-3129-6. ISBN978-3-7757-3129-4
(en) "On Touching - The Inhuman That Therefore I Am," in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies,2012, 23(3): 206-223.
(en) "Nature's Queer Performativity"  [the authorized version], in: Kvinder, Kn og forskning/ Women, Genderand Research , Copenhagen, No. 1-2 (2012) Feminist Materialisms , pp. 25-53. pdf 
(en) "Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTimeEnfoldings, and Justice-to-Come" (published in Derrida Today, Nov 2010, Vol. 3, No. 2, 240-268.)
(en) "Queer Causation and the Ethics of Mattering, in Queering the Non/Human, edited by Noreen Giffney andMyra J. Hird. Ashgate Press (Queer Interventions Book Series), 2008.
(en) "Schrdingers Cat, in Bits of Life: Feminism and the New Cultures of Media and Technoscience, edited byAnneke Smelik and Nina Lykke. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning", DukeUniversity Press, 2007
"Posthumanist Performativity: How Matter Comes to Matter" (originally published in Signs in 2003, reprinted invarious anthologies)
"Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality (published in differences in 1998) "Re(con)figuring Space, Time, and Matter," in Feminist Locations (2001) "Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy, or Learning How to Intra-act Responsibly Within the
World," in Doing Culture + Science, edited by Roddey Reid and Sharon Traweek (2000) "Agential Realism: Feminist Interventions in Understanding Scientific Practices," in The Science Studies Reader,
edited by Mario Biagioli (1998) "Meeting the Universe Halfway: Realism and Social Constructivism Without Contradiction," in Feminism,
Science, and the Philosophy of Science, edited by Lynn Hankinson Nelson and Jack Nelson (1996)
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References UC Santa Cruz - Feminist Studies (http:/ / feministstudies. ucsc. edu/ faculty/ singleton. php?& singleton=true& cruz_id=kbarad) Books at Duke University Press (http:/ / www. dukeupress. edu/ books. php3?isbn=978-0-8223-3917-5) Palcom: Matterealities (http:/ / www. ist-palcom. org/ activities/ matterealities/ ) http:/ / unjobs. org/ authors/ karen-barad http:/ / tools. wmflabs. org/ ftl/ cgi-bin/ ftl?st=viaf& su=18822822 http:/ / tools. wmflabs. org/ ftl/ cgi-bin/ ftl?st=viaf& su=18822822& library=0CHOOSE0 http:/ / tools. wmflabs. org/ ftl/ cgi-bin/ ftl?at=viaf& au=18822822& library=OLBP http:/ / tools. wmflabs. org/ ftl/ cgi-bin/ ftl?at=viaf& au=18822822 http:/ / tools. wmflabs. org/ ftl/ cgi-bin/ ftl?at=viaf& au=18822822& library=0CHOOSE0 https:/ / tidsskrift. dk/ index. php/ KKF/ article/ download/ 51863/ 95446 https:/ / tidsskrift. dk/ index. php/ KKF/ index https:/ / tidsskrift. dk/ index. php/ KKF/ issue/ view/ 2118/ showToc
External links Karen Barad's UCSC web page (http:/ / feministstudies. ucsc. edu/ faculty/ singleton. php?& singleton=true&
cruz_id=kbarad) Joseph Rouse's discussion of her agential realism, available on MUSE (http:/ / muse. jhu. edu/ login?uri=/
journals/ hypatia/ v019/ 19. 1rouse. pdf) Review of Getting Real at the Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research (http:/ / www. tandfonline. com/
doi/ abs/ 10. 1080/ 08038741003627062)
Article Sources and Contributors 5
Article Sources and ContributorsKaren Barad Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=589037309 Contributors: Alitehrani, Amor amor, And we drown, ArielGold, Billions&billions, Brad7777, Cander0000,Chastah, Environnement2100, Glaukopis, Gregbard, Handsmear, Humanitieswriter2222, Hweyl, Inf5011 2, Jaccochrysler, John of Reading, Liz, Malten, Mary Mark Ockerbloom,MathewTownsend, Morgansutherland, Omnipaedista, Pipifaxa, ProfGiles, Robofish, Scoutcalvert, Timrollpickering, Voyager640, Waacstats, 6 anonymous edits
LicenseCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0//creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
Reflections From Karen Barads Keynote Address Posted on February 17, 2013 I spent (a portion of) Valentines Day with Karen Barad. I was fortunate enough to attend Mattering: Feminism, Science, and Materialism, a two-day conference that took place at the CUNY Graduate Center this past week. Karen Barad delivered the keynote address at the conference, and the panels at the conference spoke to and were inspired/influenced/complicated by Barads work. Given that my own research is diffracted through material feminist thought and Barads agential realism in particular, Mattering was an ideal experience for me in that it provided me first-hand access to Barad and an interdisciplinary mix of scholars drawing from her work.
Before I continue with some reflections on her keynote address, I want to share that Barad attended panels at this conference in addition to delivering her keynote. Seeing her in the audience at panels, taking notes and asking questions of the presenters, was quite an experience for meKaren Barad as co-learner. It was after one of the panels that I first met and conversed with her in person.
Barads keynote address was a multimodal, abbreviated version of her article, Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come. She opened with the concern that she had inadvertently given readers permission to not read chapter seven of Meeting the Universe Halfway. Though she didnt elaborate, Im guessing this permission came from her encouragement in the introduction of the book that less scientifically inclined readers, or readers who may think of themselves as not very interested in the details of the philosophical issues in quantum physics at least give a cursory reading to chapter seven (Meeting 37-38). Chapter seven, Quantum Entanglements: Experimental Metaphysics and the Nature of Nature, is a lengthy (just over 100 pages), physics-heavy chapter in which Barad, through examples and discussion of physics experiments, essentially establishes a quantum framework for a relational ontology. So in part, her keynote was a physics lesson, and I have to say, a physics lesson from Karen Barad is an intense, stimulating, and surprisingly unintimidating experienceeven for someone like me who did read chapter seven, about seven times actually.
While much of the keynote was review for me, because I had read the quantum entanglements article and chapter seven of Meeting the Universe Halfway, I was not in the least disappointed. Reading Barads ideas are one thing, but watching her perform those ideas was something else entirely. She immediately starting making connections between science and politics, science and justice, and science and ethics and stated that science and justice are not separate elements that interact ever now and then. She said that her theory of agential realism is a diffraction grading to read science and politics through one another so that neither is given authority over the other and that agential realism reveals possibilities of/for justice to come. Barad claimed that matter is always about trans-materiality and whats at stake in a notion of trans-materiality are questions of being, knowing, and getting along together. Given my own research interests, Barads keynote spoke to exactly what I needed it to speak tothe ethical and political implications of relational ontology overall and agential realism in particular. Again, while she discusses ethics and politics at numerous places in her writings, watching her elaborate on those discussions (and having the opportunity to ask questions of her) really helped me fill in some of the gaps in my understanding.
Another point Barad made, and one that was also taken up by one of the presenters on an earlier panel, was the idea of possessing an awareness of and having an accountability to the concepts we use in our work. Barad stated that concepts are specific material arrangements. Matter and meaning entail one another. This emphasis on understanding the concepts we use and how we use them and on being accountable to the kinds of worlds that we participate in (re)materializing through our use of those concepts is so refreshing to me. So often, we use concepts without even understanding what we mean by them, let alone with having any kind of understanding of the mattering were participating in through our use of them (or even any knowledge that were participating in a mattering process/dance/event/activity). For instance, the crucial and apocalyptic concepts of human and nonhuman are thrown around without regard, explanation, or distinction even amongst scholars who participate in work that implicitly or explicitly undermines those concepts. So to hear Barad discuss concepts as mattering practices was like a lightbulb moment for me. I wanted to stand up and cheer (no, Im not exaggerating).
In the Q & A portion, Barad responded to the question of scale in her work, that is, the question of how a theory inspired by occurrences at the quantum level is applicable to bodies in the world. To that question, reminding us of her comments about concepts, Barad asked, What is scale? She said that if we take the electron seriously as a phenomenon, the electron entails the history of the worldall the bodies, instruments, ethics, politics, controversies, and (re)configurings that exist in the electron as phenomenon exist in everything. So, its not the case that the electron or quantum physics exists in a vacuum like questions of scale would lead us to believe, and to understand the electron and/or quantum physics as existing in a vacuum is to misunderstand or to undermine Barads theory of phenomena as primary ontological units.
In response to a question about Barads own ethical inquires, she stated, Im very interested in what people dont see and why they dont see it. Barad then spoke about issues of containment and concealment and ways in which what we want to contain and conceal (and I would add how we go about that containment and concealment) might reveal to us about how we intra-act. She responded to questions about her being classified as a new materialist, and she urged the audience to please be generous in our theoretical and disciplinary boundary drawing.
By far, the highlight of the keynote and the Q & A for me on a personal level was when Barad, after commenting on all the faces she got to see by attending this conference and the reception her work has received, said, There was a time when I couldnt find anyone to talk to. For me, studying rhetoric through a posthumanist and material feminist lens and diffracting that study through Critical Animal Studies (though I still hate that name) sometimes, many times, leaves me feeling like I cant find anyone to talk to or like I have to work harder to make others see why my research is relevant. To hear Barad, at a conference organized around her work, talk about a time when no one seemed interested in what she had to say was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed to hear at this most important time when Im beginning research for what will be my dissertation project.
Overall, the keynote left me wanting more Barad, not because it was deficient in any way but because it inspired a plethora of additional questions. But then, I guess thats the sign of a successful address
Notes on Agential Realism Part I: Basic Definitions Posted on December 28, 2011
This is the first of a series of posts I intend to compose regarding my reading of Karen Barads Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. This is also the first post Ive written in which Im using my blog space as a means of keeping track of various readings/theories and my (re)working of those readings/theories as they apply to my own research- sort of like a public notebook.
In Meeting the Universe Halfway, Barad argues for her theory of agential realism. Based on the philosophy-physics of Niels Bohr, agential realism is a theory that asks us to rethink everything we think we know about, well, everything- reality, episte-mology, ontology, ethics. In order to understand what Barad means by agential reality, one must first understand the language in which she describes and defines her theory. Words such as apparatus, phenomena, and agency take on entirely new meanings under an agential realist understanding. The focus of this post is to highlight those new meanings while working towards an understanding of agential realism and its potential for rhetorical studies.
Posthumanism- Posthumanism, as I intend it here, is not calibrated to the human; on the contrary, it is about taking issue with human exceptionalism while being accoun-table for the role we play in the differential constitution and differential positioning of the human among other creatures (both living and nonliving) Posthumanism eschews both humanist and structuralist accounts of the subject that position the human as either pure cause or pure effect, and the body as the natural and fixed dividing line between interiority and exteriority. Posthumanism doesnt presume the separateness of any- thing, let alone the alleged spatial, ontological, and epistemological distinction that sets humans apart (136) Barads definition of posthumanism supports her idea that relata do not preexist relations (140). Without preexisting independent subjects, neither humans nor any species can occupy a position of exceptionalism.
Phenomena- In my agential realist elaboration, phenomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability of observer and observed, or the results of measure-ments; rather, phenomena are the ontological inseparability/entanglement of intra-acting agencies. That is, phenomena are ontologically primitive relations- relations without preexisting relata (139) It is important to note Barads use of the term intra-acting as opposed to interacting. To interact implies that two preexisting subjects engage in or encounter one another. To intra-act, on the other hand, implies an ongoing becoming, an agential separability- the condition of exteriority-within-phenomena (140). Through phenomena, relata emerge through specific intra-actions. Barad names these specific intra-actions agential cuts. It is these agential cuts that provide for an alterative ontological condition for objectivity. Barad writes, Reality is composed not of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena but of things-in-phenomena. The world is a dynamic process of intra-activity (140). Phenomena, for Barad, are primary ontological units. Things do not preexist.
Apparatus- Apparatuses are specific material reconfigurings of the world that do not merely emerge in time but iteratively reconfigure spacetimematter as part of the ongoing dynamism of becoming (142). Barads summary of her agential realist account of apparatus is as follows:
1. Apparatuses are specific material-discursive practices.
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.
5. Apparatuses have no intrinsic boundaries but are open-ended practices.
6. Apparatuses are not located in the world but are material configurations or 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). (146)
Basically, apparatuses are boundary-making practices.
Agency- Agency is not an attribute of a subject or an object (remember, under agential realism no subjects or objects preexist). Agency is an enactment. Agency is doing or being in its intra-activity. It is the enactment of iterative changes to particular practices- interative reconfigurings of topological manifolds of spacetimematter relations- through the dynamics of intra-activity. (178). Agency is an act, an entanglement. Under this definition, agency is in no way limited to humans. It cant be, no entity known as a human being preexists.
Ethics- Since different agential cuts materialize different phenomena- different marks on bodies- our intra-actions do not merely effect what we know and therefore demand an ethics of knowing; rather, our intra-actions contribute to the differential mattering of the world. Objectivity means being accountable for marks on bodies, that is, specific materializations in their differential mattering. We are responsible for the cuts that we help enact not because we do the choosing (neither do we escape responsibility because we are chosen by them), but because we are an agential part of the material becoming of the universe. Cuts are agentially enacted not by willful individuals but by the larger material arrangement of which we are a part (178). There is no outside other. Under agential realism, subjects and objects are co-constitutive and always already entangled.
Coming up in Part II: Material-Discursive Practices and the Limitations of Language
Notes on Agential Realism Part II: Material-Discursive Practices and the Limitations of Language I think when most of us hear the word discourse we think of language, and when we think of language we think of human language. We think of human speech, possibly writing where writing means the act of putting together letters, numbers, and symbols to form sentences. In Meeting the Universe Halfway, however, Karen Barad writes that discourse is not a synonym for language. Following (and advancing) Foucaults notion of discursive practices, Barad argues that to think of discourse as mere spoken or written words forming descriptive statements is to enact the mistake of representationalist thinking (146). Discourse, Barad argues, is not what is said but what enables or constrains what can be said. Discursive practices define what counts as meaningful statements (146). Discursive practices are intrinsically material by nature. Barad writes, In an agential realist account, discursive practices are specific material (re)configurings of the world through which the determination of boundaries, properties, and meanings is differentially enacted (148). Meaning, for Barad, is not a property of individual words or groups of words but an ongoing performance of the world in its differential dance of intelligibility and unin-telligibility (149). Meaning is made possible through specific material practices. Discursive practices, then, are both ontic and semantic. Via intra-actions, material-discursive practices form boundaries that are fluid in that they are dependent upon the continuation of agential intra-activity to exist. In an agential realist under-standing of meaning, words and things are indeterminate outside of particular intra-actions. Matter is therefore not to be understood as a property of things but, like discursive practices, must be understood in more dynamic and productive terms- in terms of intra-activity (150). Matter is not a thing; matter is a doing.
It is also important to note that Barad defines intelligibility as an ontological per-fromance of the world in its ongoing articulation (149). Intelligibility is not a human-dependent characteristic but a feature of the world in its differential becoming (149). Unlike Foucault and Butler who limit their philosophies to human subjects, Barads notion of agential realism goes beyond an anthropocentric understanding of matter and discourse.
In summary, Barad writes:
Neither discursive practices nor material phenomena are ontologically or epistemo-logically prior. Neither can be explained in terms of the other. Neither is reducible to the other. Neither has privileged status in determining the other. Neither is articulated or articulable in the absence of the other; matter and meaning are mutually articulated. (152).
Applying agential realism to the two main areas of my research (placing animals in rhetorical studies and conducting an analysis of the slaughter industry) allows me to look at specific boundary-making practices in absence of preexisting meanings about particular words or concepts. Or, at least it allows me to ask my readers what the world might look like if we could operate in absence of those preexisting meanings.
Coming up in Part III: The Brittlestar
Notes on Agential Realism Part III: The Brittlestar This is a brittlestar:
Closely related to the starfish, the brittlestar is also known as the serpent star because of the five long tentacle-like arms that extend from its central body. Found in the deep waters of all marine areas, the brittlestar is an interesting creature in that it has no eyes or other specialized sense organs. The entire brittlestar is its own sense organ. Its entire skeletal systemis covered with roughly ten thousand calcite crystals that collect and focus light directly onto nerve bundles that are part of the brittlestars diffuse nervous system. Remarkably, the brittlestars secrete this crystalline form of calcium carbonate (calcite) and organize it to make optical arrays (370). Basically, the brittlestars skeletal system is composed of microlenses that, in combination with its nervous system, function as a compound eye. In Meeting the Universe Halfway, Barad uses the brittlestar to illustrate her theory of agential realism. I will attempt to summarize her discussion of agential realism and the brittlestar in the remainder of this post.
Sight is the privileged sense among human beings for certain. Seeing is believing, right? But sight for us tends to represent a barrier between the seeing subject and the object (the eyeball) doing the seeing. For brittlestars, that division doesnt exist. They, the entire being that is the brittlestar, are eyes. Barad writes, It is not merely the case that the brittlestars visual system is embodied; its very being is a visualizing apparatus. The brittlestar is a living, breathing, metamorphosing optical system. For a brittlestar, being and knowing, materiality and intelligibility, substance and form, entail one another (375).
Not only is the brittlestar a seeing body, it is also capable of changing its color in response to the available light in its surrounding (important for eluding predators for certain). It can also break off a portion of its body and regrow that portion (brittlestar, get it?). Now, I think all of that is pretty amazing in and of itself, but Barad uses the brittlestars ongoing reworking of its bodily boundaries to discuss material-discursive practices (375). She writes:
Its [the brittlestar] discursive practices- the boundary-drawing practices by which it differentiates itself from the environment with which it intra-acts and by which it makes sense of its world, enabling it to discern a predator, for example- are materially enacted. The brittlestars bodily structure is a material agent in what it sees and knows as part of the worlds dynamic engagement in practices of knowing. Similarly, its bodily materiality is not a passive, blank surface awaiting the imprint of culture or history to give it meaning or open it to change; its very substance is morphologically active and generative and plays an agentive role in its differential production, its ongoing materialization. (375-6)
The brittlestar (re)configures its bodily boundaries based upon its intra-activity with its world. This animal beautifully demonstrates the notion that bodies are not situated in the world but are part of the world (376). Bodies are not things, bodies are performances.
Rhetoric As Action: An Entangled Theory The following paragraphs are taken from the opening paragraphs of my (still in progress) MA thesis. The ideas are a little rough and the claims are a little large, but I plan to see them through to fruition.
My original plan for this project was to argue for the consideration of nonhuman animals in rhetorical studies as the field of rhetoric is defined today, that is, to argue for nonhuman animals as agents capable of the art of persuasion, but during my research I began to see a new plan emerging. Slowly. Painfully, at times, this new plan revealed itself to me. It affected me. It persuaded me to set it before you for deliberation. And so my new plan is to argue for the reorientation of rhetorical scholarship from a discipline that seeks out the persuasive maneuvering of a rhetor to/for his audience to a discipline that acknowledges that the line between rhetor and audience is always already fluid. This rhetoric is action. It is entanglement. It is becoming, and under this reorientation of rhetoric nonhumans and humans are co-constitutive and the a priori rhetoricity of situations is taken as a given. Let me be clear, I have not changed my position because I am unable to construct an argument for the consideration of nonhumans in classical rhetoric but because I am have become increasingly concerned that rhetoric, as seated in a tradition of placing the human as that which is opposite the animal, of asserting the intent of a rhetor as absolute, and of emphasizing human language in its study, is insufficient as a contemporary discipline. In a (post?)postmodern era, a rhetoric born in antiquity is just that, antiquated, not because it was born in antiquity but because it has remained, more or less, stagnant since its birth more than two-thousand years ago.
This is probably around the time that my grandmother (or a patient academic mentor) might tell me that the best way to carve an ice block is with a chisel and not a chainsaw, and perhaps they would be right. As the lone rhetor intent on persuading my audience to see things my way maybe a more subtle approach would garner greater support for my position. But then the lone rhetor is a myth; neither myself nor my audience can ever see things my way; and, I have always had an affinity for power tools.
Notes on Burkes Terministic Screens Posted on January 11, 2012 Ive been working my way through Kenneth Burkes Language As Symbolic Action to gain an understanding of Burkes concept of terministic screens. In the chapter titled, Terministic Screens, Burke begins by making a distinction between what he considers to be two approaches to the nature of language. The two approaches are a scientistic approach and a dramatistic approach.
A scientistic approach views language as definition. Burke writes that the scientistic approach builds the edifice of language with primary stress upon a proposition such as It is, or it is not (44). A dramatistic approach views language as action, symbolic action. Burke writs that the dramatistic approach puts the primary stress upon such hortatory expressions as thou shalt, or thou shalt not (44). Burke is careful to note that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and even points out that his own act of making a distinction between the two approaches is both an act of definition and a symbolic act. However, there own considerable distinctions between Burkes two approaches to the nature of language with regards to how they are used. Burke suggests that the scientistic approach typically is associated with the assumptions we make concerning symbolic logic, while the dramatistic approach is associated with stories, plays, poems, the rhetoric of oratory and advertising, mythologies, theologies, and philosophies (45). The dramatistic approach is concerned with the suasive nature of even the most unemotional scientific nomenclature (45).
As symbolic action, the dramatistic approach looks at how language is used to filter though (and filter out) how we look at and intra-act (borrowing Barads term) with our world. Burke writes, Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality (45). Hence, Burkes concept of terministic screens, or the ways in which the same object can take on different meanings/appearances depending upon what lens or filter its viewed through. For an example, Burke offers his account of seeing different photos of the same object. He writes that the photos were different because they were made with different colored filters, or (if the different colors were different words) different terministic screens (45).
Whats so important to note about terministic screens is that they play a significant role in determining what we can see and say and question and even think about our reality. Burkes writes:
Not only does the nature of our terms affect the nature of our observations, in the sense that the terms direct the attention to one field rather than to another. Also, many of the observations are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made. In brief, much that we take as observations about reality may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms. (46)
So while our words/terms come out of (but are not reducible to) the physical world, the terms we create/use serve to determine how we further create/use terms down the road and also how we intra-act (again merging Barads notion of agential realism in here) with/in that physical world. Terministic screens direct our attention and alter the picture(s) of reality we see much like the different lenses of a camera do.
index_Karen-Barad (=material-discurse).pdfKaren BaradAgential Realism Publications ReferencesExternal links
!!_Karen Barad's reflections on materiality.pdfReflections From Karen Barads KeynoteAddressNotes on Agential Realism Part I: BasicDefinitionsNotes on Agential Realism Part II: Material-Discursive PracNotes on Agential Realism Part III: TheBrittlestarRhetoric As Action: An EntangledTheoryNotes on Burkes TerministicScreens