Wednesday, November 12, 2008

EBR: How to Do Words with Things

A review of Ira Lingston's Between Science and Literature, by Stephen Dougherty:

Or is it more like that which Karen Barad has been crafting and clarifying for nearly a decade? If performativity theory shall ever succeed at "meeting the universe halfway," which is the title of Barad's new book about performativity and quantum theory, then it needs to think in new ways about how matter comes to matter. In her theory of agential realism, Barad seeks to move beyond both Foucault's analytic of power and Butler's performative elaboration in order to explain how discursive practices help to produce material bodies. As does Livingston, Barad sees the world as a whole rather than divided up into culture and nature, or words and things. She also struggles rather monumentally to warp philosophy and science, working the grain of existing warps (especially quantum physics), so as to forge her way towards what she calls a "performative metaphysics" - one where the things that humans work upon are granted agency in their own right as "intra-acting 'components'" of ontologically inseparable phenomena. For Barad, following Niels Bohr, "the primary epistemological unit is not independent objects with inherent boundaries and properties but rather phenomena" ("Posthumanist" 815). As she elaborates, on her agential realist account "phenomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability of 'observer' and 'observed'; rather, phenomena are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting components... (EBR)

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