In her work on difference and diffraction in the work of Karen Barad and Donna Haraway, Kathrin Thiele argues that there isn’t a useful split between philosophical argument and practical political action. She argues that “It matters deeply how we theorize—and this is how we imagine in the deepest sense—‘differences’ [and] ‘otherness,’ [and commonality]. Thinking is an active force with-in-of this world,” and, she continues, we need to think-practice the world differently in order to make a difference (202).
This paper is one attempt to think-practice, an intra-active becoming, a (re)configuring.
How to be (with) things is a question of the (fairly recent) move to de-center human subjectivity in Euroamerican philosophy and to speculate on the material being-ness of “animals, affectivity, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality, or technologies” (Grusin vii). It is a response to the idea, as Barad writes, that
Language has been granted too much power. The linguistic turn, the semiotic turn, the interpretive turn, the cultural turn: it seems that at every turn lately every ‘thing’—even materiality—is turned into a matter of language or some other form of cultural representation. . . . Language matters. Discourse matters. Culture matters. There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter. (120)
In other words, there is more than language, and more than human subjectivity. The attention to ecologies and networks—of writing, of being, of meaning-making—is a long(ish) tradition in the field of rhetoric and writing studies, beginning at the very least with Marilyn Cooper’s “The Ecology of Writing” (1986) and continuing through ongoing scholarly interest in ecocomposition and Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, among other notable engagements. Indeed, by 2010, enough work had been done by Cooper, Jody Shipka, Nedra Reynolds, and others that Scot Barnett could comfortably assert a “material turn” in the field, and by 2012, Alex Reid could define an “object-oriented rhetoric” as the "realization that rhetoric was never and could never have been a solely human province.”
To theorists apart from the Euroamerican tradition, the so-called “speculative turn” is neither new nor unproblematic. As Zoe Todd notes in "An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn," Euroamerican thinkers are all-too-prone to colonizing knowledge and then talking about how they "discovered" that knowledge. She writes:
again, the ones we credited for these incredible insights into the ‘more-than-human’, and sentience and agency, and the ways through which to imagine our "common cosmopolitical concerns" were not the people who built and maintain the knowledge systems that european and north american anthropologists and philosophers have been studying for well over a hundred years, and predicating their current "aha" ontological moments (or re-imagingings of the discipline) upon. No, here we were celebrating and worshipping a european thinker for "discovering" what many an Indigenous thinker around the world could have told you for millennia. The climate is sentient—a common organizing force! (Todd)
In addition, philosopher V.F. Cordova refers to long traditions in indigenous thought that posit worlds of interacting beings (human and nonhuman) and overlapping conceptual frameworks or “matrices” (Here 61). She notes the always-already ethical component of the indigenous “We,” writing that the indigenous “emphasis on consensual decision-making” extends to our “actions toward the planet and its many life-forms” (“Ethics” 177). Further, she writes, aside from the “We-factor in a Native American society” and the emphasis on sociality,
there is one more factor that accounts for the ethical system which the Native American once had as the dominant source of his actions (and in many cases still practices). He recognizes that he is a part of the Earth. He acknowledges that he is a part of a natural process that has led to his existence as well as to the existence of all other things, “animate” and “inanimate.” (The terms are not relevant within a Native American context; all that exists is seen as participating in a life process.). . . . Instead of hierarchies he sees differences which exist among equal “beings” (mountains, as well as water and air and plants and animals would be included here). . . . This “complete” [ethical] system includes not only one’s behavior toward other individuals and to the society as a whole but toward the planet which has produced one and upon which one is dependent. (“Ethics” 177)
My think-practice engages the work of queer scholar Jose Esteban Muñoz as well as the speculative turn in Euroamerican thought in order to advance the idea of “rhetoric as instantiation.” The term refers to the ongoing, fleeting intersections of language, body, and network that reveal what Karen Barad has called our “relationalities of becoming” (Dolphijn and van der Tuin 69). Specifically, I’ll engage in a queer diffractive reading of 1970s lesbian separatism—an earlier example of an intersection of argument and action. There are two reasons for this specific reading: first, those separatist spaces were often—not always—intended as utopian spaces, but not the utopias Muñoz and Barad might encourage, in which fluidity—of time, space, self—is a necessary part of the game. Second, this very brief study offers an example of how privileging questions of the Subject works rhetorically to hamstring activist work—and it is for this reason that I very much believe in the need for speculative interventions.
According to Barad, diffraction
is not just a matter of interference, but of entanglement. . . . This difference is very important. It underlines the fact that knowing is a direct material engagement, a cutting together-apart, where cuts do violence but also open up and rework the agential conditions of possibility. . . . Instead of there being a separation of subject and object, there is an entanglement of subject and object. . . . Objectivity, instead of being about offering an undistorted mirror image of the world, is about accountability to marks on bodies, and responsibility to the entanglements of which we are a part. (Dolphijn and van der Turn 52)
Concretized notions of Subject/object, rather than being mutually accountable cutting together-apart, as Barad would have it, do not “rework the agential conditions of possibility.” More important, they don’t participate in the generative uncertainty of instantiation. To court that uncertainty myself, I think-practice queerly, offering a vision of ethics, diffraction, and Muñoz’s utopia to help us imagine moving agentially within networks of possibility. Such generative uncertainty, such hope, offers us potential pathways to “making future matters.”