banner image of sign reading Utopie

Becoming Utopias: Toward a Queer Rhetoric of Instantiation

Jacqueline Rhodes


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.

A sign, pointing both left and right, reading "Utopia 0 km."

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.”