Summary

  • Sheldon’s essay is about the rancorous and tumultuous relationship between object-oriented ontology and feminist new materialism: the former’s emphasis on utterly removed objects unable to square with the latter’s interest in relations and enmeshments.
  • “The distance between object-oriented ontology and feminist new materialism, therefore, is not a function of the ostensible anthropocentrism of a feminism grounded in identity politics, as it might initially appear. Rather, I argue that their differences result from the radically different ways in which these two fields treat human knowledge systems. For as much as they both contribute to the critique of epistemology, the causal effects assignable to knowledge-making practices continue to be prominent in their divergent understandings of the role and form of scholarship. For object-oriented ontology, epistemology is epiphenomenal, a second-order representation whose range of effects is limited to human knowers. For feminist new materialism, by contrast, epistemology is an agent with directly material consequences” (195–96). The ontological status of these regimes of epistemology are then form and matter.

Keywords

Notes

  • ”. . . challenges to the centrality of epistemology in literary and cultural theory, from the rise of neuroaesthetics and machine reading to the return of phenomenology and affect theory. . . . In their own ways, each questions the importance of representation, often through an implicit argument that the distinction between reality and its mediation is out of sync with the direct intervention into material life characteristic of current practices in science and technology. Taken together, these schools of thought represent a newly emergent realism in the humanities” (193). In a way, challenging the neuroaesthetic turn is similarly challenging the “realist” orientations of SR and NM. Question: is digital studies “realist” in its orientation?
  • Key to feminist epistemology: constructionism. “This kind of storytelling is not limited to fiction. One of the most important moves in feminist epistemology was the assertion made by feminist philosophers and scholars of science that notions of gender adhered in and were circulated by fields whose content was ostensibly distant from gender, or whose inclusion of gendered metaphors was merely coincidental or ornamental and therefore unnecessary to the substance or import of the theory” (199).
  • “Thus the rhetoric of nature was held in suspicion not only for the way it was used to justify disenfranchisement and oppression” (199). Link to Nixon.
  • Correlationism then names a problem that emerges from social constructionism: it creates a “real” to which we have no access and a human subjectivity always failing it (200).
  • Following Barad, Sheldon names an alternative approach out of Meillassoux’s correlationist trap: “Significantly, Barad’s alternative is not to return to naïve realism but rather to bring forward the crucial and hard-won link feminist science studies scholars forged between epistemology and materiality by asking after the materializing effects of discourse” (201). “The point here is that intra-actions are live. Barad coins the term intra-action to undo the implicit understanding of interaction as the meeting of two already-formed objects. Rather, intra-actions instantiate boundaries anew” (202).
  • Sheldon’s excellent critique of OOO’s patrilineation: “The absence of women from this story of succession is remarkable both for its casual and apparently unwitting embrace of patrilineation, but also, and more incisively, for the distortions it relies on to produce such a clean line of descent. For the production of a monolithic and homogeneous ‘linguistic turn’ in the humanities is only possible through a constitutive misreading of Derrida, Foucault, and Deleuze and from the strategic exclusion of the work done in feminist science studies for the past two decades. As I hope to have demonstrated, it is in fact difficult to find a moment in feminist science studies when questions of embodiment, nature, science, realism, and referentiality were not explicitly at stake” (203).
  • “Assimilating matter as the reverse side of cultural construction through the auspices of the correlationist’s “co-” obscures the ways in which feminist new materialists have sought to inhabit the concept of matter as a site in which to build a materialist account of complex causality within open systems—one that adheres neither at the level of a closed totality nor from the perspective of the atomized individual but rather as a trans-individual assemblage whose motions are greater than the sum of its parts” (204).
  • OOO is anti-materialist in how it writes out matter, or rather displaces matter’s vitality into bound (masculine) objects (205); “For Plato of the Timaeus as for Harman, the substance of an object never changes, subsisting always in a self-same condition of being, while its accidental qualia and exogenous relations are alone capable of becoming and perishing away again” (207).
  • But feminist new materialism cannot countenance matter either in strange ways. Using Bennett as an example: “Although Bennett’s list is oriented toward relationality since her point is that each piece is entangled in an emergent phenomena with all the others, the list form itself highlights the separability of the objects it houses. What is missing from her list is the volatility as a quality of relations rather than of objects” (209). The rhetoric of the list (see Young) produces cleavage. This also shades into a critique of the network from much earlier in the summer: “My purpose in this very brief critique has been to show how easily the apprehension of that life recedes under the requirements of demonstration to be replaced by a network of discrete parts” (209).
  • The chora is then the dynamized space of passage from matter to form. From Plato: “copies that it will generate and that make up the temporal world. Since eternal forms cannot enter the realm of becoming, yet must put its impress into substance, then there must be a third realm. Form must be housed somewhere in something while it undergoes its transformation. To correct this difficulty, Timaeus conjures up a third kind, neither a model nor a copy, neither being nor becoming: the chora or the space of generation” (211).
  • Following Butler: “As such, it offers an opportunity to imagine an autonomous, dynamic, temporalized space through which subindividual matters, vibratory intensities, and affects might cross and be altered through that crossing. This is the crucial point. The irruptive chora enables us to apprehend with what frequency the plenum or spatium is posed as passive, even in new materialist writing” (212).
  • The chora then implies the method of choratic reading, which Sheldon leaves somewhat vague: choratic reading shares terrain with practice-based, lab-based, or machine-based “reading” techniques, although it purports to raise new questions rather than answer old questions in new ways (214–15). Contrasting w/ Harman’s reading techniques: “Choratic reading, by contrast, begins from the assertion that acts of literature—very much including scholarly readings—are performed in material composition with the affordances of their media, the sensorium of their audiences, and the deformations of dissemination as they transduce across and are deformed by the irruptions of the choratic plane” (216). (Which seems to have a lot in common w/ Hayles’ medium-specific analysis.) “Reading in this way emphasizes design and so alters the formal distinctions between creative and critical compositions” (217). Connections then to Kraus and Rosner.

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