Notes on: Jeuleskjaer, M. & Schwennesen, N. (2012) Intra-active entanglements : an interview with Karen Barad.  In Kvinder ,Køn & Forskning [Women, Gender and Research] NR 1--2 : 10--23.

Dave Harris

[I've not attended to the questions much, only to Barad's answers. She does most of the talking anyway. I assume anyone reading this will have got the basics, so I will not summarise them, partly because it is very long, but there are one or two interesting extra bits.  Revealingly waffly and contextual about diffraction.The interview took place after she'd had presented a paper at a symposium — it looks like the one that led to the piece on marking time].

There is a problem with autobiography if you take the view that temporality is non-linear. She prefers to talk about dis/continuity and how intra active liveliness 'unsettles' terms like 'evolve, trajectory, biography' [assumption right away that quantum indeterminacy is or should transfer immediately to human affairs, cheerfully ignoring all our experience of trajectories and biographies] (10)  It is difficult think of an I that narrates, better to talk about the material forces that materialised this I — political forces and texts.  It is possible to speak in the first person,  we do have to take the idea of the individual seriously, not least because it is central to neoliberalism [which doesn't seem to give a toss about quantum theory]. However individuals are iteratively reconstituted, with no origin. We can also think of Derrida on how autobiographies are about opening to future retellings '(a point that resonates with insights from quantum theory as well)' (11) [weasel!]. She was reading all sorts of different things, including stuff in science studies and queer theories. She grew up in a particular social context in the north-eastern USA — 'the working class second-generation American', first to go to college, with a certain indeterminacy which 'never allowed me to fit any academic space comfortably'. For example she mentioned Derrida to physics colleagues and was aware that she had 'committed the ultimate faux pas'. She realised that Foucault and Butler would be helpful in 'further elaborating Böhr's amazing insights' — he had already 'gestured' in the direction of the social but had not attempted to understand it, for example in his notion of the apparatus. He drafted detailed drawings of apparatus, which showed how concepts are 'materially instantiated' in them, and yet did not attend to the people operating them, the social practices of laboratories. This drew her to social and political theory [I assume feminism especially] for 'a thicker sense of the social' and she 'diffractively read through Böhr's insights' [still no real detail here though]. At the same time she was developing the ontology from Böhr, looking for 'a certain consistency in opening the way to further elaboration' (12) [so looking for consistency is a part of diffractive reading?].

She needed an understanding of subjectivity, the social, and power 'that would be in line with my performative understanding of' Böhr . Foucault and Butler' It ' just seemed really rich to me, and really important' [she saw it as agreeing with her?]. It seemed important to incorporate 'feminist and queer work' because the physicist Noether had already argued that 'symmetries do not just appear, rather they are indicative of underlying conservation laws and it is therefore crucial to examine the forces at work'. This also referred to the 'symmetry of the human and nonhuman'. We needed a complex topology instead, 'a kind of questioning and unsettling of representationalist politics that was very much alive in feminist work', performative understandings. These were 'really key to walking along with and moving Böhr along… Further developing crucial ontological insights'. However 'dynamic and re-iterative working of Foucault and Butler… was necessary as well'. This refers to 'the method of diffractive reading insights through one another for patterns of constructive and deconstructive interference'. In this way, Böhr helped further elaborate feminist and queer understandings and the division between human and nonhuman.

Haraway was particularly important, and so was Rouse, and many others. This sort of concept of 'inheritance and indebtedness''also goes to the core of the ontology (or rather ethico  – epistemic – ontology) of agential realism'. There, phenomena are 'specific ongoing reconfigurings of spacetimemattering'. This is probably not a fully satisfactory account and she might need to 're-iteratively rework' it: happily 'there is no such terminus as such' [to responses]. [Which reminds me of Deleuze's complaint about the interminable discussions philosophers have until they all end up exhausted agreeing with each other]

[The interviewers worry about the materialist turn and ask how it relates to other turns like the linguistic turn]

Turning means swerving of course, but it also means turning away from or moving beyond, leaving the past behind — that's not how her project works. Diffraction does not see 'the new as a supercessionary break with the old' (13), because there is an indebtedness to the past and future [presumably in Derrida, where it is focused on human language and its ability to operate with different tenses?]. Quantum eraser experiments indicate this — 'neither the past nor the future is closed' because of integral 'im/possibilities and lived indeterminacies'. A different ethics follows. We are indebted to histories of materialist thinking including some that are 'yet to be studied' and others of which she may be unaware. She is interested in dis/continuity as 'a cutting together – apart' with feminist engagements with materialism.

Other approaches may not see themselves necessary allied with feminism, such as queer studies and postcolonial studies, but they also 'fancy themselves as having no debts and no past'. But if we use the term materialism, it implies continuity. Many materialisms are 'deeply indebted to Marx' and Marxism, including Foucault and Marxist feminists. Diffraction 'as a physical phenomenon is acutely sensitive to details; small differences can matter enormously' [ in the lab] so it follows that diffractive readings 'must therefore entail close respectful responsive and response – able (enabling response) attention to the details of the text… To do justice to a text' [this is more or less word for word found in Morris and Bozalek]. At the same time you are 'taking what you find inventive… [And pursuing detail]… That might take you somewhere interesting that you never would have predicted… Working re-iteratively' [rendered ludicrously as 'reworking the spacetimemattering of thought patterns', implying some material components are thoughts, instead of what is really happening — rethinking the relations between space-time and matter]. We should not caricature or not put down, as some materialist feminism's have done. This will do 'epistemological damage', obscure 'the crucial issues regarding the deconstruction of binaries'. We need to attend to fact, concern and also care. Latour is right to say that critique has run out of steam: it 'forgets the necessary mutual exclusions that are constitutive of phenomena, and buys into and enacts a linear temporality that closes down rather than opens up what is to come' (14). It might give some initial insights, but we should not stop there. 'Often times it is not at all helpful politically' because of its presumed exteriority and superior positionality [really getting a bit authoritarian here].

[On feminist science studies]

There was a problem with trying to separate out feminist critiques of science — 'it was crystal clear that this naming was really unhelpful if one was interested in dialoguing with and working with scientists'. Critique implies speciality, separateness, exteriority, from the outside of science, not about 'having thick understandings of science and productive engagement with scientists'. Of course there was a political impulse behind critiques of science as exclusionary, and there is 'a history of close relations between science and the militarism, capitalism, colonialism and so on' but this should not lead to total rejection of scientific enterprise. These relations should not be seen as essences, providing a unity — it 'is not a helpful opening for working together'. You need collaboration if you intend to make science responsible. So she's tried to 'engage constructively and deconstructively (not destructively)' with science, examining the foundations of concepts and ideas, seeing how contingency operates in these foundations, and 'using that contingency to open up other possible meanings/matterings'. The drive was towards responsible practice, so they wanted 'to rename the field as "feminist science studies"', not "feminist critiques of science".

[Collaboration and engagement in her own work?]

She has created 'a Science and Justice Working Group' with an associated graduate program and various forums. The idea is 'building communities of trust across academic divides', especially involving 'scientists of goodwill'. Haraway has been a major contributor. The work arises from 'an abiding love of science (a mature love that sees both its warts and its potential)' (15). Managing differences has been 'very important'. They cooperate with all faculties.

Certain historical and political factors have helped. Students have been attracted to science after the war by seeing science as a steward or saviour 'imaginary', and this has produced scientists who want to help make a better world. There is still insufficient knowledge and skill to think through complexities in order to fulfil the 'utopian promise'. Scientists are now obliged to consider ethical implications for funding , but many do not see 'how to think it through'. Altogether, this is a 'welcome opening'. Science and justice issues are of interest to young people especially. In their programme they stress the 'entanglement of facts and values', that both values and facts are being produced at the lab bench. This is better than having specialist ethics guidelines, as in bioethics. Their approache is 'deeply informed by feminist science studies', and the young are interested in 'important ethical and social justice questions' going beyond informed consent. Ethics does not just mean moralising but more 'an understanding of how values matter and get materialised, and the interconnectedness of ethics, ontology, and epistemology' [ie an abstract gesture rather than anything specific] . Students are encouraged to collaborate to discuss social justice as an integral part of doing science. Thinking in terms of phenomena not things 'also produces values and meanings', and there are are more sophisticated ways to think about apparatuses. Overall, 'this is an ethical – onto – epistemological issue'. Bolting ethics on afterwards 'is the wrong temporality' (16).

We now have a diverse community held together with a shared commitment aimed at 'mutual flourishing', 'honouring our differences, respectfully disagreeing, and working collaboratively with and through our differences' it has more traction than would be generated by critique because 'critique makes people feel attacked' not on living well together. Developing diffraction as a methodology fits with this — it is 'about thinking with and through differences rather than pushing off of or away from and solidifying difference as less than'

Trans/materialities is also about 'intra – relatings', working across 'genders, species, spaces , knowledges, sexualities, subjectivities and temporalities'. Creativity does not follow from 'a radical break with the past'. Dis/continuity indicates this, helping us think about change without employing a radical break. It cuts together-apart in one move, does not deny creativity and innovation, 'but understands its indebtedness and entanglements to the past and the future'.

[What about your debate with Casper on fetal agency?]

'I love Monica's instinct here' — she helped point to a problem in ANT, where a 'symmetry between humans and nonhuman has elided crucial questions of power and agency'. This emerged especially with fetal surgery. If we grant agency all round we lead 'straight political difficulties in the granting of agency to foetuses' because this also rendered the fetus as a patient with its own interests, sometimes opposed to those of the pregnant woman and this helped 'contribute to anti-abortion discourse'. However, she thought Casper's answer was 'a bit too quick' — fetal agency is also 'crucial to many kinds of [approved] birthing practices', and is also helpful to stop the devaluation of girl foetuses. So we should not go for universal boundaries that apply everywhere.

The deeper issue is how we "grant" agency (17) — some versions do so by taking agency back from others, as in these examples of fetal subjectivity. We also need to think about the 'alignment of subjectivity and agency' and why agency is something that people possess. So for her agency [is less personal] — 'the very possibilities for the working and opening up new possibilities, for reconfiguring the apparatuses of bodily reproduction' [still an awful weasel about any tensions between the agency and rights of foetuses and pregnant mothers].

[How does the stuff on quantum physics relate to the stuff on feminism? {Crucial question}]

'Many wonderful queer twists… spring from quantum physics that could be very useful to feminists but have been given little attention'

[They try a prompt — is quantum physics and agential realism important in social theorising and feminist thinking, especially when compared to other already existing views of non-linear temporality and relational space?]

'Before I even begin to answer your wonderful question' [!], some clarification. She is not suggesting or endorsing applying quantum physics to the social world through analogies. She does not accept that there is a microscopic and macroscopic world. Analogies have been a favourite approach in the past but their results 'have not been very fruitful. I have the same cringe reaction to many of these that my physics colleagues have'. She is warned against the approach. Instead we need to 'examine the underlying metaphysical assumptions and to understand and elaborate the philosophical structure of the theory'. Analogies will also assume there are separate domains of existence, including micro-macro splits. There is a common assumption that quantum behaviour is not found in the macro world, but really 'classical physics is just a good approximation to quantum physics for large mass objects '. The macro is conveniently accessible to the human, but this does not mean a split in the ontology of the world. Nor are microscopic objects particularly 'exotic Others' (18). That would restrict queerness to the subhuman level and preserve normalcy.

She does mean queer in the current sense 'not simply strange'. A number of foundational dualisms are challenged. To deny queerness 'is a kind of queer phobia', although the 'new age embrace of everything quantum' is an unwonted celebration running into 'neoliberal individualist appropriation of one or another caricature of quantum physics'. She is not saying that scale does not matter, rather that 'the way scales are produced has to be part of the conversation' because there are assumptions at play. Addressing her physics colleagues she is also not saying that those who do think there is a boundary between micro and macro are 'queer phobic'. The important thing is the 'impulse to contain the queer' to the quantum and the subhuman, preserving what looks like a natural metaphysical individualism. However, the 'nonrelational ontology of quantum physics [sic]' can also yield insights. It can offer new underpinnings  to theory, not a total explanation. Quantum physics disrupts many ontological and epistemological notions and this raises 'exciting realms of thought'. She knows that physics colleagues often react strongly against simplistic analogies and against the 'flat footed applications of (some aspects of some) quantum ideas to human phenomena in all kinds of efforts to give scientific justification for every non-intuitive [?] belief under the sun'. Yet it is difficult to keep insights '"where they belong"'. We know already that there is 'always – already historical entanglement of discourses' including science, and many physicists 'are in fact open to these ideas', so we need to reassess ontology and epistemology. The ontology of quantum physics is not 'restricted to the very small' (19) and in her 'relational agential realist ontology' scale is one of the features gets produced in configuring.

As examples of innovative thinking, there is dis/continuity '(where the slash is indicating an active and reiterative (interactive) rethinking of the binary)'. There is the notion of the quantum leap which calls into question 'fundamental notions of trajectory, movement, space, time, and causality' including what's meant by the here and now. She expanded this in her paper on Derrida [by homonym I reckon]. The binary between continuity and discontinuity needs to be questioned and quantum troubles this and every other dichotomy. Cuts bring together as well as set apart. Quantum discontinuity 'suggests the paradoxical notion of a rupture of the discontinuous, a disrupted disruption, a cut that is itself crosscut… A real mind buzz'. Binaries are attacked in favour of reiteration and reconfiguring.

Agential separability is a notion that also cuts across a binary between separate and not separate. It is hugely important in physics, where it helps solve the measurement problem, but also in more general questions of relationality. She discusses it awfully well in chapter 7 of the 2007 book, and physicists like it. It is 'very relevant in thinking about social and the [sic]political theory, and questions of ethics and social justice' [yes, but is this determinist or analogical thinking?]

[Explore how cutting together – apart challenges binaries]

This operation 'involves a very unusual knife or pair of scissors!'. The Cartesian cut is an absolute distinction between subject and object. For Böhr, however this cut was actually produced by measurement interactions. In her 'agential realist elaboration of Böhr' (20) she talks about intra not inter-interactions, and the intra-actively enacted cut. What is on either side of the cut is still entangled, and the separation and connection is produced 'in one move' [in other words everything depends on quantum indeterminacy and the entanglement that is produced, or at least discovered, when subatomic particles are separated]. She has found this idea 'indispensable' when thinking about 'indebtedness, inheritance, memory, and responsibility'.

If we look at the quantum eraser experiment, which confirmed Böhr's complementarity and indeterminacy as 'more foundational than Heisenberg's uncertainty principle', we find support for her reading of 'his implicit ontology', especially the argument that entanglements 'are actual configurations of the world, not simply epistemological connections'. Assuming erasure actually involved 'a very particular way of interpreting the experimental results, where information was first erased and then recovered. These experiments are remarkable, but there is a better interpretation of events. There is 'erasure of the work of tracing entanglements… of the responsibility of being bound by the, of being obligated to the bodies that are marked by these encounters' [how sentimental]. [We leap to deny a somehow associated] 'politics of hope for erasing events that we regret', for 'temporality of resurrection, of starting time anew'. However, 'the ghosts of the Manhattan project and the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki surely haunt this kind of wishful thinking'. She is not saying that wishful thinking can be found with individual physicists, but trying to bring out 'some of the foundational assumptions that work beneath the surface in a stealth manner, and remain unacknowledged, precisely because they work so happily with particular societal beliefs and hopes'.

The data was not erased in the experiment, And this shows the benefits of thinking of phenomena as opposed to things. The diffraction pattern only shows up if you trace the entanglements, but this labour makes connections visible and this is 'making our obligations and debts visible, as part of what it might mean to reconfigure relations of spacetimemattering'. It shows that we can reopen the past by this reconfiguring [in quantum physics where all the steps are laid out and publicly recorded] — 'in fact it happens all the time' whether we observe it or not. We are not talking about erasure of events but reconfigurings.

 'The universe itself holds a memory of each event', including the whole business of measuring, recording information and then re-analysing it. This is a 'memory of iterative materialisations' (21). 'This suggests that there is a sense in which even molecules and particles remember what has happened to them'. We should not shove the inanimate to one side as irrelevant because it is 'still very much bodily and lively. The point of attributing memory to the inanimate is that it helps reawaken our imagination, stopping it being stopped by 'the most stubborn of all dualisms — the animate/inanimate dualism'. This has left the inanimate 'on the other side of death, of the side of those who are denied even the ability to die, despite the fact that particles have finite lifetimes'. Who should decide who has the ability to die [weird] — why not viruses or brittle stars? Why do these concerns sound 'silly'? We do not need some 'strategic vitalism' or admitting the other into representationalist forms of democracy [Latour?]. It makes us think about boundaries and why they matter.

We have been 'entranced by the biological' 'to the exclusion of chemical, geological, and physical forms or aspects of life' [a bit of subject specialist pleading here?]. Feminist research takes the biological body as the body. What results from excluding other bodies, those that 'are worthy of death'?

The quantum eraser experiment has profound implications — 'the past is not closed… Temporality is not given or fixed… Each materialisation in its specificity is re – membered' we have to be responsible enough to trace worldly entanglements with due attention to debts and obligations. In particular we have to think about what is excluded from mattering 'in order for particular materialisations to occur' [very strange ethical concern for that which has not been materialised yet!]. We might be able to remediate, but even this will not 'constitute none doing of loss and the recovery of some prior state of existence'. We can't go back to a time before the bomb was dropped. There is no past that is simply still there [because of the human capacity to reinterpret — for us, the past genuinely has been raised because we cannot act on it]. There are implications for public policy 'in ways that we may not notice'.

As an example one of her students worked with agential realism to think about temporality and justice when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. This was a restoration project with a lot of scientific political and social justice issues. There was a desire to return the world to some '"lost natural state"', but this did not even help conservation very well. There is no time that can be returned to, no identical environment, not even the same wolf — the reintroduced ones 'were an entirely different species' and the old ones had been killed off (22). Those wolves even had 'different material histories'.

We can generalise to say that all "re's", in restoration or rehabilitation, raise questions about agency and responsibility, the implications of cuts and their entanglements with all sorts of other implications to do with reconfiguring spacetimemattering. Reiteration is not reproduction of the same but rather 'the différance of intra activity', reconfiguration of conditions. There are questions of responsibility and accountability, not a matter of calculative accountability but rather Derrida's 'hospitality'. Justice requires we pay 'careful attention to the ghosts in all their materiality', all the conditions of the past.

Quantum physics as a 'worldly entity/organism and its own right' is a practice of worlding. So are 'all materialising practices, like theorising, formulating, and imagining'. We now have new possibilities of thinking of separability and discontinuity. Quantum physics is 'astonishingly queer' it even 'queers queer, keeping it in motion, something queer activists have seen as vital to its political purchase'. It destabilises boundaries, it makes even cuts 'iteratively crosscut'. It has helped even physics deconstruct itself in 'marvellously creative ways'. It's made us realise that even Newtonian physics is 'far more queer than has been generally acknowledged', so there is an ongoing deconstruction. 'How remarkable it is that the worlding of world gives us gifts like this'. [Lovely piety]

[the interviewers agree, and poststructuralist feminist thinking and non-Newtonian thinking helped them rethink the world. So how does she theorise herself?]

'That's a really wonderful question'. It's not just an academic exercise but part of her lived experience, not phenomenologically, 'but in phenomenon sense'. She has been asked if she walks round the world differently, and she says yes. But ideas are not just in her head — 'they are specific ongoing reconfigurings of the world in its iterative intra activity' (23). They are 'threaded through "me" and "me" through them'. she is 'attuned' to phenomena rather than things, aware of being a particular configuration of the world interacting with other phenomena. This is how ideas got 'threaded through my bones, my gut, my legs'. It is important in teaching and in terms of relationships with friends and family. She does not see herself as an 'individual travelling through the world as a fixed entity, as if I were the same here [in Corfu] as I was before I left California'. She is 'constantly being reconfigured. Or rather the ongoing reconfiguringis of the world are iteratively remaking "me"'. We might be back where we started, or rather 'the universe now has our conversation in folded into its being' [amazing aggrandisement as well].

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