Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Thoughts on Butler and Barad

Kim K's picture

I have, admittedly, been putting this post off, because I'm not really sure what to say regarding the two very different lectures. Between the darkness in Goodheart during Butler's lecture that prevented me from being able to take readable notes, and my struggle to try understand and make sense of Barad's lecture, I'm left with a bunch of, well, entangled thoughts on gender, space, and time. I was apprehensive about Butler's lecture, because of the way her writing is, however, I found her lecture to be very accessible and easy to understand. I wish I could say the same for Barad. I'm still trying to process Barad's thoughts, and I'm re-reading my notes from her lecture, and the article. In the meantime, please enjoy some of my dis-jionted, entangled notes from Butler and Barad...


-the right to appear

-bodily enactment of gender norms


-quantum leap (I love that show!)


-identity politics 

-quantum dis-continuity 


-gender not only received but enacted



Shlomo's picture

I agree with sel209

Like sel209, I found much of Barad's lecture (and reading, for that matter) incoherent.  It is true that I have never taken a college course in physics or philosophy and so was perhaps at a disadvantage for understanding her points.  But to be fair, she was coming to lecture a group of students interested in gender and sexuality, and I think it would be strange for her to assume any background in philosophy or physics among us.

Also, sel209's point about how much of the coherence burden is the listener's responsibility and how much is the speaker's responsibility is an interesting one.  To me, however, there is no question that Barad placed too much of the burden on us.  I like a thought-provoking lecture just as much as the next person, but the fact that no one I talked to after the lecture had understood it indicated to me that the lecture topics were not explained well enough.

Interestingly, a lot of the people I talked to after the lecture had different ideas about what the lecture was even about.  One friend thought the lecture was all about gender studies; another thought it was a Physics 101 lecture; another thought it was an intensive philosophy lecture.  I'm not sure what that says about the audience or about Barad, but I found it intriguing.

I know this is a short post and doesn't seem to say much.  However, I was left so confused by Barad's lecture that I really can't think of anything more to say about it.

Kaye's picture

performing entanglements and non-violent social change

What I thought was brilliant about Barad's lecture was that she didn't just tell us about entanglements, but she performed them through her visual display.  At times, though, as the images and words circled around and back and forth, I did find the presentation to become physically and intellectually dizzying. 

For me, this was an e/motional presentation about the possibilities for change.  I especially resonated with her idea that we are always making new cuts and reconfiguring what is matter and what matters.  Given that we can't help but make these cuts/change, how can we be more intentional about the kind of cuts/changes we make?  And I wonder if all cuts are violent at some level?  (I'm thinking back to Varenne in Act I and his claim that any action that enables some will inevitably disable others.)  What does this say about the possibility of non-violent social action?

sel209's picture

Some Similar Thoughts...

I totally agree with your sentiment about Barad, Kim K. The issue I grappled with in both reading her article as well as listening to her talk is one that we attempted to tackle as a class several “acts” ago: if an author’s work doesn’t read as coherent, does that mean that his or her argument isn’t sound, or does it mean that I as its reader need to do a better job of understanding and interpreting it? The level of coherence in any given work is subjective, and I am positive that the fact that I am not well versed on the subject matter Barad delves into contributes to my hesitancy to consider her work coherent. Because my experience with both physics and philosophy is limited, I found the topic of quantum entanglements and hauntological relations to be mind-boggling in and of itself. Then, the way in which her ideas were presented (both on paper and in person) only exacerbated my frustration with struggling to wrap my mind around these ideas and make connections between them and issues of gender and sexuality. I would have much preferred a format that was more traditional; if the work made more sense on a structural level, perhaps it would have allowed me to better understand its content.  But at what point is it the author’s responsibility to explain or justify their work and at what point is it my responsibility as a reader and interpreter to make sense of it on my own?

One thing that particularly frustrated me with last week’s class was that although Barad knew she was coming to a class on perspectives about sexuality and gender, she chose one of her papers that has (at least through my lens) no direct connection to issues of either gender or sexuality. Sure, there are metaphors embedded within the work, ideas we can connect to gen/sex studies, but then why not illuminate them for us in person? Why present to us the same paper we were asked us to read in preparation for class and then not elaborate on its ideas without being prompted? Even when Barad was asked when/why she chose to study physics in relation to gender studies, she dodged the question with an abstract answer that really didn’t lend any insight into why she is passionate about connecting these issues or how she feels they relate. I feel like we really could have benefitted from a discussion rather than an elongated Q & A because it would have allowed for ideas, suggestions, and comments to flow around the room about the connections between quantum physics and gender studies (connections which Anne kept prompting us to think about!). That being said, the Q & A did provide me with some ideas I'd like to consider more deeply, particularly her comments about "being different selves in different places" and the idea of when, why, and how we make what she refers to as "cuts." I look forward to the conversation we’re inevitably going to engage in on Tuesday, since I’m eager to unpack my thoughts and feelings about this experience with the rest of the class.