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Thoughts on Barad's Lecture

S. Yaeger's picture

Since last night's lecture, my mind has been spinning with loosely connected threads of thoughts and a multitiude of questions.  Maybe the biggest question I have is: How does one even begin to react to a lecture that expansive and illuminating and confusing and engaging?  I really don't have an answer to that, so I'm just going to jump in here and possibly make a fool of myself.

One of the many things that kind of stood out to me as I read the assigned piece and then listened to the lecture was the poetry of Barad's language.  The rhythm of the way she broke words in half and the pace of the piece and the lecture were kind of breathtaking in a way, and they also made me feel as though I was rapidly excellerating through time, while just sitting still.  It was a strange way to be taking in physics, by way of feeling like I'd been invited into a poem.  later, as I chewed on all the things that had been discussed, and all the things that had been left out, I wondered what Anne and Professor Barad were getting at when they were trying to get us to relate the talk to gender.

It seemed like the use of the word "queer" in the context of the lecture was trying to get us somewhere, but we couldn't quite come to it.  Then, I thought that maybe that was the point.  Maybe, if physics can be poetry, and lecture (someting usually kind of static) can be performance in the active sense, and language can be queered and even cut apart, and time can be everything and nothing, then maybe, just maybe, gender is all of those things too.  If it is all of those things, and we are all phenomena as we perform it, write it, unwrite it, cut it up, and assign and unassign it a value, then it can be as fuid and un-understandable and undefinable as all of those things, and maybe, like the past and the future and even the present, it doesn't actually exist as defining thing.  By rejecting the idea that gender is something which defines, we also can reject the idea that it is a place to get to, just like Barad rejects the idea that one can relocate themsleves in a past tense.  

In short, maybe my feeling of not quite being able to get there in terms of being able to relate Barad's lecture to gender was caused by the fact that there is no there to get to.


S. Yaeger's picture

Since reading all of these

Since reading all of these responses, and since last night's discussion, I'm thinking that my initial statement that "there's no there to get to" was not as well explained as it should have been, and probably not as well thought out as it shoud have been either.  

As both Kammy and Chelseam have suggested, if there is no concrete destination at which we can arrive, then the focus shifts to the process of arrival, which is fluid and can be continuously changed.

chelseam's picture

Trying to Process Barad

It was really interesting to have Barad come speak to us after having read a couple pieces of her work. I was intrigued by the way her entire lecture felt like some sort of space/time travel - as S. Yaeger pointed out "accelerating through time." I think the way she sliced words right and left, and took us through a spinning dis/orienting (!!) power point, while splicing physics together with...everything contributed to this feeling. It was fun to hear her discuss her work "live," because her excitement and engagement with this thinking was incredibly clear. It was interesting to see her present it to us face to face rather than simply from the page.

Earlier in this thread Kaye asked, "If we agree with Barad that gender is not a place we can get to, does that mean that gendered bodies cannot be home?" I found this question really fascinating, and while I don't have a fully formed answer, my gut reaction is that our bodies can still be home. While gender may not be a discrete "destination," I think the process of gendering ourselves is very real. We are constantly shifting the way we are - in our gender and in every other part of our being - as we tack on new experiences, thoughts, etc. I think the argument that we never get to the gender - reach that final destination, suggests that our bodies are more home than ever, because we are free to shape/claim/think about them as we please. I agree with Kammy's thought that the "process of arrival," is the key here. Though I think I'd change it to simply "the process" (of living? being? what exactly are we in the process of?). I think its quite possible that we never "arrive" - Barad might point out that by the time we have reached any point, it is in the past - we have in a way left that moment and it has become one of those pasts that we cannot return to or recreate. Maybe this means that by the time we have been able to pin ourselves down, reality has shifted - the definition no longer fits...Is this how electrons experience the world?


Kaye's picture

"there's no place like (no) home"?

I'm thinking more about S. Yeager's comment:  "By rejecting the idea that gender is something which defines, we also can reject the idea that it is a place to get to..." and how that connects with our earlier discussions of Wilchins' conception of the body as home.  If we agree with Barad that gender is not a place we can get to, does that mean that gendered bodies cannot be home?  How can we be more than peripatetic, wayfaring strangers?

S. Yaeger's picture

I guess my response to these

I guess my response to these questions is more questions.  

Are bodies gendered?

If we look to our bodies as the key signifiers of gender, then aren't we, in at least some way, giving in to biological determinism?  

Kammy's picture

Reading Across the Cuts

Having read the above reactions to Barad, about her poetry and interdisciplinarity, I couldn't help but think about it within the context of anthropology. Recently, we have been reading Geertz and Harris, two anthropologists who operate under oppositional paradigms and might be considered somewhat antagonistic within the field. Harris takes an approach that is modernist and materialistic; his analysis is broad, concerned with the functional and infrastructural explanations for societal and cultural phenomena. Geertz on the other hand, is concerned with the local, with descriptive and the symbolic analysis: “thick” descriptions that dig deep. Thus, these two scholars were devoted to their particular epistemic approaches within anthropology. Despite their different approaches however, their works can still be read together. Not only can their works be read together, but their differing paradigms can even be applied diffractively for even richer understandings.


I was prompted to think about these different anthropological paradigms by the idea of interdisciplinarity, and the divisions that exist both between and within fields of study – and then back again to thinking about Barad and the use of the word “queer”. Above, S. Yaeger has spoken about “queer” as something that 'isn't' there and beyond definition, much like the waves and particles under scrutiny. But in response to that, I would like to assert that perhaps a definition isn't even necessary.


“In short, maybe my feeling of not quite being able to get there in terms of being able to relate Barad's lecture to gender was caused by the fact that there is no there to get to.” - S. Yeager.


At the risk of sounding a little corny, I want to suggest that perhaps it's not about the destination, but instead about the process of arrival. Perhaps “queer” can be taken as a transgressive methodoligical approach, which like matter, isn't just there, but rather has an experience of its own.'s picture

Poetry/Performance of Barad... + dance!?

S. Yaeger, I really like your description of Barad's mode of speaking and writing as "poetry." Perhaps it's a further invitation to interdisciplinarity -- moving between modes not only of physics and feminism but also, to some extent, of literature and theater? Her comments at the end about the limitations of strictly disciplinary thought were interesting to me because she brought up the issue of divisions within disciplines as well as between them. I have been pretty convinced for a while (see my first post!) that the divisions between departments sometimes (while not always) do more harm than good in the general quest to understand the world. However, I hadn't thought as much about how disciplines get subdivided or questioned what that means. Maybe that's partially because I go to a small enough school that not many departments are large enough to have too many obvious "camps" within them -- or even that such "camps" end up getting divided along Haverford versus Bryn Mawr lines (cultural vs. biological anthropology, for example). Even in departments I'm not so familiar with, like English, it's possible to notice these subtle divisions -- why should a "feminist" reading of a novel have to be completely distinct from so many other modes of analysis, for example? The way we are taught to parse up our thinking is so ingrained in us as to make a thinker like Barad seem like quite an anomaly, her connections between social and quantum theory taking a while to sink in, to convince.

To take this interdisciplinary thinking a bit further, Barad's conception of meaning and matter being mutually constitutive made me think about some recent experiences I've had with improvisational dance/movement workshops. I've always felt these embodied experiences have more to do with my "knowledge" - of myself, of others, of the world - than "physical" activities are generally given credit for. (Perhaps in ways that it would require some fancy Barad-esque wordsmanship to attempt to convey.) To so harshly categorize physical movement as either simply art or exercise and therefore close it off from the realms of intellectual production seems unfair, and I wonder how Barad's ideas might fit in with my hard-to-elicidate (and yet somehow still passionately-held!) views about the significance of my improvisational movement experiences.