Posthumanist Performativity and How Matter Comes to Matter

Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of
How Matter Comes to Matter

by Karen Barad

“Where did we ever get the strange idea that nature—as opposed to culture—is ahistorical and timeless? We are far too impressed by our own cleverness and self-consciousness… We need to stop telling ourselves the same old anthropocentric bedtime stories.” — Steve Shaviro (1997)

Language has been granted too much power. The linguistic turn, the semiotic turn, the interpretative turn, the cultural turn: it seems that at every turn lately every “thing”—even materiality—is turned into a matter of language or some other form of cultural representation. The ubiquitous puns on “matter” do not, alas, mark a rethinking of the key concepts (materiality and signification) and the relationship between them. Rather, it seems to be symptomatic of the extent to which matters of “fact” (so to speak) have been replaced with matters of signification (no scare quotes here). Language matters. Discourse matters. Culture matters. There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter.

What compels the belief that we have a direct access to cultural representations and their content that we lack toward the things represented? How did language come to be more trustworthy than matter? Why are language and culture granted their own agency and historicity while matter is figured as passive and immutable, or at best inherits a potential for change derivatively from language and culture? How does one even go about inquiring after the material conditions that have led us to such a brute reversal of naturalist beliefs when materiality itself is always already figured within a linguistic domain as its condition of possibility?


2 responses to “Posthumanist Performativity and How Matter Comes to Matter

  1. Pingback: Posthumanist Performativity and How Matter Comes to Matter – The Philosophical Hack·

  2. Even though I like her essay , I think the term “post-humanist” is misleading. Becuase, at least this essay, is helping us to better understand what it is to be human in the universe.

    I dislike all these various “post” this and that: I mean, the point her essay kind of denies the fact that we would have to label things with reference to what already exists, as though we’re defining reality through discourse.

    It seems to me that the point of her essay is that we are not defining reality through discourse, but actually discourse is being informed by something that is “not human”.

    And yet, in order for her to make that argument we first would have to understand that we are creating our own reality by using discourse creatively.

    I think there’s a serious flaw in this whole line of post-human kind of talking about things that goes back 10 -15 years (more?)

    Which I think is a fundamental flaw in the methodology of philosophy itself.

    Which would then go to explain the reason why no one listens to science when they say we are cooking ourselves and we need to check our use of carbon fuels and stuff like that. That is to say, because philosophy is unreliable as an explanatory device. Because philosophy is taking it’s own way out of any truth, even as it wants to argue various things, it just models for the rest of the world how they’re supposed to take any particular presentation of the world, which is to say, as duplicitous.

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