Ep. 42 – Queer Inhumanisms

In this week’s episode, Emily, B and Rachel dig into GLQ‘s special issue, “Queer Inhumanisms,” edited by Mel Y. Chen and Dana Luciano. We begin by discussing the editors’ introduction to the issue, entitled “Has the Queer Ever Been Human?” followed by Jeanne Vaccaro‘s piece, “Feelings and Fractals: Woolly Ecologies of Transgender Matter,” and conclude with Karen Barad‘s “TransMaterialities: Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings.” Our myriad topics of discussion include parsing the contributions to queer theory of scholarship on animacies, post-humanism, and animal studies, what we can learn from quantum physics about the way we conceptualize (or fail to conceptualize) the human and the subject, and the sticky role of language in creating and hindering new ways of thinking queerness. Listen in as we delve through this rich set of texts!

Remember to support us on Patreon to help offset/reimburse the cost of our fancy new microphone, which we have named Lacan. Requests for texts for us to discuss? Dreams for us to interpret? Advice questions for us to answer? Email us at alwaysalreadypodcast AT gmail DOT com. Subscribe on iTunes. Follow us on Twitter. Like our Facebook page. RSS feed here. Thanks to Leah Dion and to B for the music. Get the mp3 here.

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18 thoughts on “Ep. 42 – Queer Inhumanisms

  1. does anyone know of any case-studies (or even plans/outlines) of an actual alternative way of relating to each other or to critters/objects that we can test out or is this all merely academic?

    1. hey, b here.

      well, the vaccaro piece is all about that very thing. crocheting the coral reef is the method by and through which folx can relate to in/animate objects, re-think their relations to such objects, and appreciate the living-ness of the reefs through the outgrowth of handicraft. the project is itself a case study (http://crochetcoralreef.org/about/index.php, also if you want more info about how to start your own reef http://crochetcoralreef.org/makeyourown/satellite.php). vaccaro has engaged in a number of art installations in nyc and elsewhere that explore similar themes, mostly around trans embodiments. others have attempted to more openly politicize our relations to objects: latour compiled an anthology (http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/309) that covers the democratizing of “things”. that book has contributors from a wide range of artists and thinkers.

      it’s definitely not a peculiarly academic enterprise. if anything, i think artists may have inspired academics to make things the “subject” of social theory. but i hope that helps.

      1. thanks, I’ve seen the crochet/coral and know Bruno’s abortive attempts at making things public, but how are those really different relations as opposed to just different grammars/images, arts are entertaining/engrossing but leave us largely unchanged as we make our ways in/thru the world after we grasp them.

      2. well, i suppose “seeing” versus actually “doing” constitute part of vaccaro’s central thesis–which is why i supplied a link to making a community/satellite crochet reef of your own. and i think therein lies the answer to your question: relating to objects according to vaccaro rests in actually putting one’s hands (and thus minds) to work, altering the very fundaments of our thinking about them. that is one way of changing how we relate to in/animate objects, as opposed to merely discoursing on them (which i took to be your initial criticism as this being a purely “academic” pursuit).

        but i disagree with your point about art being merely entertaining/engrossing. i don’t think all art could be reduced to single axis of affect(s), let alone put into a grammar of utility. i would argue that “being engrossed” is itself a state of change, of relating, and a moment of reflection. if one is left totally unchanged by any or all interactions in the world–whether it be with an art installation, or an intersubjective exchange with other humans, or with the tables on which write, read, type (see ahmed’s queer phenomenology on that last point about tables)–then one is already closed to the possibilities of being changed. there seems to be an already presupposed framework of (dare i say) normative parameters that qualify the possibility change and relating, full stop.

        to amend what i had said on the podcast–i do believe new grammars (even about old social shenanigans) inaugurate new ways of thinking about phenomena. i believe that new ways of thinking inaugurate new ways of relating to those phenomena. so i suppose a more pressing question might be: to what extent is this new way of relating to phenomena suppose a new ethical set of principles moving forward?

      3. “relating to objects according to vaccaro rests in actually putting one’s hands (and thus minds) to work, altering the very fundaments of our thinking about them”
        I don’t think that this is so, how could such a practice actually bring about such a radical alteration (same with vocabularies and ways of thinking) have you actually managed to bring about a fundamental change for yourself?

      4. the short answer is yes.

        the long answer is that i’m fundamentally changed/changing every day. touching and feeling my way through the world–touching my own body and the bodies of others; that of in/animate objects ranging from art to the rocks that are collected around community gardens; to the plastic coffee cup that i’m sipping at the moment; to the archival pdfs that i have with images of trans and queer bodies. these alter me, change me, press against me, mediate my experiences, are immediate and yet distant, are a part of sensual relations with the world and constitute the world phenomenally. attention to our everyday practice that engages with objects-in-the-world is more than an exercise in linguistics. my embodiment has altered as i move through the world. my gender expression has altered. my gender identity fundamentally alters from interactions that cling and change me.

        is your question that of “how” one can do this? i’m not sure anyone can give an adequate answer. it is a matter of tarrying with things, with thoughts, with ways of thinking and modes of existence, realizing that they are in fact touching you as much as you are touching them. i imagine coming undone by my interactions in the world, reassembling myself with whatever traces are left behind.

      5. “i imagine coming undone by my interactions in the world, reassembling myself with whatever traces are left behind” it’s a lovely vision but defies physics/physiology/etc, perhaps that’s were we differ I’m concerned with what we can achieve beyond waxing poetic (as much as I love poetry). thanks

  2. Isabelle raises this pivotal question of possible uses for conceptual work like hers and offers it as a kind of rhetorical/strategic intervention , sadly her work on slow science of course hasn’t been anymore successful (tho she is a better philosopher) than Bruno’s in actually bringing about changes in the practices of research-science/engineering, but at least she isn’t claiming fundamental changes in world-views/relations just pragmatic ones, rearranging the deck chairs if you will.

    1. i think there’s a fugitive phenomenology here. rearranging the deck chairs, of altering the furniture of the universe, invokes what husserl, heidegger, and merleau-ponty have already investigated as fundamentally altered states of thinking/modes of engagement with the world.

      1. but those ways of thinking (which have the advantage of being testable) don’t actually bring about changes in experience/perception/etc, they have some uses for efforts like engineering but of course that’s what they all hoped to overcome and failed to achieve (unlike John Dewey who came to terms with instrumentalism).

      2. i’m unsure what meets your criteria for change. the very act of thinking, if one is truly said to be thinking in the heideggerian, arenditan, and even ahmedian senses, would be attended by altered experiences of the world. i speculate that to have a world in mind, and to then think about it, means one is prone to a set of corporeal actions that may: reproduce inherited effects of the horizons of one’s own mode of thinking; engage with it in such a way as to (re)think the possibilities of the world’s changing; or they are simply not thinking.

      3. “i speculate that to have a world in mind, and to then think about it, means one is prone to a set of corporeal actions that may: reproduce inherited effects of the horizons of one’s own mode of thinking; engage with it in such a way as to (re)think the possibilities of the world’s changing; or they are simply not thinking”
        one can assert such things but there is actually a lot of research into these matters and the evidence it largely to the contrary, these are all different skills/capacities, the sciences aside one can try them for oneself, can one overcome “mere” anthropology/instrumentalism by reading Heidegger/Arendt/Kant (or say subject/object relations by studying M-Ponty or Whitehead, or even quantum-physics), no sadly one cannot (as Heidegger later despaired “only a God can save us”). there is some related discussion if yer interested over @
        http://dailynous.com/2016/08/12/conscious-thought-expertise-distribution-ideas-truth-chicken-sexers/

    2. “it’s a lovely vision but defies physics/physiology/etc.” hmmm…dismissing narratives on alterations in embodied experiences and its attendant changes in practices that produce tangible local effects in world as “waxing poetic” is, rightfully, not about changing at all.

      thanks for the dialogue. we definitely do not see eye to eye, but i appreciate your input.

      1. I was pointing to the lack of specificity, one can be well trained in all sorts of verbiage but not actually be describing anything particular/actual, as I said in my initial comment I would welcome any examples that we might give a try. cheers

      2. What exactly is lacking in “specificity”? You’re working from the presumption that thinking does not alter the world. Ok. Then let’s say that changing the world requires, first, thinking about the world in this way or that, then I would say that the fundamental requirement for change would be how, if at all, we think. Thus, when thinking about, for example, coral reefs, trans embodiments, and the like, we presuppose certain meanings that fix them in a world that we’ve constructed from whatever contingent truths that we’ve accepted about them.

        For example, the reef means X for an ecology, is Y in the sense that it possesses biological characteristics. But a group of people merely reading about, say, the reef’s slow decline, might not be moved to save it. But if, say, we work toward re-creating said reef with our hands, through materials like yarn, and handicraft, and we take this display of “art” as an interaction with the world that raises, say, awareness for the coral reef, we’ve inaugurated the potential for change. Let’s say that change is in awareness of the coral reef’s decline. That thinking about the coral reef, altered by our interactions with it through art (however dismissive we can be about art’s utility), and the subsequent publicity of our thinking/action, has produced a change, no? What kind of change would you like? A financial change? A change in political attention to the rebuilding of the reef? An individual subjective change in which a person is aware of a world that extends beyond their local geography? Pick one and let’s explore it together.

        Another example: Let’s speculate that this coral reef project can be used to think about trans embodiments. The coral reef project engages folx with thinking about the shape, contours, and design of the living creatures that make up/is this reef. For the author, this engagement, this hands-on project, is a way of re-thinking how one might interact with the ways trans embodiments exist in the world. Many trans people struggle to piece together their body’s morphology surgically; many do not, but struggle with their “place” in a gendered expression of a body they desire, manipulating what is at hand in the world to make a legible body to others. But all of it is rooted in how each trans person relates to gender, to others, and the world. Bringing attention to this issue alters how groups/subjects perceive what may trans folx experience in their everyday lives, and thus alters how they interact (Vaccaro had an art installation in 2015 in NYC about this very thing). Again, does this change in thinking then work itself into a world? Does it alter the movements for social justice? Does it produce political coalitions that uplift trans communities in their struggle for legibility as persons? Pick one and let’s explore it together.

        As to this point about thinking and its fundamentally altering the world: “one can assert such things but there is actually a lot of research into these matters and the evidence it largely to the contrary, these are all different skills/capacities, the sciences aside one can try them for oneself, can one overcome “mere” anthropology/instrumentalism by reading Heidegger/Arendt/Kant (or say subject/object relations by studying M-Ponty or Whitehead, or even quantum-physics), no sadly one cannot.” Perhaps you missed the fundamental points of Barad’s piece on quantum mechanics and human relations (in the same volume), or the theories within a variety of scientific communities/networks that quite plainly state any “truths” (“scientific” or not) change with each system of thought/experimentation that seek to define phenomena. Phenomena are not this or that, through and through, fixed universally. Barad, a theoretical particle physicist, literally wrote the book about this–among numerous others who are just waxing poetic.

        My point is this: Thinking about phenomena leads to a fundamental mis/apprehension of how to treat those phenomena, which leads to a fundamental alteration of how those phenomena are observed and experimented on, and thus alters the “real” states of those phenomena. I don’t think that’s mere verbiage. There doesn’t seem to be a universal consensus, in any community of scholars across the disciplines (except perhaps in analytic philosophy) against my assertion that thinking about the world has material effects on that world, thus changing that world–in whatever degree, great or small.

        In any case, I’d like to make a point here. Being dismissive of and holding opposing views to the fire because they lack a certain desired scientism, or doesn’t meet a disciplinary grammar of “evidence” and specificity, or holding another’s way of communication as mere word-mysiticism, doesn’t belong in a meaningful exchange.

        I value your listenership and your thought-provoking views.

  3. sorry i didn’t catch that this continued, my point was that the sorts of thinking abouts that you have listed aren’t in any practical sense leading to fundamental changes, don’t really open up very new ways of being/relating/assembling (now individuals may come to have important differences in their sense of themselves thru gradual and relatively minor adjustments but this doesn’t lead to new social arrangements on any grand scale, don’t you folks often raise the spectre of capitalisms and all when trying to grasp the potential emancipatory powers of various academic works? ).
    as for Barad you seem to have missed that she has ventured far away from her previous scientific mode/basis here and is now in fact waxing poetic ( tho not explicitly/consciously as say Haraway and Jane Bennett have) unless she has recently come up with some follow-up experiments/applications that I’m unaware of, and calling science scientism seems unhelpful (as it doesn’t attend to the actual work/process which I was referring to and not making some meta-physical point) and besides my query/interest, which was to just ask for practicable examples we might experiment with.
    I’m sorry if this somehow turned hostile it was my memory/sense that you folks had directly raised questions as to the usefulness/applicability of these theories for both research and teaching as when yer students ask so what would/could I do with such a thesis?

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