Is a Quantum Mechanics Literary Studies Possible or Desirable?

What follows below is an article on Karen Barad’s work that I wrote in 2013. As it turned out, for reasons I won’t go into here, the article was never published. I’m putting it here because someone wants to cite it, so I need to have it somewhere in a citable place. Here it is. I’d be happy to have it published somewhere other than my own website, however, if someone wants it. It’s very much marked by 2013 (the MOOC reference, for example).

The basic point? The title gives it away: Quantum Physics provides the most accurate picture of reality to date, but on a level and kind of accuracy that’s probably of no use to literary critics.

Is a Quantum Mechanics Literary Studies Possible or Desirable?[1]

Karl Steel, Department of English, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Over the past several years, literary criticism, art history, and other fields in the cultural humanities have stopped assuming only humans and their works were worth their attention. Nonhuman animals have been particularly well-studied, unsurprisingly, as, being the nonhuman things most like us, they are most likely to upend our certainty of a proper human preeminence. Other scholars have wondered about plants, stones, and textual networks, and all have sought to turn the human into a question rather than a settled answer.[2] Whatever the various objects of their study, these scholars, loosely collected under the title of new materialism, have all tried to attend to nonhuman things in themselves, either as independent things, or as things interacting with other, nonhuman objects, or as things working on or with us to so that we ourselves become as passive or mechanical as we thought they were. With this new attention to nonhumans comes an increased attention to ontology, because talking about things independent of human symbolic use requires understanding how and whether things can be independent of anything at all, whether from human symbolic use or from other things in general.

Because her training as a theoretical physicist grants her practical access to one basic order of things, Karen Barad’s work may be particularly well suited for helping posthuman materialists develop their ontological claims. Barad’s body of work is, however, enormous, repetitive, and difficult, and not obviously applicable to work in the humanities, except insofar as demands that we rethink old terms like nature, identity, cause, effect, representation, and agency: not obviously applicable to literary studies particularly, then, but still both enormously generative and an essential tool to prevent error in the grander claims of the posthumanities. Her work has been enormously successful: for example, a July 2013 Google scholar search for Meeting the Universe Halfway yields nearly a thousand citations. Yet Barad remains underutilized in the new materialisms.[3] To help correct this omission, my essay’s first half streamlines a small set of points of Barad’s ongoing, monumental exposition of the implications of Niels Bohr’s practical metaphysics, concentrating on her accounts of agency, surprise, and ethics. Since Barad claims her ethico-onto-epistemology is true for literally everything, my essay’s second part offers principles for a Baradian literary criticism, while also wondering what use ethics and the humanities can make of the precision offered by quantum mechanics.

Barad’s fundamental ontological element is not the object but rather particular phenomenon not yet resolved into any determinate set of things.[4] Phenomena, of whatever size or duration, preexist determinate objects and their relations. As Žižek terms it, particular phenomena are constituted by a “self-relating ‘pure’ difference…preced[ing] the terms it differentiates”[5]: “self-relating,” as any given phenomena is distinct from others, and “pure difference,” in that objects and relations, the usual targets of ontological investigations, emerge only through the cuts made within phenomena by measuring apparatuses.[6] These cuts resolve indeterminate stuff into determinate orders of space, and time, and matter, or rather, in Barad’s words, spacetimematter, since physics since Einstein collapses the old distinctions between these three categories.[7] Barad calls the cuts made by measuring apparatuses “agential,” because the agential apparatus emerges by isolating itself along with some aspect of its phenomena.[8] By making or being made available, interested, or vulnerable in some particular way to some aspect of its phenomena, the measuring apparatus is marked by a measured object that it has called into being. The apparatus therefore may be recognized as the effect of the measured object, and the object the cause. Within phenomena, “one is too few, two is too many,”[9] since apparatus and object are as much joined to as separated from its other by these cuts.[10]

Agency is not a preexisting capacity that enables cuts between preexisting objects; it is not a predeterminate cause; rather, it is produced with and by the cut itself within phenomena not yet resolved into determinant objects:[11] hence “intra-activity” rather than “interactivity,” since “interactivity” presumes already existing separable agents and objects.[12] Nor is agency something enacted only by humans, as “phenomena do not require cognizing minds for their existence; on the contrary, ‘minds’ are themselves material phenomena that emerge through specific intra-actions.”[13] Humans and their institutions, then, are far from the only possible agential cutters.[14] We may not be all that much aware of it, but the world cuts back; it too is taking our measurement and producing itself and its objects through these measurements. The boundaries of any given phenomena and, within phenomena, any given “cutting” apparatus, might include the entire universe, or some local section of the universe, or, on a much smaller scale, the atoms to which subatomic particles belong, or, more familiarly, it might include scientists, their machines, the laboratory, or even “accidental” effects like cigar smoke,[15] where what counts as an “accident” depends on where the boundaries of an apparatus and its phenomena are drawn. Whether human individuals, human systems, or even our species as a whole matter as agents depends entirely on the scale of the measuring apparatus and phenomena. On large or small enough scales, humans cease to matter very much. But the minimization of the importance of humans in certain scales of measurement and action does not mean the disappearance of agency, since agency is produced along with agential cuts. The degree of significant agency depends on scale as well. For example, an agential cut that resolves an electron into a single particle may seem to have barely any effect on larger, slower, and more enduring phenomena, like us, unless the electron is the particular subject of our experiment.

This account of both agency and measurement is fully posthuman, not in the sense of being after the human in some historical, teleological, evolutionary, or technological sense, but in the sense of no longer having humans, their institutions or aims, or quasi-human figures (like a singular, transcendent God) at the natural center of its analysis.[16] Barad does not, however, arbitrarily scatter agency on anything. Elements of already existing phenomena make and are produced through agential cuts. Possible cuts depend on possible apparatuses. Possible apparatuses depend on the ongoing, iterative, diffractive (but not reflective),[17] self-referential and self-producing series of agential cuts within already existing phenomena. Cause and effect matter, but not in a linear fashion, since time itself is produced by agential cuts and since the arrangements of cause and effect shift as apparatuses are continually produced and modified.[18] Thus, to say that a phenomenon in which agential cuts occur “is far from empty…[;] it’s teeming with the full set of possibilities of what may come to be,”[19] is also to say that agential cuts cannot fall just anywhere or do anything. As quantum mechanics is probabilistic rather than deterministic,[20] agential cuts will fall in one of a set of possible places: not just any, but not always the same one, either. For any given atom, for example, electrons must reside in a discrete set of orbitals corresponding to their particular energy levels,[21] which is what allows both atoms and the elemental compositions of stars to be identified; but their likelihood of occupying any particular spot in their orbital is probabilistic. Barad therefore presents a constrained, not a determinate, account of change, in which surprise still remains possible.[22]

By focusing on the effectivity rather than reliability of measuring apparatuses, Barad collapses the distinction between ontology and epistemology. Measurement means knowing, and knowing means determination. This is indeed determination rather than something so straightforward as an always partial resolution of uncertainty: this is Bohr, not Heisenberg. Representationalist epistemologies, concerned primarily with the accuracy of access to the external world, whether developed by Kant or Heisenberg, remain no more viable than epistemologies that idealize a knower fully distinct from the object being measured.[23] Barad instead insists on a performative epistemology, with the emphasis on effectivity and iterative citationality that Butler gives this word.[24]

Because knowledge matters, ethics must no longer be about adequate representation or about the inevitable failure of any representation. Barad’s ethics instead requires taking responsibility for the determinations of agential cuts,[25] or even “providing opportunities for [an] organism to respond.”[26] Good ethics requires good accounts of these cuts, which means that good ethics requires objectivity. Objectivity, in Barad’s terms, requires unambiguous communication of the marks made by particular agential cuts within phenomena to produce particular determinate objects.[27] Objectivity relies neither on transcendent verities, nor on perfect fidelity to the fundamental, already existing facts of the case, nor on observer-independent results. There is no outside-the-phenomenon;[28] there is no correct account of reality that can be any “better” than probabalistic; there is no observer-independent reality, or at least, no observer-independent reality comprising any already determinate objects; and, finally, no apparatus can measure itself. For these reasons, perfect objectivity becomes impossible, so that objectivity also must account for the constitutive exclusions of any given measurement (paradigmatically, momentum or position, but not both at the same time).

Because of their novelty, Barad’s ethics merit a brief aside. When she writes that ethics requires “taking account of the entangled materializations of which we are a part, including new configurations, new subjectivities, new possibilities [where] even the smallest cuts matter,”[29] she raises the ethical stakes by us to recognize contact as generative, but she provides little account of the persistence or disappearance of elements within phenomena. This means she barely accounts for either vulnerability or death, except for occasional and little explored references to, for example, “our debt to those who are already dead and those who are not yet born.”[30] Per her own work, the presumption that ethics should be oriented around the living and that which had lived requires radical rethinking, combined with careful attention to what can be classified as life.[31] Furthermore, to call on us to live “compassionately, sharing in the suffering of the other,”[32] means knowing when decoherence—the collapse of indeterminacy into determinacy—might or could be an injury, and when not. It means wondering whether the decoherence of entangled systems caused by agential cuts become ethically significant because they undo systems that are attempting to persist as they are, which we might call a desire to live. Decoherence might be recognized as suffering or cruelty, depending on whether we try to isolate the cause or the effect in an agential cut. It also means wondering whether, say, complex, rare, and unstable atoms are more ethically significant than simple and common atoms like hydrogen and helium, in a manner analogous to the call to preserve maximal diversity and plasticity in an ecosystem. Could the preponderance of simple atoms be likened to increasing homogenization of animal and plant life and indeed human ways of life in the neoliberal anthropocene?[33]

By no means do I mean to suggest that attending to the ethical problems of quantum decoherence would be self-evidently silly, nor to suggest that Barad’s ethics or indeed her ontology are false. Because Barad grounds her ethico-episto-ontological arguments in her practical investigations into the fundamental operations of matter, or, more properly, mattering, I recognize unreservedly that her arguments should be true for literally everything, which means having to face questions like these. I raise these questions, then, not to be querulous but to trouble her ethics, and us through them, by asking for more specificity and especially more attention to hard or bizarre cases. We now realize that particles can be entangled with each other from across the universe. With quantum physics, who is our neighbor? A fully materialistic ethics also requires abandoning or radically rethinking the ethical shibboleths of subjectivity, spirit, and even that supposedly separable quality we call life or liveliness. Finally, we have to know that we cannot concentrate our ethical attention only on objects that endure, since this raises the question of scale: a flat ontology requires knowing that humans and perhaps the universe itself are mere blips on certain scales, while also knowing that brevity does not automatically mean ethical insignificance.[34]

More narrowly, my question now is how Barad might guide work in the humanities. Ethics is a part of that, but, more primarily, so are artistic texts. The only artistic production that she gives much attention to Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, without, however, being much interested in it as a play. Nowhere does she consider how her ontology might allow cultural critics to rethink matters of reception, audience, or the relationship between author and event in the writing of historical fiction. Instead, Frayn’s mistakes simply grant Barad a chance to defend Bohr’s reputation and, more importantly, a chance to correct his fumbling the distinction between Heisenburgian uncertainty and Bohrian indeterminacy. Having found Frayn wanting, Barad goes on to concentrate almost exclusively on lightning, brittlestars, genetically engineered goats, and critters indeterminately plant or animal, all of which allow her to argue for a far stranger account of cause and effect than that provided by the narratives of Newtonian physics. Nonetheless, because Barad’s ontology is universally applicable, and because Barad engages with Foucault, Butler, Derrida, and Levinas, much beloved by literary scholars, and, finally, because I am myself a literary scholar, I have to consider how her work might be taken up by scholars like me to help recognize a posthuman account of human cultural productions and their concerns.

Here is how this might work. A literary criticism modeled on classical physics would rely on a belief in the fundamental separability between measuring apparatus and the thing being measured. Because classical physics believes it possible to engage with things without actually affecting them (as with Heisenburg) or effecting them (as with Bohr),[35] it suffers from only a small set of ethical anxieties: either about adequate representations or about representation’s inevitable failures, as with its worry that cultural critics can never access the text itself or the past in general. The elements of such a representationalist classical physics literary criticism could be identified as object, agent, and interpreter.[36] The object of interpretation may the text itself or a larger context, which is sometimes psychic, sometimes a network of other texts, and sometimes “historical.” The agent or cause of the object of interpretation may be an author, a text or set of texts, or a determining context, all which have already been enacted and are now just inertly waiting for an interpreter. The third division belongs to the interpreter, the modern critic, scholar, student, or layperson, present only to describe the relationship between object and agent correctly, who considers him or herself a bystander to this active relationship and, simultaneously, the only presently conscious agent in this three-fold division.

Barad makes these divisions impossible in any absolute sense. It is not that the first two divisions can no longer exist. Rather that they must be recognized as coming to exist in various ways only through particular critical engagements. The third category of traditional criticism, the innocent critical bystander, simply becomes impossible, because “knowledge making is not a mediated activity…[but a] direct material engagement, a practice of intra-acting with the world as part of the world in its dynamic material configuring.”[37] The phenomenon within which interpretation occurs is one in which the interpreter itself occurs, not because the interpreter is already there but rather because it is marked in some way by what it interprets. As a result, the agent cannot be separated from its method of engagement, which we might also call its sensory apparatus, umwelt, or, in the terms of the humanities, its methodology. Nor can the interpretative agent be assumed to act in a present at a remove from the interpreted object’s past, because there is no absolute distinction between past, present, or future, nor cause and effect, except as a description of the way that particular kinds of attention construct particular kinds of temporality or causality.[38] Phenomenological and affective literary criticism goes far towards realizing the Baradian project, while altericist modes remain classical.[39] Finally, while no critical approach supersedes or master all others, the best critical approaches are, in Barad’s sense of the word, “ethical,” since they account for where and why an agential cut occurs and what their critical methodology constitutively omits, excludes, or forgets. This demand at least would call for a humble and anti-reductionist literary criticism.

I suspect few contemporary literary critics would disagree with these points, as this “Baradian” literary criticism may do little more than redescribe common methods of current literary criticism. Even without Barad, any ecocriticism, for example, will encourage us to attend to nonhuman agencies in literary texts. I also suspect this “Baradian” critical mode may have little to do with quantum mechanics except its vocabulary. I am frankly not entirely certain what quantum mechanics has to offer to humanities scholars, particularly for literary critics. I do not mean to disagree with Barad, nor to undervalue the ongoing, successful engagement with Barad in cultural critique, as in work by Stacy Alaimo.[40] Barad’s episto-ontology is true, generally: quantum physics does not supplement but rather entirely supersedes Newtonian physics.[41] It is the most accurate model of physical reality to date,[42] and accurate to such a degree, as we have seen, that it at least troubles the distinction between physical and all other realities. Quantum effects will become more and more important to many of us as the increasing speed and precision of human apparatuses in common use run up against the limits of accuracy. Computing and secure banking transactions are themselves already exploiting these limits by working with rather than against the fundamental indeterminacy of reality.[43]

Nonetheless, the quantum phenomena Barad describes are virtually imperceptible on the scale at which a specifically literary scholarship operate and for the kinds of materials we investigate. Bohr observed that if the discontinuity of reality caused by Planck’s constant had been larger, humans would never have thought they lived in a “classical” world.[44] That said, Planck’s constant is what it is, and humanities scholars, for the most part, do not feel themselves to be moving instantaneously across the absolute minimum of gaps with quantum leaps. The same problem applies to relativity: at typical human speeds, we get along well enough with believing space and time to be constants. The humanities can (at least) generally operate with a “good-enough” picture of reality, because the level of precision offered by modern physics far exceeds our needs. The best humanities teaching occurs at a relatively slow and imprecise level, pace the claims of promoters of MOOCs (Massive On-Line Open Courses), and the apparatuses of literary investigation do not isolate the materials of our investigation with sufficient precision to discern or determine quantum effects. As Barad herself writes:

quantum behavior is difficult to observe because of the difficulty of shielding an object, especially a relatively large object, from interactions with its “environment,” which continually fluctuates in an erratic fashion in such a way that a superposition is “randomized” into a mixture “for all practical purposes” (but not in principle)….one has to know how to identify an entanglement (e.g., where to look for correlations and how to measure them), and generally speaking, this is far from evident.[45]

It is extremely difficult, but increasingly not impossible, to observe quantum effects on a macroscopic scale,[46] which is to say, a more or less unassisted human sensory scale, or even simply to observe multiple entangled particles, since every additional pair of entangled particles increases the complexity of the phenomena exponentially.[47] It is hard to imagine these difficulties being overcome in a library, and even harder—though perhaps not impossible—to imagine the value of doing so.

In short, although I would prefer to be wrong about this, both the fundamental indeterminacy of reality and the generativity of knowledge will probably matter for literary criticism only either analogically, or to keep us from reductionist or relativistic errors, or to allow us to develop more complex and correct accounts of agency, as Barad does in her analysis of the Calcuttan jute mill.[48] Barad herself wrote an article whose noncontinuous structure, entangling Hamlet’s Denmark with the Denmark of Bohr and Heisenberg’s and with Derrida’s Spectres of Marx, aimed “to provide the reader with an opportunity to engage in an imaginative journey that is akin to how electrons experience the world.”[49] Barad’s fascinating formal experiment sought to overturn the “overarching sense[s] of temporality, of continuity, in place” that would let us believe in our clear difference from what we study and our sense of historical progression that puts our objects of study only in the past and us in the present. The article’s structure is, however, a model or analog, inspired by quantum physics, but not an actual experience of entanglement or indeterminacy. To be still more specific: even if we were to isolate indeterminate complementary variables within the phenomena constituting book and scholar, our epistemological interaction with the literal material of a book will not do much to it that would affect our experience of the whole complex constituting it as book. And even if we did join ourselves with an apparatus capable of being marked by the literal material of some particular book in a way we could account for objectively, it would likely not matter much for our interpretation of its text.

That said, we could and should always extend our notion of the proper object of textual studies,[50] and, that said, when we make ontological claims, or claims about agency, or the character of time, as any scholar in the posthumanities must and as most humanities scholars do implicitly, we should have Barad in mind, at minimum to keep us from mistakes about the fundamental operations of reality. This is obviously no small matter. Having read the new materialists, we can no longer be sure about the fixity of the distinction between subject and object, with all the relations of dominion that implies, nor can we be sure that ethics requires self-awareness, whatever that is. We must abandon the world picture of classical physics, with its comforting assurances of our subjective separability from the world and our persistence in it (or even out of it!). We have arrived at this stage through Ian Bogost, Jane Bennett, Timothy Morton, and a thickening crowd of other thinkers. Barad needs to be read with the other new materialists, because her particular training gives ontologists “empirical support” for their systems, as Morton observes about quantum mechanics and object-oriented ontology,[51] and, more importantly, because she gives us the best currently available description of reality.

The question is whether we can make any use of it. Literature scholars, and perhaps not only us, [52] may be able to continue to get by without anything near the precision of quantum mechanics and still do our work as well as it could possibly be done. And, at the risk of reopening the rift between the sciences and the humanities, the kinds of accuracy required to describe the ongoing entanglement of matter in all its permutations may not have much to do with the kinds of accuracy we seek in the arts.

Works Cited

Alaimo, Stacy. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and The Material Self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

Ball, Philip. “Physics of Life: The Dawn of Quantum Biology.” Nature 474 (2011): 272–274.

Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

———. “Nature’s Queer Performativity.” Qui Parle 19 (2011): 121–58.

———. “On Touching—The Inhuman That Therefore I Am.” Differences 23, no. 3 (2012): 206–223.

———. “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come.” Derrida Today 3 (2010): 240–268.

———. “Queer Causation and the Ethics of Mattering.” In Queering the Non/Human, edited by Noreen Giffney and Myra J Hird. Aldershot, Hampshire, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=438412.

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Bryant, Levi R. The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011.

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “The Sex Life of Stone.” In From Beasts to Souls: Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe, edited by E. Jane Burns and Peggy McCracken, 17–38. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University, 2013.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. How Soon Is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

Felski, Rita. “Context Stinks!” New Literary History 42 (2011): 573–591. doi:10.1353/nlh.2011.0045.

Georgescu, Iulia. “Quantum Entanglement: Now You See It.” Nature Physics 9, no. 7 (2013): 394–394.

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” In Feminism/Postmodernism, edited by Linda J Nicholson, 190–233. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Harman, Graham. Circus Philosophicus. Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2010.

Iovino, Serenella, and Serpil Oppermann. “Material Ecocriticism: Materiality, Agency, and Models of Narrativity.” Ecozon@ 3, no. 1 (2012): 75–91.

Kirby, Vicki. Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

Lazcano, Antonio. “What Is Life? A Brief Historical Overview.” Chemistry & Biodiversity 5 (2008): 1–15.

Lvovsky, A. I., R. Ghobadi, A. Chandra, A. S. Prasad, and C. Simon. “Observation of Micro–Macro Entanglement of Light.” Nature Physics (2013). doi:10.1038/nphys2682.

Marder, Michael. Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

McCracken, Peggy. “The Floral and the Human.” In Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, 91–122. Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2012.

Morton, Timothy. “OOO and Quantum Theory.” Ecology Without Nature, July 27, 2013. http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/2013/07/ooo-and-quantum-theory.html.

———. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Pettman, Dominic. “The Noble Cabbage [Review of Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking].” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 28, 2013. http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/the-noble-cabbage-michael-marders-plant-thinking/.

Traub, Valerie. “The New Unhistoricism in Queer Studies.” PMLA 128 (2013): 21–39.

Žižek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso, 2012.

  1. Thanks above all to Angie Bennett for organizing a weekly Google Hangout on Karen Barad’s work during the Summer of 2013. Thanks to fellow regular participants Sandra Danilovic, Brandon Jones, and Ashby Kinch. Seamus Campbell, Alison Kinney, and Masha Raskolnikov helped at several crucial stages of the argument. All mistakes are certainly my own.
  2. For plants, Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); for stones, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “The Sex Life of Stone,” in From Beasts to Souls: Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe, ed. E. Jane Burns and Peggy McCracken (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University, 2013), 17–38; for text networks, Peggy McCracken, “The Floral and the Human,” in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2012), 91–122, and Rita Felski, “Context Stinks!,” New Literary History 42 (2011): 573–591. For other introductions to the new materialisms, see Dominic Pettman, “The Noble Cabbage [Review of Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking],” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 28, 2013, http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/the-noble-cabbage-michael-marders-plant-thinking/, and Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, “Material Ecocriticism: Materiality, Agency, and Models of Narrativity,” Ecozon@ 3 (2012): 75–91.
  3. She is not cited, for example, in Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), or Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), nor, so far as I could discover, in Graham Harman’s body of work.
  4. Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 139–40, 309 (hereafter MUH). Throughout, my citations to Barad’s work are meant to be representative, not exhaustive.
  5. Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (London: Verso, 2012), 938.
  6. MUH 148, 333-34
  7. For Barad, “classical” physics means not Aristotle and his many medieval heirs but rather physics between Newton and Bohr.
  8. Karen Barad, “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come,” Derrida Today 3 (2010): 265.
  9. Ibid., 251; Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990), 219, “one is too few, but two is too many.”
  10. Karen Barad, “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” Qui Parle 19 (2011): 149.
  11. MUH 141 and 178.
  12. MUH 33; Barad, “Queer Performativity,” 125.
  13. MUH 361.
  14. MUH 23, 149, 169-71, 177, 235, 322, 326, 334-38, 361, and 378; Karen Barad, “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” Qui Parle 19 (2011): 124; Karen Barad, “Queer Causation and the Ethics of Mattering,” in Queering the Non/Human, ed. Noreen Giffney and Myra J Hird (Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2008), 330.
  15. MUH 164-68
  16. MUH 136 and 339; “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 123-24.
  17. MUH 29-30, 71-72, and 87-88.
  18. MUH 394; “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 143.
  19. MUH 354; see also MUH 92 and Karen Barad, “On Touching—The Inhuman That Therefore I Am,” Differences 23 (2012): 210.
  20. MUH 251.
  21. MUH 162 and 252; “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 138.
  22. MUH 234.
  23. MUH 46-56, 137, 318, and 379.
  24. MUH 135; at 184 and 208, Barad argues for “intra-activity” rather than “citionality,” which strikes me as an unnecessary substitution, given the imperfect, mutually constitutive, and therefore intra-active referentiality of language in poststructuralism.
  25. MUH 160.
  26. “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 136.
  27. MUH 91, 120, 174, 320, 329, and 340.
  28. MUH 345.
  29. MUH 384.
  30. “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 150.
  31. Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (New York: Verso, 2004); Antonio Lazcano, “What Is Life? A Brief Historical Overview,” Chemistry & Biodiversity 5 (2008): 12, which considers whether fire is alive.
  32. “On Touching,” 219
  33. For a similar approach, see Iovino and Oppermann, “Material Ecocriticism,”, 78, on re-enchantment.
  34. See Graham Harman, Circus Philosophicus (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2010), 6, “We cannot use physical duration as a standard of what is real and what is accidental. Chemists are aware of this fact, and feel no shame in using the same periodic table both for the artificial heavy elements that last for fractions of a second and for the hydrogen and helium that have endured since nearly the dawn of time.” On flat ontology and justice, see, for example, Levi R. Bryant, The Democracy of Objects (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011), 248–49.
  35. “Quantum Entanglements,” 256, 258-59; MUH 115-18.
  36. See Barad’s characterization of a “Cartesian epistemology” comprising a “representationalist triadic structure of words, knowers, and things,” MUH 138.
  37. MUH 379.
  38. “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 143-45.
  39. Cf. Carolyn Dinshaw, How Soon Is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), for an affective literary studies, to Valerie Traub, “The New Unhistoricism in Queer Studies,” PMLA 128 (2013): 21–39, for an altericist literary studies.
  40. Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and The Material Self (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 21, 129–30.
  41. MUH 85, 110, 279, and 324.
  42. MUH 250.
  43. MUH 252-53.
  44. MUH 457 n42.
  45. MUH 279.
  46. MUH 279; recently, see A. I. Lvovsky et al., “Observation of Micro–Macro Entanglement of Light,” Nature Physics (2013), doi:10.1038/nphys2682.
  47. For example, Iulia Georgescu, “Quantum Entanglement: Now You See It,” Nature Physics 9 (2013): 394.
  48. MUH 24, 74, and 94; for relativism, MUH 44
  49. “Quantum Entanglements,” 244.
  50. Iovino and Oppermann, “Material Ecocriticism,” 83; Vicki Kirby, Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
  51. Timothy Morton, “OOO and Quantum Theory,” Ecology Without Nature, July 27, 2013, http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/2013/07/ooo-and-quantum-theory.html; see also “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” 144, on “giv[ing] deconstruction empirical traction,” and “Quantum Entanglements,” 260, on “empirical evidence for hauntology.”
  52. Biologists, for example, though not able to take advantage of quantum mechanics in any obvious way, have started to use it to understand photosynthesis and avian navigation, among other biological processes: Philip Ball, “Physics of Life: The Dawn of Quantum Biology,” Nature 474 (2011): 272–274.

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