On Reality: Karen Barad’s Onto-politics and the Autopoiesis of Man

On Reality: Karen Barad’s Onto-politics and the Autopoiesis of Man

What is Being

such that

there can be




where does

one Body end

and another




The classic philosophical account of the Real is oftentimes a complex version of the following: Reality is a mind-independent object or ontology. Yet, to simplify to the extreme, if for reality to be reality it must be an object or thing independent of mind then, no one has ever witnessed reality. No one has ever been capable of escaping their mind, which is connected to their bodies, in order to grasp reality outside of themselves. That mind and the object are inextricably tied should come as no surprise, and yet, the historico-philosophical account of reality is marred in such an understanding. Two of the main schools of philosophically conceptualizing Human engagement with reality have been the school of Representationalism and Social Constructivism. The way in which these schools have challenged, criticized and outraged each other serves to show that reality, rather than being a sure, certain and permanent ground of metaphysical considerations, is, in fact, contested terrain. Annemarie Mol, Dutch ethnographer, philosopher and Professor at the University of Amsterdam, touches on this fact in her thought-provoking essay entitled, “Ontological Politics: A word and some questions.” In this piece, she outlines and unravels what she calls an “ontological politics.” Mol writes, “Ontological politics is a composite term. It talks of ontology— which in standard philosophical parlance defines what belongs to the real, the conditions of possibility we live with. If the term ‘ontology’ is combined with that of ‘politics’ then this suggests that the conditions of possibility are not given. That reality does not precede the mundane practices in which we interact with it, but is rather shaped within these practices. So the term politics works to underline this active mode, this process of shaping, and the fact that its character is both open and contested.”[1] In an age of Post-Truth in a World of Fake News, the claim that reality might itself be a category suspended before, between, and beyond the contours and contexts of its shaping/making is a claim that both resonates and urges renouncing. For it seems that in our age, any notion of ground, of foundation, of reality, has fallen by the wayside.

In 2007, theoretical physicist, philosopher of physics-science, and feminist science studies scholar, Karen Barad’s book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning intervened into this question of reality as a speculative enactment of recuperation. In other words, Barad has yet to give up on the idea of reality. Barad takes issue with both Representationalism and Social Constructivism finding both to be inadequate to the task of reconfiguring the nature of reality in accordance to new discoveries and findings in the experimental practice of quantum physics. More specifically, Barad’s intervention into the question of ontology is an intervention which takes up the philosophical reflections of the physicist Niels Bohr in order to negotiate how exactly reality is enacted. That reality is enacted, for Barad, places her philosophical considerations within the school of performance studies and post-structural theory, notably alongside thinkers like Judith Butler and Michel Foucault. Yet, Barad’s consistent insistence that matter matters and that the way in which matter comes to matter is, a matter of meaning-making as a performative enactment brought about by the intimate entanglement between an apparatus and phenomena. Thinking this way alongside Barad is generative of a new grammar for reality itself.  Thus in this paper, I am looking to Karen Barad attempt to contribute “to the founding of a new ontology, epistemology and ethics, including a new understanding of the nature of scientific practices,”[2] and her critiques of Representationalism and Social Constructivism in order to read Barad as philosophically producing an onto-politics of her own. While Neils Bohr is a crucial point of departure for Barad’s thinking on matters of ontological import, Barad’s notion of agential realism moves in and beyond Bohr’s thinking in order to develop a coherent account of how the Real is performed, produced, and enacted as Reality while at the same time not succumbing to the trap that all is language. In addition to parsing out Barad’s account, I would argue that what’s missing in Barad’s theorizing on the Real is an account of Autopoiesis. For what an account of autopoiesis would do is provide a clearer understanding of how an apparatus and phenomena come to regenerate themselves as stable categorical formations that are systematically reified in and through the perpetual enactments of material-discursive cuts. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela describes an autopoietic machine as, “a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network. It follows that an autopoietic machine continuously generates and specifies its own organization through its operation as a system of production of its own components, and does this in an endless turnover of components under conditions of continuous perturbations and compensation of perturbations.”[3] This understanding of the function and formation of systems, while indebted to the tradition of the second-order cyberneticians, can contribute an additional onto-epistemic consideration when paired with Karen Barad’s work. What must occur first, however, is a slight dislocation of what we shall see is a major contribution of Karen Barad’s philosophical ontology. Rather than viewing this machinic organization, which is an organization organized within everything from the smallest cells to larger human social structures, as a self-referential regeneration on the basis of inter-actions, Barad would have us take note of the queerness of a machinic apparatus that intra-acts with all that is within its system of reality.


Discussing the onto-epistemic import of technology and politics in relationship to reality, Annemarie Mol reminds us that, “To be sure, it has always been assumed that ‘reality’ is not entirely immutable. Such was the point of technology – and indeed politics.”[4] But what makes Barad’s intervention so crucial is that – whereas though both technology and politics – think the shape-making aspects of reality from a human-centered point of view, one wherein reality is only shaped in the hands of Man, Barad thinks this mutable reality as the matter in which reality exist itself as itself. In this regard, she starts with quantum physics. The two-slit experiment in quantum physics serves as both a scientifically sound experiment that reveals crucial philosophical conundrums in the domain of theoretical and experimental physics as well as critiques to both Representationalism and Social Constructivism. In the experiment, the ontological nature of light is called into question. Barad writes, “It was not merely that new empirical evidence concerning the nature of light seemed to contradict the established view, but during the first quarter of the twentieth century, it became increasingly difficult to understand how any consistent understanding of the nature of light would be possible.”[5] The question was: Is light a particle or a wave? The two-slit experiment set out to understand this and resulted in a rupturing of the Newtonian onto-epistemological ground of determinacy in regards to the nature of Matter. In Barad’s words:

From the perspective of classical mechanics, the two-slit experiment evidences a stark distinction between particle and wave behaviors. When particles are aimed at the partition with the double slits, we find that most of the particles land on the detection screen directly opposite each of the two openings in the partition (figure 9, top diagram), with a smaller number scattering off to either side… Waves, on the other hands, exhibit a very different pattern (figure 9, bottom diagram). When waves impinge on a barrier with two openings, they spread out as they emerge from each of the slits… This overall pattern exhibited by waves is called an interference or diffraction pattern[6].

What is crucial to know here about the relationship between Quantum physics and Newtonian (or Classical) physics is that the latter reads the ontological nature of Light on the basis of metaphysical presuppositions such as: the binary opposition between Particles/Waves and the absolute knowability of the mechanical, clock-worked Universe. However, the aforementioned empirical evidence of the early twentieth-century shook the certainty upon which both of these presuppositions rested resulting in what the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn considered a “paradigm shift”[7] in scientific thinking. Rather than a clear demarcation between Waves/Particles, the two-slit experiment helped reveal “wave-particle duality” a revelation that laid bare the foundations of the absolute knowability of the nature of matter since the nature of matter is/was by “nature” indetermined. Barad harps on the distinction between an idea of indeterminacy over the idea of uncertainty since the idea of uncertainty relies upon a faulty assertion that, “complementarity and uncertainty are the cornerstones of the Copenhagen interpretation,” instead Barad states, “the fact is that these respective contributions constitute fundamentally different, indeed arguably incompatible, interpretive positions.”[8] The battle to interpret what experiments like the two-slit experiment revealed and unraveled are the stage for Barad’s metaphysical considerations. Thus, Barad turns to the theoretical sparring between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg to further explicate what would become the ground for a Baradian onto-politics. For Bohr, Barad writes, “if we are clear about what we mean by the notion of ‘wave’ and ‘particle’, it would be impossible to find electrons behaving like particles and waves simultaneously.”[9] In this sense, Barad makes the case that Bohr is a realist. Bohr’s realism spoke back against wave-particle duality in a way that Barad thinks alters the ontological grammar and changes the framework through which reality is depicted as either a representation or a construction. “For Bohr,” Barad writes, “the crucial point is the fact that wave and particle behaviors are exhibited under complementary – that is, mutually exclusive – circumstances. According to Bohr, either we can find out which slit an electron goes through by using the which-path apparatus, in which case the resulting pattern will be that which characterizes particles, or we can forgo knowledge about which path the apparatus goes through (using the original unmodified two-slit apparatus) and obtain a wave pattern – we can’t have it both ways.”[10] In defense of her defense of Bohr’s position and in response to other philosophers of physics and theoretical physicist, Barad states that Heisenberg himself acquiesced to flaws in his thinking by pointing to Bohr’s criticism of his own work. She points out that Bohr’s criticism was of the famously touted notion of “the uncertainty principle” in quantum physics. Barad notes that, “according to Heisenberg’s analysis, the key issue is the discontinuous charge in the electron’s momentum, that is, the fact that it is disturbed by the photon in the attempt to determine the electron’s position. This analysis, based on the notion of disturbance, leads Heisenberg to conclude that the uncertainty relation is an epistemic principle – it say there is a limit to what we can know.”[11] This limit to what we can know about the electron’s position and the electron’s momentum is not necessarily wrong as much as it is incomplete, and perhaps, strangely so, insofar as it may be incomplete it may also be slightly wrong. This strange positioning between the incompleteness of Heisenberg’s analysis and the accompanying concern of its wrongness as a result is important to note. It is part of the reason Barad adds the crucial caveat that “these respective contributions constitute fundamentally different, indeed arguably incompatible, interpretive positions.”

Barad’s entire onto-political account is grounded in a fundamental intimacy with a non-analogical notion of diffraction and the diffractive methodology. By this I mean, Barad relies on the multiple meanings of diffraction in a way that is consistent with its usage in its multiply constituted locations. In this sense, what Barad does for the concept of diffraction, Annemarie Mol does for the concept of anemia showcasing that, “Talking about reality as multiple depends on another set of metaphors. Not those of perspective and construction, but rather those of intervention and performance. These suggest a reality that is done and enacted rather than observed.”[12] Barad uses diffraction as quantum physical phenomena and diffraction as optical phenomena as inspiration for a methodological approach (in contradistinction to reflection) as the frameworks for her study stating, “my aim is to disrupt the widespread reliance on an existing optical metaphor – namely, reflection – that is set up to look for homologies and analogies between separate entities. By contrast, diffraction, as I argue, does not concern homologies but attends to specific material entanglements.”[13] In a way then, we can read Bohr’s “critique” of Heisenberg as a participation in the diffractive methodology insofar as Bohr attends to the specific material entanglements of Heisenberg’s material concepts, of quantum mechanics experimental and material content, and the production of new material concepts in philosophy-physics. Barad writes:

Notice that Heisenberg’s analysis stops just at the point where Bohr’s begins: the existence of a disturbance is an important point; however, this fact alone does not exhaust the possibilities for determining the (alleged) preexisting properties of the particle because it may be possible to determine the effect of the measurement interaction and subtract its effect. This latter point forms the crux of Bohr’s analysis and is the basis for his objection against Heisenberg’s derivation. While Heisenberg’s sole focus is on the discontinuity entailed in measurement interactions, Bohr introduces a second, arguably more fundamental, issue: that of the conditions of possibility for determining the effects of the measurement interaction. For Bohr, the analysis of these conditions rests on crucial insight that concepts are meaningful, that is, semantically determinate, not in the abstract but by virtue of their embodiment in the physical arrangement of the apparatus… In other words, Bohr argues that one is not entitled to ascribe an independent physical reality to these properties, or, for that matter, to the notion of an independently existing object[14].

This moment of diffraction is significant not only in what it revisits in Heisenberg’s analysis, but how it repositions itself in relationship to that analysis in order to accentuate a difference. What Bohr’s repositioning does is it places the Epistemer as a material-semiotic referent back into the material-semiotic laboratory which is in the material-semiotic World. Bohr’s analysis requires one to take note of not only what an experiment reveals, but how the experiment was set up to reveal and what exactly was the performative arrangement and experimental directing that went into the process of staging science. In other words, Bohr’s analysis requires that one look at what was done to get to the Real, but it does so in accordance to what Karen Barads calls agential realism.

Agential realism enters into a diffractive relationship with Representationalism’s schema of Reality and Social Constructionism’s schema of Reality. Barad writes, “Representationalism takes the notion of separation as foundational. It separates the world into ontologically disjunct domains of words and things, leaving itself within the dilemma of their linkage such that knowledge is possible.”[15] The question of reality for Representationalism is typically retained but, there are Words in one place, and Things in another and these Words are tools to get at the Truth of the Thing. Barad, alongside Bohr (who she dubs “proto-performative”), Judith Butler and Michel Foucault interrogates these Representationalist accounts. However, Barad critiques Foucault for relying too heavily on the tenets of discourse as social construction on the way to outlining the nature of matter. She writes, “Now, as Bohr and Foucault would no doubt agree, meaning should not be understood as a property of individual words or groups of words. Meaning is neither intralinguistically conferred nor simply extralinguistically referenced. Meaning is made possible through specific material practices. However, the common belief that discursive practices and meanings are peculiarly human phenomena won’t do. If discursive practices are boundary-making practices in an ontic (as well as semantic) sense, then the practices by which the human and the nonhuman are differentially constituted cannot rely on a notion of discursive practices that helps itself to a prior notion of the human. What is needed, then, is a posthumanist understanding of discursive practices.”[16] In this entangled position, Barad interrogates the separation between Subject/Object, Word/Thing, Material/Discursive, Sign/Referent and reads them as theoretical concepts, or “specific physical arrangements,”[17] which are entangled with the ontologically primitive categories of phenomena which are “the ontological inseparability/entanglement of intra-acting ‘agencies.’”[18]

For phenomena to be “intra-action” rather than interaction is to allow for the implosion of the Concept of separability. In Barad’s onto-political account, there is no outside of Reality. All is entangled; all is intra-active. This intra-active entanglement serves as ontological precursor for anything that will come to be a later iteration of the contingent mutability of Reality. The invocation of phenomena as the ontologically primitive and the ontologically primitive as relation serves to situate everything within the World. Additionally, it serves to push the notion of exteriority away from its transcendent auspices only to relocate exteriority as a condition of possibility from within the field of relation. In Footnote 14 of Chapter Four, Barad adds clarifying information to this idea when she states, “That is, relations are not secondarily derived from independently existing relata; rather, the mutual ontological dependence of relata – the relation – is the ontological primitive… relata only exist within phenomena as a result of specific intra-actions (i.e., there are no independent relata, only relata-within-relata).”[19]

The question of Reality then, is not a question of Mind-Independent Reality, but it is a question of a Reality-dependent Mind. It is not a matter of Certainty in relation to Reality, but Indeterminacy-within-Reality. Subjects don’t just cut through Reality in order to get to the bottom of it, but rather that thing which we are – which is constituted by material-discursive apparatuses – performs an intra-active enactment through specific material arrangement of apparatuses in order to get the intra-acted (re)configurations of phenomena. To make meaning is to make matter-matter in an intrusive way, in a way of disturbance. But Humans are not the only things weaving matter and meaning together, meaning and matter together, but it is rather through the entanglement of an apparatus and phenomena that reality is performatively enacted.

Returning to Barad’s description of the Stern-Gerlach experiment will serve to flesh out the onto-political stakes in her thinking as well as provide a more lucid understanding Barad’s account of the apparatus, phenomena and metaphysics. In recounting the story of quantum physicists Otto Stern and Walther Gerlach, Barad speaks cinematically about the theoretical questions at stake in the science (“The Stern-Gerlach experiment dared to understand space quantization as a real phenomenon…”[20]), only to zone into the experimental conditions in which the theory could only later materialize. In this, she follows her philosophical investments in the tradition of the philosophy-physics of Niels Bohr in that she situates her theorizing within the immanent practice of scientific experimentation, scientific performativity. Barad narrates the experiment as follows:

Stern’s idea for the experiment crystallized during his meditations on a chilly morning “too cold to get out of bed.” The essence of the idea that sparked his imagination was to use magnetism as a probe of space quantization. His experimental design is based on the following conceptual model: an orbiting electron should produce a tiny magnetic field, which would thereby provide a handle for the manipulation of the atom through its interaction with an external magnetic field. In particular, it occurred to Stern that by using a particular arrangement of magnets, one could, in theory, display the discrete orientations of the planes of the orbiting electrons by taking advantage of their different alignments with the external field to separate the electrons with different orientations. He proposed to use a beam of silver atoms and an external field configuration such that the two possible orientations of the electrons orbiting the nucleus of the silver atoms would follow separate paths – electrons with one orientation relative to the magnetic field would be deflected upward, and electrons with the opposite orientation would be deflected downward. In other words, the beam of silver atoms passing through the external field created by the magnets would be split in two, leaving two separate traces on the detecting screen, which was a glass plate (figure 14)[21].

As Stern and Gerlach will eventually go on to become groundbreaking physicist, the discovery of space quantization does not become their claim to fame. Instead, Stern and Gerlach’s experimental insights “produced evidence not for space quantization but for the existence of the spin (angular momentum) of the electron.”[22] In virtually all physics textbooks, it is for the discovery of the existence of spin in the electron that Stern and Gerlach’s experiments are principally known. But, it is the practice of discovery that reveals the ontological inseparability between the apparatus and phenomena and the nature of their material entanglement. As Barad put it, “Not only did the success of the experiment require the tenacity and skills of Gerlach’s labors, but it also depended on a convergence of others factors: ‘Among the particulars are a warm bed, a bad cigar, a timely postcard, a railroad strike, and an uncanny conspiracy of Nature.”[23] From the magnificent to the mundane, the confluence of entangled factors intra-acting together entailed the realization of a particular ontic phenomena that became materially-discursively enacted as the “spin of the electron.” Outside of these confluence of enmeshed and immersed factors, the spin of the electron cannot be said to be or not be but rather it is better stated to suggest that the phenomena is outside of the apparatus. Where “[a]pparatuses are not static laboratory setups but a dynamic set of open-ended practices, iteratively refined and reconfigured.”[24] This is a crucial departure of Barad from Bohr. In taking up the scientific notion of apparatuses as part and parcel of the experimental design she moves beyond the static laboratory as the only location wherein a notion of apparatus might be applicable. Barad views the apparatus as both matter and discourse, laboratory equipment and class, gender, and nationality, performative enactments of the repetitious returning to the labor of the lab as well as the rest requisite to be able to cognitively return the next day. What is important is that the apparatus is in perpetual reconfiguration, not in the hands of sole human actors, but rather in the grip and ground of entangled enactments – Baradian intra-actions. In addition, the apparatus does not constitute in inherent division between matter and discourse, nature and culture, non-human and human, but instead the context in which these division become legible is in and through the performative enactments of the constellation of intra-acting apparatuses. “Significantly, in an agential realist account, the notion of an apparatus is not premised on inherent division between the social and the scientific, the human and the nonhuman, nature and culture. Apparatuses are the practices through which these divisions are constituted… In an agential realist account, apparatuses are specific material configurations, or rather, dynamic (re)configurings of the world through which bodies are intra-actively materialized.”[25] There is no finer example in Barad’s text of the dynamic (re)configuring consonant with this notion than in the (re)configuration of the Stern-Gerlach experiment from failure to success with the uncanny assistance of Stern’s sulfuric cigar breath. After opening the detector flange and seeing no trace of the silver atom beam that their experiment had been designed to trace, Stern peers closely at the detector plate only for the sulfur on his breath from the cheap cigars he had been smoking to bring to light the hidden traces of their undercover scientific achievement. What this example serves to prove rather than quite simply the extraordinary coincidence of the right cigar at the right time is the intimate entanglement between the intra-action of the previously designed experimental apparatus and the performative (re)configuration of the experiment by the material-discursive intrusion of the cheap cigar breath. This material-discursive intrusion is itself an entanglement – one that is not just enmeshed in the immanence of the laboratory as a scientific stage, but one that is internally entangled as well specifically at the intersection of class, nationalism and gender. In a caption to Nicolle Rager Fuller’s illustration of the cigar’s new presence in the experimental location, Barad writes, “A next-order iteration of the schematic of the Stern-Gerlach experiment, revised to more accurately account for the nature of the apparatus. This schematic includes the crucial agential contribution of the cigar. The reproducibility of the experiment depends on the cigar’s presence. Not any old cigar will do: the high sulfur content of a cheap cigar is crucial. Class, nationalism, gender, and the politics of nationalism, among other variables, are all part of this apparatus (which is not to say that all relevant factors figure in the same way or with the same weight).”[26] What is, is all there and what the apparatus serves to do is configure/(re)configure what is as an intra-action through which divisions/cuts ontic and semantic are made.

The apparatuses and phenomena themselves do not even constitute mutually opposed distinctions, but rather they are themselves the effects of being entangled in inseparable relations that come to condition the possibility of possibility. Indeed, the ethico-political thrust of this ontological grammar is that of possibility. That something is possible, that something can be configured, (re)configured, architected and designed, and that one has an ethical obligation to the nature of the design and the apparatus, not as sole proprietor but as part of a shared Reality-with is the onto-political stakes of Barad’s investigation. This ethical obligation is not a human ethics, but rather is the ethics of relation in the sphere of Reality itself as the project of making matter matter, as the project of (re)configuring Reality. Once Annemarie Mol’s ontological politics deconstructs the fictions of an immutable reality, Barad’s onto-politics opens the door for a grammar of metaphysics that is shaped by the inseparable yet distinguished by way of internal differentiation. This ontological openness is not akin to saying “anything goes,”[27] in a Feyerbendian vein but rather it is akin to stating that what goes, goes under immense constraint, in a non-deterministic fashion. To speak of ontological openness in Barad’s onto-politics is to move from the apparatus, the phenomena, and their ongoing intra-actions to the field of restraints and exclusions back to the door of possibility. “Intra-actions always entail particular exclusions, and exclusions foreclose the possibility of determinism, providing the condition for the open future. But neither is anything and everything possible at any given moment. Indeed, intra-actions iteratively reconfigure what is possible and what is impossible – possibilities do not sit still.”[28]

But how does one come to wrestle with the nature of perpetual constraints?  Of constraints and exclusions that in their ongoing possibility come to reflect an endless cycle of closure? How does one begin to think this closure in relationship to Barad’s onto-politics? To a certain extent, the emphasis on the open-ended nature of agential realism deconstructed the ontological terrain upon which much discussions on the philosophical nature of Reality had relied upon. Transforming an image of a disconnected, inert Nature as well as socially constructed Culture into a topology of entangled processes, moving past the binary oppositions of both Representationalist simplicity with its One-to-One relationship between Matter and chains of signification as well as the Social Constructionist illusionism which thinks the World as Human linguistic effect, what characterizes an incompleteness in Barad’s onto-politics is the nature of closure. Thinking through the ossification of apparatuses and phenomena is of pertinent importance for understanding how the Being of the Human becomes that which is the Western Bourgeois ethnoclass of the Human, Man. The salience of thinking at this metaphysical juncture comes at a point in time in which Black Feminist Caribbean Critic, Author and Philosopher notes that, “the struggle of our new millennium will be one between the ongoing imperative of securing the well-being of our present ethnoclass (i.e., Western bourgeois) conception of the human, Man, which overrepresents itself as if it were the human itself, and that of securing the well-being, and therefore the full cognitive and behavioral autonomy of the human species itself/ourselves.”[29] But, if the Human species itself is “like all other bodies… not entities with inherent boundaries and properties but phenomena that acquire specific boundaries and properties through the open-ended dynamics of intra-activity,”[30] then how is it possible that for over 500 years those boundaries between Humanness and Non-Humanness have been secured through a fundamental exclusion of Black bodies? How is that the legacy of this apparatus and these phenomena have persisted regardless of its material (re)configurations and differentiating performative enactments?

Barad’s allegiance to radical open-endedness leaves unthought a relationship with Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s notion of Autopoiesis. This idea of Autopoiesis can get us to thinking Baradian intra-actions and Baradian ontology in and through the moments of ossification. For the homeostasis of the Autopoietic paradigm is not a static stasis point, but it is in and through the auto-instituting of the system, the behavioral pattern of matter intra-acting with itself in self-referential closure, that Autopoiesis evolves. As Cary Wolfe puts it in What is The Posthuman, “systems are both open and closed; to exist and reproduce themselves, they must maintain their boundaries and integrity through a process of self-referential closure; and it is only on the basis of this closure that they can then engage in ‘structural coupling’ with their environment. Like neurophysiological autopoietic systems, their fundamental logic is ‘recursive’; they use their own outputs as inputs in an ongoing process of ‘self-making’ or ‘self-production,’ and they constantly (re)produce the elements that in turn produce them,”[31]. This constant reproduction is the basis from which Man continually find itself at the center of an apparatus that remakes Man as the Western Bourgeois liberal subject. This understanding of the function and formation of systems, while indebted to the tradition of the second-order cyberneticians, also plays a huge role in the work of Sylvia Wynter. Gregory Bateson, Francisco Varela, and Humberto Maturana are among the few cyberneticians to be heavily cited throughout numerous essays written by Wynter.

To begin an ontological politics one must deal with the instability of the concept of the Concept and the category of the Category, or, as Annemarie Mol put it, “not only the representations of reality in information circulating as words and images that have become contestable, but also the very material shaping of reality…”[32] One must wrestle with the way in which the system of ontological relations function in order to subordinate certain beings outside of ontology while resolving to sustain its capacity to be through the systematic replication of this subordination. What must be wrestled with then is the autopoiesis of Man within the Post-Human.

For what the history of political ontology reveals is that the Man/Negro Manichaeism is a symbolic injunction that will continue as long as the Human does for “if [the Negro] were not here, [it] would have to be invented,”[33] perhaps with a different apparatus, but always as the ontological problem for the Human. This symbolic injunction recycles itself over and over again through the autopoietic reification of a systematic orienting of the Black as the ultimate measurement through which Human/Post-Human articulations get registered. Thus, while Barad’s onto-politics opens the door for a grammar of ontology situated in an onto-politics in and beyond our hegemonic onto-epistemic framework – even in this Post-Humanist/Post-Structural moment – unless her insights are structurally coupled with that of what Sylvia Wynter describes as “the Autopoietic Turn”[34] a new grammar of metaphysics may never be our Reality.













Seminar Paper: Humanism and Posthumanism

Taught by Dr. M. Zhan

Works Cited

Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. duke university Press, 2007.

Feyerabend, Paul. “Against Method, Introduced by Ian Hacking.” London and New, 2010.

Kuhn, Thomas, and Ian (Introduction) Hacking. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition. 4th ed. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Maturana, Humberto R, and Francisco J Varela. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Vol. 42. Springer Science & Business Media, 1991.

Mol, Annemarie. “Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions.” The Sociological Review 47, no. 1_suppl (1999): 74–89.

Spillers, Hortense. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritic 17, no. 2 (1987): 64–81. https://doi.org/10.2307/464747.

Wolfe, Cary. What Is Posthumanism? Vol. 8. U of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Wynter, Sylvia. “The Ceremony Found: Towards the Autopoetic Turn/Overturn, Its Autonomy of Human Agency and Extraterritoriality of (Self-) Cognition.” Black Knowledges/Black Struggles: Essays in Critical Epistemology, 2015, 184–252.

———. “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/ Power/ Truth/ Freedom.” CR: The New Centennial Review, 2003, 257–336. https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2004.0015.

[1] Annemarie Mol, “Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions,” The Sociological Review 47, no. 1_suppl (1999): 74–75.

[2] Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke University Press, 2007), 25.

[3] Humberto R Maturana and Francisco J Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, vol. 42 (Springer Science & Business Media, 1991), 78–79.

[4] Mol, “Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions,” 75.

[5] Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, 99.

[6] Barad, 102.

[7] Thomas Kuhn and Ian Hacking (Introduction), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition, 4th ed. (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2012).

[8] Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, 115.

[9] Barad, 106.

[10] Barad, 106.

[11] Barad, 116.

[12] Mol, “Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions,” 77.

[13] Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, 88.

[14] Barad, 116–17.

[15] Barad, 137.

[16] Barad, 148.

[17] Barad, 139.

[18] Barad, 139.

[19] Barad, 429.

[20] Barad, 162

[21] Barad, 162-63.

[22] Barad, 166.

[23] Barad, 164

[24] Barad, 167.

[25] Barad, 169.

[26] Barad, 165

[27] Paul Feyerabend, “Against Method, Introduced by Ian Hacking,” London and New, 2010.

[28] Barad, 177.

[29] Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/ Power/ Truth/ Freedom,” CR: The New Centennial Review, 2003, 260, https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2004.0015.

[30] Barad, 173.

[31] Cary Wolfe, What Is Posthumanism?, vol. 8 (U of Minnesota Press, 2010), 111.

[32] Mol, “Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions,” 86.

[33] Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritic 17, no. 2 (1987): 65, https://doi.org/10.2307/464747.

[34] Sylvia Wynter, “The Ceremony Found: Towards the Autopoetic Turn/Overturn, Its Autonomy of Human Agency and Extraterritoriality of (Self-) Cognition,” Black Knowledges/Black Struggles: Essays in Critical Epistemology, 2015, 184–252.

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