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One objection we may raise against K. Barad’s “performative metaphysics” is that it doesn’t fulfill its promise – that promise being to unify ontology and epistemology. For her, “the separation of epistemology from ontology is a reverberation of a metaphysics that assumes an inherent difference between human and nonhuman, subject and object, mind and body, matter and discourse”.  These dualisms (both starting points and conclusions of every representationalist metaphysics) is what must be obliterated by means of what she calls “onto-epistem-ology”.

In a sense, Barad’s proposal is very appealing: se claims that there aren’t discreet entities preexisting the crucial moment of interaction (i.e. interaction of themselves with themselves), the moment in which differentiation (and therefore conceptualization and so to say “discreetization”) arises. If we believe so, it may be a way of acknowledging that knowing subjects don’t just impose on the reality their categorizations – amorphic reality becomes intelligible to the human mind (as phenomena) through/as-a-result-of an “agential intra-activity” which involves both the material and the discursive. Reality is amorphic before it “morphicizes” itself. Phenomena emerge through particular intra-actions, actions “inside” those same phenomena pre-phenomena. Boundaries and delimitations instantiate themselves (being/becoming causally, bilaterally, and locally determined).

However, I think that this option leaves us at the same cul-de-sac as representationalist metaphysics, as soon as the question of how to shift (coherently) from ontology to epistemology is made arises. If the problem of representationalism is that the moment you distinguish between appearances and reality-beyond/behind-appearances you are stuck with the mystery of what might be the bridge between the two, and what kind of (efficient or inefficient) walker is your human consciousness, the problem of Barad’s suggestion is in turn that epistemology is not able to even be born. She talks of “material constraints” – but how would that be possible, within the limits of her own theory? Constraints entail limits, and limits are “made” in the becoming; the becoming cannot be severed into “material” and “discursive” prior to its own constitution. In other words, how would we know what are the material constraints when, for example, choosing between scientific/descriptive/explanatory theories of material-discursive phenomena (that is, every phenomena, including biological phenomena) which, by her definition, cannot be divided into the material and the discursive?

It might be, in the end, a matter of rethorics. For, if she advocates for “agentic intra-activity” and “indistinguishness” of the material and the discursive but, at the same time, speaks of a certain “material constraint”, my question is: isn’t this phrasing equivalent to saying: the difference between human mind / knower / subject, on the one hand, and objects of knowledge (both humans and non humans), on the other, is not an inherent quality of reality but a necessary difference within the realm of what the human mind is capable of thinking of (i.e. due to its cognitive structure)?

A “messy” dualism of this kind, as long as it is stated not ontologically but “just epistemologically” (for the sake of, let’s say, human cognitive makeup), could help us the same to reevaluate matter, without falling into the contradiction of saying that (1) the material and the discourse are one and intra-local-casually produced, and (2) the material is different from the discourse up to the point that the material offers constraints to the discursive. Other “solution” (my favorite!) would be just stop worrying about the ontological-epistemological conundrum and, when facing the “other”, engage in an a-epistemological and a-ontological openness of imagination (imagination-intuition as Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge would say?), as an ethical practice of empathy and “togetherness”. I believe this is what Jane Bennett does.

This was too long. So sorry!

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