Towards an ethico-onto-epistemological co-constitution with other worlds’ knowledges
DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2022.17 | Issue 9 | Oct 2022
monika Jaeckel(Independent Artist and Researcher)
A positionality within the framework of Western Modernity most poignantly is depicted through agency's interpretation as one-sided. It accounts for a belief in control and mastery over a presumably silent or mute 'othered' side, leading to an exclusionary and singular view of the world. Essential for breaching this prevalent approach are questions like how can other knowledges be approached without being appropriated, how can something unknown be made perceptible when generally approved unable as to provide a valuable contribution?
Practice-based research emphasises the intertwining of practice and theory rather than juxtaposing reason over the sensual, culture to nature. Focusing on results based on intuition and creativity activates a link between science and the arts. Such intertwining involves the participation across sectors and informs a specific sensitivity to differently defined norms. Creative research's prospect of divergent approaches in these transdisciplinary excursions entails an awareness for critical attitudes and differing possibilities. Its potential to address the normative frameworks surrounding the specific fields derives from these experiences. The text argues that these transversal abilities of creative research are essential for interrogating a worldview based on western modernity towards a co-constitutional attitude. A paradigmatic reference is an engagement with sound/noise in performance practice, as equally on a theoretical level. The intertwined approach allowed to unravel potentialities and also problematics surfacing throughout the project. Response-ability to the resonance of a new tone necessitates an openness to encounter 'new' or other knowledges, which incites an inherent co-constitutional ethics following feminist new materialism.
Introduction: practice-based research as transdisciplinary knowledge creation
Practice-based research is also known as practice-led research (Uk, Australia), creative research (North America), and artistic research (Europe – mostly northern countries). Any of these comply with research-creation as comprised of creative or better arts-based practices as a necessary distinction. They thereby admit that all research, when it comes to contributing to knowledge, demands the inclusion of creative and intuitive elements. Furthermore, as the researcher and writer Sarah Truman remarks, practice-based research, like any inquiry attempt, at least partially involves a speculative process (2021, 6). Any experiments or explorations anticipated in this sense are risky endeavours due to their processual nature (Truman 2021, 13). The further interweaving with theory to evaluate aspects of the research findings may eventually imply trespassing across predefined fields by demanding “more reading and thinking in relation to what emerges” (Truman 2021, xxi). An interdisciplinary approach, however, carries its specific risks, possibly revealing incompetence in one subject when skills prove insufficient by not being transferable into another distinctly demarcated discipline (2019, 45).
Aside from interweaving practice and theory, practice-based research also sits at the crossroads of various fields, intersecting with the humanities or sciences and the arts. This complement intersectional positionality suggests a research practice beyond the study of the existing but an analytical framework that enables “bringing something new into the world” (Couillard in Loveless 2020, 55). As a new interdisciplinary “object” (Barthes 1986, 72), it eventually enables a shift concerning the existing borders of knowledge (Haraway, 1988) of established fields. As a result, the creation part in practice-based research exceeds Barthes' interpretation of 'the text' in the literary sense of being ‘the new object’. Most emerging outcome that investigates “cultural objects or social situations” through artistic means in a co-constitutive intertwinement with a scholarly discourse may be able to activate such a 'new object' position (Truman 2021, 14; Lowry in Loveless 2020, 163). In this regard, the chosen form of expression or ‘language’ for the dissemination of an interdisciplinary 'object' aims at 'undisciplined' forms that also involve the de-tuning of “a well-trained sensorium [..] upending everything we thought we knew” (Myers in Bakke and Peterson 2018, 78).
Thereby practice-based research provides the challenge to recognise that there is no one universal way to think or practice by exemplifying that “it matters what ideas one uses to think other ideas” (Strathern 1992, 10). This request for a sensitisation toward own knowledge-producing practices insinuates the problematic whether those “can engagingly be captured within the strictures of methodological ordering” (Manning 2016, 26). Hence Haraway's reformulation of Marilyn Strathern’s above insight emphasises the relevance of “what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties” (Haraway 2016, 12). Haraway's suggestion demands a general reworking of the thought concepts coined by the cultural structures accompanying its emergence to avoid reverting to habitual patterns of dichotomous argumentation. Refusing the placing of “thought squarely within the linguistic limits of intelligibility” (Manning 2016, 28) provides a movement out of the established comfort zone, away from known tools. Thereby posing essential questions like how something ignored or unknown can be made perceptible. Furthermore, how can such other(ed) articulations (noise) be known without preeminent appropriation?
How to think undisciplined or what noise can do
Interdisciplinarity's challenge and opportunity expand the definition of what counts as 'writing' in research dissemination (Loveless 2019, 14). Pushing against the disciplinary boundaries through research objects and methods, as equally unaccustomed ways of 'publishing' procedures, provoke an irritation that creates the opportunity to re-evaluate what approves as “knowledge” (Loveless 2019, 40). Loveless thus refers to the output of research-creation as possible boundary objects (Bowker and Leigh Star, 1999), which touches on specific requirements of various disciplines without “belonging properly to any one of them.” As an in-coherent object, Barthes' suggestion that the interdisciplinary object belongs to no one demarcates its untying from strict disciplinary boundaries. Due to their interdisciplinary emergence, the production of such outputs exceeds “what is demonstrably present in their constituent parts” (Loveless 2019, 26-32). Therefore, research-creation in certain ways, performs a new category to address problems from within a cultural mode of knowledge production without intentionally provoking a rupture.
Through collaborative approaches engaging visual artists and participatory projects shift towards “a very particular form of trans- and interdisciplinary research” also “within, with, and for an ever-adapting university landscape” (Loveless 2019, 10). Inherently thus expressing the need for integrating different ways of seeing and knowing by a resistance towards “dominant social ideals” (Lowry in Loveless, 2020: 173 - 174). Such changed environments demand deep and rigorous interdisciplinarity that argues against the dominance of one discipline over another and assigns 'practice' as 'theory' equal professional weight (Penny 2009, 35). Such a transdisciplinary position counters “disciplinarily “othering” habits that privilege either artistic or technoscientific or social scientific or humanities-based habits of thought and dissemination” (Loveless 2019, 31). Hence, aside from opportunities, transdisciplinarity evolving from within the existing system of knowledge production offers persistent challenges for artistic research practices. These defiances occur by being countered through the “ideological insistence that artistic output, the “art object,” cannot effectively communicate scholarly research” (Loveless 2019, 44).
The renowned performance artist Alan Kaprow describes the artist as “a person willfully enmeshed in the dilemma of categories [by performing] as if none of them existed” (Kaprow 1993, 81). Lina Dib thus concludes that “artists can be said to generate noise in established systems” (Dib in Bakke and Peterson 2018, 204 fn). However, in considering the concept of noise, we can see that it is more than an indicator of disturbance or a possible system failure, but rather may equally be involved in the provision of information. Dismissing noise, just as a negative aspect that must be eliminated may overlook indicative interferences, which eventually must be reconceived to have their meaning seep and condensate differently. This aspect is hinted at in the consideration that in Shannon's classical theory, noise can be argued to take the position of “the Other of information” (Goddard, Halligan, and Hegarty 2012, 3; Thompson 2017, 42). Furthermore, an interesting congruence concurs with the systemic maintenance of a 'self' in western modernity's interpretation through the suppression of a response-ability by being neither affective to sent or received interferences.
Regarding noise only in the sense of the missing or the rupture through another mode of organisation avoids what Marie Thompson calls an ethico-affective approach that recognizes these unwanted sounds as more than non-informative disturbance but “embraces noise 's variability and multiplicity” (Thompson 2017, 179). The noise produced by artist-researchers is as much an indicator of the richness of information as an interference signal, possibly revealing unheard and undecipherable signalling. 'Noise' thus produced across specific fields can also be read as positive emergence that counters habitual strictness of disciplinary boundaries, denoting – however, in a yet unclear sense - diversification.
Noise’s contribution to unlearning
Aside from re-evaluating the artist researcher's ability to create noise in the sense of interferences across established categories, a further concern is how to reach a point of unlearning. Understood to address “questions of equity and the historical legacies of colonialism” from a less categorical and normative differentiation between “scientific knowledge and culture,” unlearning is meant to enable accounting for matters of cultural appropriation regarding other forms of knowledges (Lowry in Loveless 2020, 184). Julietta Singh, in her approach toward a dehumanist education, requests the evaluation of means and mechanisms that can be engaged for the acknowledgement of the “vital entanglements with other forms of life and matter.” Her request for a “renarration and reorientation of what it is that we are aspiring to know” (Singh 2018, 67) is reminiscent of Lowry’s argument for a practice-based approach to de- and re-couple research and creative practices in order to provide “an opportunity to work through a deep-seated disparity between scholars and cultural producers, particularly among First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities.” (in Loveless, 2020: 165). Singh's insistence intersects with Loveless in “that knowledge production itself [has to] become unpredictable, unanticipatable, unmasterful. “Crucial are processes of “critical becoming” entailing approaches to forms of care and practices of unlearning the ‘known’. Singh describes this as “a transformative act of becoming profoundly vulnerable to other lives, other life forms, and other “things” that we have not yet accounted for or that appear only marginally related to us” (Singh 2018, 67). It also entails a curiosity, which activates a sense of risk and thus vulnerability, necessary for discovering other modes of being. Interestingly, on an etymological level, curious converges with care as prevalent in careful or curate (Loveless 2019, 47).
Singh’s method evolved from vulnerable reading practices of literature as an unmasterful tool aimed at forming new kinds of selves. In the search for new forms of language that equally tackle the formative education of existing power relations, Singh develops an ambivalently placed reading and writing strategy between the masterful and the undisciplined (Singh 2018, 63-64, 83). The latter provides another term for not mastering or conforming to the dominant guidelines of how and what to know. By pointing at other ways of understanding, Singh's method activates “the affective discomfort of the uncanny.” A point that meets Loveless' understanding of coming to know as “the experience of being both at home and not, intellectually speaking, disciplinarily speaking, affectively speaking. It is never certain; it is always […] responsively in the encounter” (2019, 51).
Loveless' psychoanalytical insight, a result of reading across the fields, is that the uncanny, like a boundary object, simultaneously resides within and outside of stable or predictable relations, thereby throwing a research-creation object into processes of constant renegotiations (2019, 46). An interpretation that allows touching upon the situated entanglement of the artist-researcher with any 'object' of research. Considering the researcher as part of the problem touches on Karen Barad's approach towards the (research) apparatus in which exteriority – or what western modernity claims as absolute objectivity – can only be achieved within-phenomena (2007). In Barad's version of feminist new materialism, such exteriority-within-phenomena marks the ongoing performativity of the world. That means that entangled (phenomena) while inciting an in/exclusive (agential) cut to define a specific object/situation ('creating' exteriority) cannot be claimed as a once-and-for-all determination due to iterative worlding processes. Truman distinguishes in Barad's approach a deconstruction of “the reductionist ontology of classical physics” that moves “away from a metaphysics of individualism.” By producing various exteriority-within-phenomena through different ex- and inclusionary apparatus settings, these offer an alternative description implying the entanglement of indeterminacy as threaded “through all being (and all research events)” (2021, 18). In that, these practices counter the production of a universalist normative. Like Singh's method of unmasterful vulnerability provoke an opening towards “other modes of performing humanity” undoing habituations (Singh 2018, 23). Such insight, though, does not condemn the habitual as, again, it holds a twofold paradox traced by Elizabeth Grosz (2013) in Ravaisson's thesis Of Habit (2008/1838), not only as a constraining force but also as an enabler in the unfolding of abilities. In a certain way, one might train “in order to develop habits, but sometimes one trains in order to free oneself of habits, even to become expert in not being habitual”, which again expresses as a new routine (Myers in Bakke and Peterson, 2018: 63).
Singh’s suggestion of developing a different relation to language that oscillates between masterful and unmasterful forms advocates the seeping of other meanings (Singh 2018, 88). These may not only allow circumventing mattering(s) of the dominant (habitual) interpretation but incite risking a “curiosity that gets one into (methodological/ontological/ epistemological/disciplinary) trouble” (Loveless 2019, 23). Though eventually rather, the discovery of turbulence, due to a new way of sensing, allows the detection of interference patterns that can be argued to be the reverberating murmur of other beings and matter, formerly shoved aside as noise. However, could such 'noise' not indicate all sorts of tasks and pending issues that stem from transdisciplinarity's transgressing of set-up boundaries between the fields - thus be scaled up to transcultural concerns as those of appropriation? As Lowry emphasises, prioritising “cross-disciplinary collaborations that bring together cultural production and knowledge production” raises important questions about how to deal with issues of “cultural appropriation, diversity, equity, or Indigenous knowledge?”(Lowry in Loveless 2020, 184). Therefore, what position can be taken to ensure that indigeneity is not reduced to another colonial method as “a 'transferable skill set' that white people can learn from and adopt for themselves” (Chandler and Reid 2020, 6, 16)?
Rather than 'integrate' other and indigenous knowledges into the dominating mode of thought and practice, this text attempts to recontextualise the situational particularities innate to practice-based research and un/learning to be activated for the specifics of various forms of knowledge creation. Thus the 'un' preceding learning is considered a vital necessity to deactivate habitual routines of doing-thinking. However, this exceeds the artist's position as a noisy factor in the system. It instead has to be questioned on what basis it can be said that s/he creates categories as if none existed to avoid idealising and a possible return to art's 'genius' approach. To excess, this systemic cul-de-sac of overcoming categories by neglecting them must return to a foundational point addressed in Barad's Agential Realism and sits at the core of western modernity's understanding of self and thus knowledge production – that of a one-sided agency.
Beneficial aspects of noise (for transdisciplinarity)
The concept of noise, generally oscillating between different structural terms, accords to Simondon's outline of an analogy. Despite a specific risk of being confused with a resemblance due to the same operations, “the combination of waves, whether they be light or sound, occurs in the same way in the case of sound waves as in that of light waves. But certain structural results are different” (2020, 667; emphasis in original). These structural differences allow Cécile Malaspina to speculate on the transdisciplinary abilities that noise introduces, possibly allowing for the discovery of “relations between hitherto 'incompossible' realities” (in Goddard, Halligan, and Hegarty 2012, 63). Malaspina defines “the transdisciplinary appeal of the concept of noise [as partially] inspired by the tremendous ability of a cluster of concepts from information theory.” Noise's ability “to traverse and transform a growing web of scientific disciplines in such a transductive manner” enabled the emergence of new fields “as cybernetics and later the study of complex systems” (Malaspina 2012, 65). In her recent analysis, Marie Thompson explores the “ethico-affective” impact of the ambiguous display of a “both-and” state, which allows noise to be both a force of domination and resistance (2017). Due to its transferring ability, noise establishes an essential component for mediation and provides a force for transformation. Crucially the realisation of a sound, even if it is classified, often negatively, as noise and thus declared negligible, yet, acknowledges that whatever is declared as the ‘other’ side is not mute.Whitehead has stated that as an “[a]bstraction from connectedness”, negation provides a doing by “the omission of the essential factor in the fact considered” (Whitehead 1938, 8). Diffracted through Ursula LeGuin's insight that listening establishes a connection instead of being dismissable as a mere reaction, thus discloses that the ignorance of noisy sounds as expression incorrectly assumes that exclusion and neglect prevent any response (LeGuin 2004, 196).
Disclosing noise beforehand as not fitting 'this way', as stemming from an isolated source with unimportant meaning rather than in a speculative reading of possibilities, is classifying and preemptively claiming unknown knowledge in the vein of disciplinary fatalism (Ahmed 2014). Such attitude not only negates the ongoing performativity of worlding but also ignores that the way an answer is given is “part of the situation, and that they (involved actants) will have to make themselves response-able, answerable for its consequences” (Debaise and Stengers 2017, 19). Even when declared to be of a different nature or culture, and thus as not belonging and insignificant, any matter(ing) responds in its limited, mutated, and redirected ways as “the effects of noise are, as a matter of fact, permanent constituents in the process of self-organization” (Malaspina in Goddard, Halligan, and Hegarty 2012, 70). Due to its ambiguous definition, noise is more than just a threat to a system; it must be regarded as an “integral part” (Thompson 2017, 179), capable of causing a disturbance as well as providing an essential initiative feature to transmission (and thus change). Malaspina contends that the occurrence of a crisis is not due to the “destructive effect of noise in a channel of communication” but rather to a lack of coding capability “that translates the information contained in individual channels of communication into the code that enables the communication between these channels” (2012, 70-72). On the other hand, her interpretation argues for accepting a certain level of transdisciplinary noise referred to as ‘conceptual resonance’.
If the quantity of information in an epistemological domain thus could be understood by its capacity to sustain noise (variety), this would ultimately increase redundancy at a meta-systemic level. The role of the paradigmatic codes/concepts it calls for to manifest the 'quality' of information would not be to minimize this meta-systemic degree of uncertainty, i.e. to reduce its 'quantity of information' to the clarity of a message (Malaspina in Goddard, Halligan, and Hegarty 2012, 71).
Not all noise indicates a crisis. Instead, there seems to be evidence that a particular background murmur is “a prerequisite for complexity and self-organization.” The “beneficial effect at the level of the system as a whole thus appears to suggest that a transdisciplinary approach is likely to benefit from a positive effect of noise” (Malaspina 2012, 70-72). To dismiss utterances based on their spectrum and emergence on a general negative interpretation of 'noise' (either visual or audible) as that which does not fit into a systemic field constitutes blindness or deafness regarding what establishes information outside the known/perceptible. The acknowledgement of a not-knowing or indecipherability instead opens up questions about which cultural connotations noise attributes to acts of crossing disciplines. Putting thus into question, if noise here stands for “obscuring the clarity of the message, there causing genetic mutations or signifying the random input from the environment?” (Malaspina, 2012: 66). Following through what noise can do in systems theory, Malaspina arrives at the question of whether the previously developed notion of conceptual resonance can engender a new epistemic domain – “a ‘cross-discipline’ in its own right” (Goddard, Halligan and Hegarty, 2012: 7).
From transdisciplinarity to new knowledges
Following Barthes' argument, practice-based research may be able to output a new cross-disciplinary 'object', yet such creation also needs to critically challenge an 'object's/subject's' evaluation solely based on an entrenchment in western modernity's systematicity of knowledge production. To leave room for an ethics of not knowing, as Natasha Myers proposes, thus seems to resonate with Malaspina’s creation of a system-immanent conceptual resonance of the undecipherable. Myers’ argument for “not knowing as an ethic and a practice” can be read as a deferral of “the desire to capture some truth, or attempt to render the world legible to the constraints of our colonized imaginations” (Myers in Bakke and Peterson 2018, 75). However, the acknowledgement of situatedness within the educational structures of western modernity's knowledge production through the pronoun 'our' is significant in the above-quoted statement. It acknowledges that there is no universal 'we' but lives under different círcumstances, various modes of knowledge productions, i.e. worlds. Such initiates a recognition and acceptance of unknowable, almost imperceptible, and thus seemingly undecipherable other 'wes’.
Considering noise not just as the unwanted but as reverberating from and caused by (our and other) interferences from various sources, matters, and voices eventually allows to recognise these phenomena-within a situatedness as expressions of caused crises. In such a case, it may be worth considering whether noise as a consequence “on the basis of information” (Malaspina 2012, 70) indicates a systemic dysfunction that eventually necessitates a paradigm shift. Nevertheless, rather than indicating disorganisation only, noise in its double-bind function must also be analysed to the effect “how and under what conditions can randomness contribute to create organizational complexity”? Such recognition of noise as a multi-faceted factor eventually involved in systemic self-organization (Malaspina in Goddard 2012 68, 70) can aid in reading curiously “the material-semiotic entanglements, the “worldliness” out of which each of us, at any given moment, emerges (Loveless 2019, 23). Loveless' argument is similar to the redefinitions in which Haraway and Barad indicate affectivity's mutual activity in entanglement. This statement also impacts determining “material situations that create worlds” by the chosen in-, as likewise an exclusion in research events. In Barad's interpretation of agency as an intra-active doing-being (2007), also 'non-actions', such as exclusion, ignorance, and neglect, are deeds that are responded to through mutual exchange by improvement, decline, or the many areas of the in-between. Agency must thus be understood as something that is never done alone or solely by choosing or being chosen (Barad 2007, 178). A one-sided interpretation does not elevate a self-declared actant above any response/ibility, nor does the insight of situatedness subvert the possibility of an adjustable response-ability.
In a feminist materialist sense, this point of matter(ing), also in terms of practice-based research, defines (research) events as doings that affect worlds, whether they are empirical sites or “the radically empirical sites of reading and thinking with theory” (Truman 2021, 26). Similarly, research-creation is entrusted with “an ethical commitment to learning to become affected (in a Spinozist sense)”, which, due to relational movements, involves a political strain of “relational matrices” that in becoming part of involvement never can be determined prior to their occurrence (McCormack 2008, 9). Relationality in a Deleuzian-Spinozist sense always involves both affecting and being affected in the processes of becoming-others. In Braidotti’s vitalist approach, such understanding suggests “an idea of evolution of the non-deterministic, non-linear and non-teleological kind”, which considers “the intelligence and the mobility of matter” (2004/2005, section 11). Assessing the responsiveness of matter(ing), as prevalent in the works of Haraway, Bennett, and Barad has become a prominent marker of feminist new materialist thinking. In their attempt to think through how art, theory, and research intersect within the conceptual field of research-creation (Loveless 2019; Springgay 2019; Truman et al. in Loveless 2020) “a multiplicity of responsive practices structured by situated (emergent, erotic, driven) accountability” (Loveless 2019, 29) are drawing from or aligning “with a queer feminist, anti-colonial orientation to art and research” (Truman 2021, 10). There seems to be a consensus between Truman and Loveless to define research-creation as a “logical extension of post-1968 interdisciplinary and theoretical interventions” with the intent “to remake the academy from within” (2019, 57), often influenced by forerunners from feminist, queer, decolonial, and other social justice movements (Trumann 2021, xvi).
Listening to affect and being affected – noise as indicating co-constitution
In co-operative practice-based projects, realised throughout my recent doctoral studies, noise was used as an interference signal. As laid out prior, interferential impact is omnipresent and unavoidable. While every flap of a butterfly may be considered relevant (at least in chaos theory), human actions seldom are regarded as leaving pertinent traces. Further, interference signals or noise do not continuously occur within frequencies audible to the human ear but cause disturbances. This point returns us to the ethical aspect of research-creation. Rosi Braidotti’s affirmative ethics recognizes that the loss of such relationality, such as the disregard of caused noises (interferences), leads to a disconnection regarding the harm done to others. Rather than denying or cancelling pain, violence, and vulnerability, the affirmation of “the deeply affective and relational nature of all living entities” manifests a vital bond and discloses the re/generative powers of affirmative ethics. Braidotti’s approach provides “a different practice of ethical care and containment of the other, based on the constitutive affective ability of all entities to affect and be affected, to interrelate with human and non-human others” (2019, 169).
Thus, noise became an indicator of possible interferences, eventually providing additional – so far overlooked – information that can help introduce a desirable reduction in sameness. Such redundancy may indicate an over-sustenance of a systemic similarity, possibly creating a crisis. Continuing Braidotti’s path of thought, interference (possible information), read as affect from being affected emerging from another source or matter, indicates sensitivity and announces a possible systemic change through repercussions of this affectivity. Noise regarded this way acts as a potential index marker to information from sources often considered to be interjacent and marginal. Emerging from and as interferences, noise may only be regarded as outside the sphere of interest if no effort of 'reading' regarding affectivity and impact is made. Once audible, these reverberating interferences are no longer negligible sounds but bring the affordance for response/i/ability to the fore through their affective resonance. Thereby reminding Braidotti's affirmative ethics, which argues in spite of ‘not knowing’ for what evolves as seemingly undecipherable.
Doing the research: can ‘we’ find our place in the family of things? – issues of a flat ontology
In the recent performance project reverberating interferences – explorations into thingness (2020/2021), we (the performers and I) attempted to explore a version of such an understanding by using simple Arduino-built devices to amplify possible voices of 'things'. Inspired by the increasing use and visible street waste of to-go containers and cups, particularly during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, such 'trash' pieces were outfitted with sensors that reacted to physical approach, touch, or light. An imagined mycorrhizal network traced by yellow tape marked the provided connective route between them, technically fixating the interconnecting cable work.
Image 1: Pepa Unbera, Giulia Iurza, Selene Travaglia, Louiseanne Wong, and Paolo Pisarra interacting by reacting on amplified sound devices in front of the interactive moving image projection Untitled 1 by Lilia Strojec in reverberating interferences – explorations into thingness, 2020, image: camera still: Lene Vollhardt
Image 2: Amplified food container. Image: monika jaeckel
However, the approach based on a flat ontology extrapolated the problem of a one-sided human agency as the aspects of such a backdrop were not sufficiently called into question. Disregarding the connotations (systemic inscriptions) that mechanisms such as 'thingification’ (Césaire) carry upon themselves introduced a second highly problematic point. Yet, it brought the focus straight to the problem threaded throughout western modernity's knowledge production, tending to ignore other knowledges outside its verification mode. Symmetrical flattening introduces a disregard for “asymmetries of power, such as obtain – routinely, structurally, and institutionally, in contemporary Western society” and conceals the unequally distributed capacities inherent to the definition of agency (Vetlesen 2019, 148). The goal of these experiments with 'thingification' was to explore interdependence and relationality. In this sense, our investigation can be regarded as having 'worked' because it brought such problems to the fore. to the fore. Our situated starting point was not to imagine everything on a human level, as this would have appropriated an indigenous philosophy described by Viveiros de Castro (2014, 63). Rather than approximating some form of animism, but deals with the task of finding a place “in the family of things”, as expressed in “Wild Geese” (1986) by the American poet Mary Oliver.
Its experimental grounding with a literal focus on 'things' almost immediately turned the performance project's attention towards the problem of a near entirely 'white' or (settler)colonialist framework that still enframes much of the disciplinary fields. In terms of agency, it is best expressed through Frank Wilderson's (2010) notion of capacity as unequally assigned potential. Barad's Agential Realism constructs the exteriority and separation required for performative reactions to ruptures of “the supernumerary forms of acting [..] that both sustain and undermine any relational configuration” (Ernstson and Swyngedouw 2019, 26, 27) not as absolute, but as exteriority-within-phenomena. Yet, such distinction or 'cut' (Barad) generally remains oriented toward the foundational epistemological terrain of the dominant scientific Universalism. However, acknowledgement of an uneven leveling of agential capacity demands a relationality that allocates possibilities of intra-active change and transformation throughout, depending on the grounding perspective or positionality (in Dylan Robinson's sense). Barad, therefore, advocates entangled objectivity established in exteriority-within as agential separability, which exposes the uneven leveling and must be addressed through the inherent ethics of response/i/ability. However, such ethical response-ability can only be incited if a certain degree of not-knowing, for Barad indeterminacy, is allowed to interfere with the established definitions of western modernity's mono-humanist Background assumptions (Wynter in McKittrick 2015; Robinson 2020). Such insights, considering 'our' positionality within the project, led to interrogations regarding noise's conceptual contributions to sustainable redundancy for transdisciplinary work, eventually also can be applicable between worlds.
The reference to Wynter's conception of human/Man as homo oeconomicus as a “monohumanist symbolically encoded configuration” (Wynter in McKittrick 2015, 11) thus indicates that despite postcolonial and postapartheid tendencies, the ongoing “universalization of the genre of the Human” continues unbroken. Such assignment still regurgitates “the biocentric categories of gender and sexuality which not only hurt our analysis of gender (by rendering the conceptual models of sex/gender birthed under the overdetermined Western physiognomic models of the Human universal) but also through decoupling the violent connections between bio-humanist sexuation, anti-Black slavery, and metaphysical violence” (Gillespie 2022, 10-11). Despite Gillespie's and Wilderson’ focus on the “metaphysical violence” of racist epistemes and methods of anti-Black slavery, their afropessimist reading offers a methodological exteriority-within access point to established phenomena of western modernity. More specifically, to the prevalent epistemes developed along the “over-representation of the White Body as the body from which theory is produced and constructed.” Not only have distinct bodies been assigned different capacity levels (Wilderson), but entire “geographies (the ghettos of the Black, the reservations of the Indigenous, and the theoretical shaping of the Third/Fourth World)” were marked by significations as not-as-Human (Gillespie 2022, 12).
The assignment of varying degrees of capacity levels to many other(ed) humans and non-humans generally declares them as anti-modern or nonmodern, including forms of “(non)being, thingification”. Blackness, though, ranges as “the antithesis to the Human in modern onto-ethico-epistemology” (Gillespie 2022, 4; Césaire). Thus, when Fred Moten considers the sound of an unasked question also, the bifurcation of western modernity's consciousness regarding the meaning of (black) things is implied: “We study in the sound of an unasked question. Our study is the sound of an unasked question.” (2013: 756). Moten here speaks of a different we than the universal one, a different sound – one sounding outside the established epistemes of western modernity. Referencing a different background hum clearly indicates that the sound of an unasked question is not silence or muteness but affectivity that can be studied (Robinson 2020; Thompson 2018, 4). If the unheard could not be listened to, there could be no noise as the preexistence of any form of sound. In this regard, rather than demonstrating a 'truth,' our performance experiment aimed at excavating our own (mostly white, western, European) educational coinage to create a different sensational awareness for unasked tones and unheard voices.
The habitually known as the background’s imperceptible affectivity
As laid out research-creation enables the attention towards aspects that are usually not attended with much interest within a discipline, often just because the general orientation is kept strictly within the field boundaries. However, if a concept is applied cross-disciplinary, as in our case noise, in its broadest sense, it can enable to transport an impulse to act and reason differently. The noisy signal can also be understood as a response, as the incited or remaining ability, of what is irritated, limited, or mutated by a disrespected response-ability.
The researcher Susan Simard contends that the “separation of humanity from nature, mind from body, spirit from intellect” (Friedman, 2021) is a critical factor in the inability to see other lifeforms’ gestures and utterances as meaningful expressions. Feminist new materialist argues that “feeling, desiring and experiencing are not singular characteristics or capacities of human consciousness” but elementary expressed in any matter's mattering. When considering entangled materializations, the given power imbalances activated in these agential processes inherently provoke an ethics of response-ability (Barad in Dolphin and van der Tuin 2012, 59, 69). The acknowledgment of being listened to demands in return the exploration of response-able efforts. Redefining agency in such responsive way expresses its genuine linking with indeterminacy, thereby establishing non-doing as 'constitutive withdrawal' (van Dooren 2016, 46). An ethics in this sense then deviates from an 'it is like this' attitude of habitual means or disciplinary fatalism and constitutes an eminent acknowledgement of the intra-active agential/responsive interaction process (Ahmed 2014; Barad 2007).
Image: Paolo Pisarra and Selene Travaglia with amplified Shitake mushroom in reverberating interferences – explorations into thingness, 2020, image: camera still: Lene Vollhardt
Image: amplified Shitake mushroom in reverberating interferences – explorations into thingness, 2020, image: camera still: Lene Vollhardt
One of the hardest things to reach is what Calvin Warren refers to as the “scientific unconscious” (2018, 115). Thus, reflecting on the foundation of western humanities, Wynter's conceptions of capital M man provide a considerable definition. Enacting research from within the territory of western modernity's knowledge conservatories demands thus a critical positionality (Robinson 2020). Finding ways to reach the undetermined (unknown) means looking for research practices that do not “structurally privilege certain modes of knowing, certain stories about knowledge production and dissemination, and not others”. But instead, a search for transdisciplinary approaches able to stretch across and move between “more than one disciplinary, methodological, epistemological, affective, etc., set of differences, needs, and demands” (Loveless 2019, 24, 58). It requires the work of “channeling other worlds” aside, beneath, and within this ‘we’ world (Myers in Bakke and Peterson 2018, xii) to account for the multiple worlds of this one planetary (Mol 2003). Their acknowledgement needs alternative methodologies, “able to reveal the speculative possibility of 'different worlds'“ (Chandler and Reid 2020, 2) also to engage with life forms that already live in the ruins of capitalism and indicate possible futures (Tsing, 2015). What appears as the “unnatural marriage of the speculative” enables an opening to “the insistence of the possibles, and of the pragmatic, as the art of response-ability” (Debaise and Stengers 2017, 19).
Such radical impetus towards a changed way of doing-thinking, yet, also poses the question what rigorous practice in this type of research can avoid the appearance of arbitrariness across fields. Which speculative modes can activate the possibility and co-existence of different worlds?
Beyond categories – noise in the system
As stated, the reconsideration that “it matters what ideas one uses to think other ideas” (Strathern 1992, 10; Haraway 2016, 12) indicates not only world-becoming's performativity, but that ways to practice and think indeed do and must depend on situatedness. In this sense, if there is a universal approach, it lies in “the political importance of participating in” retelling and recrafting “the constitutive power of the stories through which we come to understand the world .”When stories are viewed as a discursive practice manifested in material-semiotic events, they become knowledge-making practices of essential matter(ing). In this context, Loveless contends that “ particularly art attuned to human and more-than-human social” and environmental justice is capable of developing generative ways “to re-envision and re-craft — to re-story — our practices and labor, and, perhaps most importantly, our pedagogy” (Loveless 2019: 14, 16, 20-22, 27).
These insights support Robin Nelson's argument that the various modes of knowing generated during research creation should “depart from positivism and 'the scientific method' as the only valid research paradigm” (2013, 51). However, such telling and recrafting work of stories “requires ongoing engagement and a willingness to denaturalize the social, disciplinary, ideological structures within which we are embedded” (Loveless 2019, 20). Such engagement provokes a propositional logic of mutuality in a rather “ontological sense of what an actor offers to other actors”. This citation by Latour brings to mind the critique of transparency formulated by Denise Ferreira da Silva (2007), as Latour emphasises that an analytical clarity may be established just by “words severed from world and then reconnected by reference”. Rather than providing insights gained by “granting entities the capacity to connect to one another through events” a judgment aiming for transparency eventually rather conflates (Latour 1999, 309; Truman 2021, 9-10).
A statement that resonates Whitehead's sentence that “[c]onnectedness is of the essence of all things and all types.” As quoted earlier for Whitehead the diminishment of connectedness omits essential points in what is to be considered (1938, 13). For Debaise and Stengers, thus “experience, however factual, is saturated with interpretations, ideas and multiple links”. Speculating means to intensify “the sense of possible […] as expressed by the struggles and claims to another way of making it exist”. Attuning to a situation is not “a human privilege in the face of an indifferent world”, but rather part of all sensuous experiences (Debaise and Stengers 2017, 15, 17, Whitehead 1938, 12).
To ask more concretely in terms of our performance project, what do squeaky sensor sounds or noise generally have to do with speculation and not knowing? “The use of strategic ambiguity”, as the allowance of a certain amount of noise on an epistemic level (conceptual resonance), provides for Malaspina a possible “characteristic of speculative, synthetic approaches” (Malaspina 2012, 72). Noise, thus, could be interpreted as a “differential link between a situated curiosity and speculative possibilities or potentialities” (Truman 2021, 7), providing a methodological interference that, according to Truman, already “fuels much feminist materialist thought” (2021, 7). In a broader sense, borrowing from the artistic attitude of performing “as if none of [no categories] existed” (Kaprow 1993, 81), transdisciplinary's 'noisy linking' can be interpreted as the critical initiator of cross-disciplinary approaches that many minor sciences already execute (Braidotti, 2018). Nevertheless, a curiosity inherent to transdisciplinary methods, generally informed by “the interdisciplinary humanities”, spurs the debates at the intersection of practice and theory and demands for “new literacies” (Loveless 2019, 37). Such development of a general shift in arts and humanities thinking combined “with dialogic and pedagogical shifts in the world of artistic production and discourse” exceeds for Loveless what Rosalind Krauss once termed the expanded field (1979) for sculpture in the arts. It rather must be admitted that the progression “of academic interdisciplinarity” has been prompted by interventions from minor fields “such as feminist studies, cultural studies, critical race studies, Indigenous studies, and gender and sexuality studies” (Loveless 2019, 10 - 14).
These minor sciences, in particular, reveal that “pedagogical ideologies — regimes of truth — configure the parameters of legitimate research questions as well as what counts as rigor or excellence for both student and teacher.” According to Loveless, the arts have historically been devalued as a source of knowledge on their own. A fact that is mimicked by “the structural relation of art maker to art thinker”. While art historians consider artistic works regarding their “capacity to seriously impact”, artistic practice itself is granted that its works reflect on “social experiences and issues” but at the same time dismissed as failing “the benchmark of rigor and accountability to which academics hold” (Loveless 2019, 12 - 13). Indeed, research-creation’s intersectionality not always meets the established excellency demands of western academic frameworks, which require “singularity, codification, and relentless intelligibility that stultifies imaginative education or research” (Harris and Holman Jones 2020, 2). However, foregrounding questions should not just concern which knowledge matter(ings) are deemed valuable. Considering the material effects of a researcher's positionality and intentionality on the research-creation's outcome, it is equally essential by whom and how they are produced (Loveless 2019, 14; Truman 2021, 7).
Undisciplined concluding: noise as an indicator of the presence of otherworldliness
Paradoxically practice-based research's positionality of not fully belonging to the acknowledged forms of knowledge production (Loveless 2019, 56-57) may be advantageous too. Especially to persevere in the search for “modes of attunement and forms of representation beyond what has been deemed disciplinarily natural or neutral” (Thompson in Bakke and Peterson 2018, 14). Attunement to modes that are yet not decipherable or noisy is required to stabilize processes in self-organising systems, as a surplus of sameness is just as detrimental as too much noise. Thus, in concluding, I am referencing Malaspina's notion of conceptual resonance that she has developed on the background information theory and cybernetics. It is based on the insight that “a compromise is needed between redundancy and variety: to reduce noise and enable the transmission of information, without which the system would break down, and yet allow noise which introduces variety, which in turn augments the number of possible responses of a system to random fluctuations of the conditions imposed on it by its environment” (in Goddard, Halligan, and Hegarty 2012, 69).
Finding unaccustomed forms and 'undisciplined' ways to act and respond to and with the undecipherable furthermore involves telling and listening to “other stories, uncanny stories, that (have the potential to) carry within them the other ethics” (Loveless 2019, 57; italics in original). The voices who tell these stories may use unaccustomed sounds or other movements to express themselves. As such, one could argue that noise is “a discernment or sensing—perhaps beyond or before words—of an otherworldliness already present in this world, a worlding neither immune nor innocent of violence, horror, and harm” (Thompson in Bakke and Peterson 2018, 14). The ability to improvise, which is prevalent in forms of music, dance, and artistic performance, may be of interest here as offering a “sped-up, imaginative, expressive negotiation with constraint” (Goldman 2010, 27). Such vital technology provides a method to defy certain conditions and improvisation's “keenest political power” for a practice of change (Dumit in Bakke and Peterson 2018, 58).
Improvising as an ethics of not knowing is not a license for “cultivating ignorance or indifference”. Instead, it provides “a capacious and humbling space that offers some refuge from the hubris of knowledge systems […] bound so tightly to colonial conquests and their enduring discursive regimes, cultural norms, and moral economies” (Myers in Bakke 2018, 77). Instead it provides “a capacious and humbling space that offers some refuge from the hubris of knowledge systems […] bound so tightly to colonial conquests and their enduring discursive regimes, cultural norms, and moral economies” (Myers in Bakke 2018, 77). The writer Emily Ogden defines the positionality of “not knowing yet — possibly of not knowing ever,” as a valuable “discipline, one that requires practice, concentration, and study” (Aubry 2022). It might be a study that, in Moten's sense of “speculative practice,” may extend the disciplinary into the undisciplined (Moten in Shukaitis 2012).
“[I]n the fierce urgency of the now” co-constitutional affirmation “means thinking critically about world-making practices” that are used for acknowledging other worlds that co-inhabit this one planetary. According to Truman, an incisive interrogation of the methods used to unsettle the habitually known must engage “with an anti-racist, decolonial, and feminist politics” in order to prevent what calls itself radical empiricism from devolving into radical imperialism (Dumit in Bakke and Peterson, 2018: 58; Truman, 2021: 23, 25). Practice-based research holds a uniquely uncomfortable position of sitting between the fields. To stay with the troubles caused may provide a chance to sustain just the right amount of transdisciplinary noise to push existing boundaries and even hold some potential to (re)connect between worlds of various knowledges. The noise may be annoying, but worth to be listened to.
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