I apologize for posting my end of semester thoughts more than a few days late.
Henare et al.’s call for a methodology of wonderment came at just the right time for me to embrace it. I’m looking at my marginal notes to the piece and seeing a lot of exclamation marks. I hadn’t at all recognized the extent of the ontological assumptions I had been operating under, hadn’t recognized how immersed I’d been in strictly epistemological concerns–I thought I had simply been immersed in the world. Maybe I had been willing to take the idea of multiple ontologies from something unthinkable to something unpursuable, but that was as far as I had come. My (epistemological) interests were leading to a dead end, I couldn’t figure out why people were still obsessing over Writing Culture nor could I figure out how to get out of the obsession myself, I was wondering where there might be hope…
A couple points on which this course has prompted sustained thinking:
If anything, all the talk of agency has made me insistent upon thinking beyond the concept of agency. My issue with agency is that the model for it seems to me to be overwhelmingly human. While the writers working with the concept of agency have used it to help us rethink the kinds of things to which agency is applied, I don’t think it’s helped us rethink the concept of agency itself. Seeing the agency of objects feel too much like recognizing a bit of ourselves in objects, and I think this is partly where a postcolonial celebration of objects (“Look at you resisting!”) falls off track. I’m finding networks/assemblages/entanglements/collaborations to offer a more useful idiom. These concepts don’t suggest that we appreciate objects to the extent that we see something of ourselves in them, but rather that we aren’t who we thought we were in the first place. So if we see ourselves in objects, it’s not just the objects, but also we ourselves who are seen anew. This isn’t the same world now with more agents, but an entirely different world in which we’re much more hesitant to draw dividing lines.
Then how do we recognize difference in a way that explores how difference is produced rather than settling into difference as a given thing? That is, how do we not become ontological relativists? It’s not difference as a fact but difference as a production that’s interesting. So Gell’s distinction of primary and secondary agency goes too far towards accepting difference as a fact for me–we see how different kinds of being have different kinds of agency, but we aren’t pushed to consider initial assumptions of why. If we’re talking about networks, how do we talk about the enmeshing of actants in a network while speaking to the evident fact that trees, tree-huggers, and chainsaws aren’t the same kinds of things. What’s our vocabulary for difference?