SLIDE ONE: TITLE
Thank you Margret for inviting us today. I am excited to participate in this conference and to share this session with Nick. Margret and I are connected through the work of Donna Haraway, as well as through companionships with Helen Merrick among science fiction feminisms. My presentation here today emerges from a new book I am working on, tentatively entitled "Attaching, for Climate Change." You can find this talk online at the URL on this slide and also on the handout. That URL will connect you to the talksite on the web, which works on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. The talksite includes the handout as well as a bibliography and additional links.
SLIDE TWO: SYMPOIESIS, MEDIA, THINGS
So I will be sharing bits from the book writing as it exists now, having come to the term sympoiesis, as in a sympoiesis of media, with Haraway and others, and to speaking with things, that is to say engaged among agencies enfolding realities, with Karen Barad, Bruno Latour, Vinciane Despret, Jane Bennett, Elizabeth Wilson, Vicki Kirby, Lynn Turner, Iris van der Turin, Paul Edwards and others you will find on the talksite's transdisciplinary bibliography.
SLIDE THREE: TETHERING: PERSONAL
On a humid evening in early summer 2015 I walk around a little park in my Silver Spring neighborhood, my right ear open and listening to bird song and kids’ voices, while the earbud in my left ear transfers these words from my iPhone: “I frequently write in a style that the reader may find ‘personal’ – sometimes provocatively or frustratingly so…. I am one of the entities caught in the hyperobject I call here global warming…; one of the entities I know quite well.” (Morton 2013; Kindle iPad version loc 142, joined to Audible audio file with Whispersync, time remaining 8:46:38) Into my iPhone’s voice memo app I speak a series of thoughts that begin “it’s personal because….”
SLIDE FOUR: TETHERING: DOUBLED
With tissues growing over the macula of each of my eyes resulting in double-double vision, listening to as many books on audio as I can is personal. Few academic books are on audio in this way at the time of this writing though, and the cognitive sensations involved often feel rather alien to a person who is temperamentally a visual learner and, once upon a time, a speed reader. Luckily, this one, Timothy Morton's Hyperobjects, is available for audio download. Books in such multiple media formats differentially engage varying aspects of the sensorium, for me, actually for everyone. What comes to attention now is not as in “focus” as it once was, that is to say, in proportion as visually (and figuratively) sharp as the ocular (and conceptual) field is narrowed. Certainly not for me, but perhaps not for any of us as we reflect upon our abilities and attentions, never stable. That sort of focused ir intensive detail depends on reducing the size of the field of view, as one learns only too disappointingly, trying to find extensively large enough magnifying lenses when attempting to adapt to double-double vision, struggling to get the double-double big enough to coordinate with the brain as singled details. I have to not-quite-see through my seeing, sort of being instead in and with my brain’s coordinations, which actually know better than what-I-think-I-see, what I actually do see, that is to say, what my body apprehends. It is a strange way to perceive, this double-double vision, and unexpectedly a lot of physically hard work, where you must trust that you are seeing something not quite …there? The ophthalmologist and retina specialist I see regularly, calls the odd shadows that result too, ghosting.
Today then, I move among extensive knowledges with newly embodied sensitivities, walking in the world listening and tethered, often to kinds of books I would not in the past have devoted time to, science journalism especially, just because these come in a format that now works for me. I “world” differently as a result, my attunements have shifted. Now, as linkages enmeshing infrastructures and embodiments become perceptible on breakdown, many conscious aspects of this thing, the personal, have to be taken up caringly and reaggregated. (Star 1999; Despret 2004) I seek out knowledges, materials, people, objects in order to take up a kind of coordination work that, say, my eyes and my liver, no longer do without specific attention. The personal materializes amid tethering elements I did not need to know and know about so intimately before. And it is not just macular puckers and type two diabetes that require companioning apparatus, nor is the personal here only about me.
SLIDE FIVE: TETHERING: GRAPH
Being entities with unstable perceptions caught up in transcontextual economies of action, we require enriched cognitive apparatus for reality, companioning global warming. As Morton addresses in his caption of a NASA graph illustrating his book, global warming “cannot be directly seen, but can be thought and computed.” (Morton 2013, loc 142, time remaining 8:46:38) I do not hear the graph’s caption, it is not among the verbal bits spoken in audio, but I do see it and the figure when I shift from the audiobook version to the ebook version, joined together in one media format. So much we care for cannot be directly perceived, but can be thought, computed, attuned to, felt out, companioned. As and among enfolded realities, we have senses and apparatus, some readied, some emergent, for the distributed, the extensive. And we share what we call learning at the very point of shift through that intensively focused bit, to diffuse extensive multisensations. As we world with things, the personal enfolds as exteriorities within. (Barad 2010, 2012; Kirby, V. 2011, 27)
Morton speaks of his coining of the term hyperobjects “to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans.” (Morton 2013, loc 105, time remaining 8:51:46) Are hyperobjects somehow Morton’s because he knew no such term himself before 2010, when he knows himself to have coined the word he needed to use? Can he have really invented the word but not uniquely? Does the term, word plus meaning, have alternative, extensive, distributed lives? Does that affect the cognitive, political, planetary encounters we call global warming? (Ngram 2015 "hyperobject,hyperobjects")
SLIDE SIX: TETHERING: NGRAM
How do words come to matter when specific interventions travel extensively, carrying with each a particular intensive action or agency, a disciplinary knowledge world, a form of authority, or a political intent? What happens when this particular agency diffuses, or multiplies in extensions as a point in its alive cycle as a boundary object, something we can apprehend with our double-double consciousness in play? (Star 2010)
SLIDE SEVEN: TETHERING: BOUNDARY OBJECTS, DOUBLED
Science journalism or academic philosophy, say, each work to bring intensive meanings to extensive concerns. They play boundary games. Notice that boundary objects such as the word hyperobject do not create boundaries, but they do shift and alter edges of, say, philosophical apparatus, as well as altering the trajectories of membership in communities at work, for example, among scientists and artists. These us/them elasticities exist at various grains of intensive detail, and companion particular sorts of claims for climate change attentions. How might hyperobject work as, say, a relay, or a string figure for sharing patterns, for connections that matter? (Haraway  2013) How meta or conscious do our coordinations of such boundary objects and knowledge worlds in media ecologies have to be?
PART TWO >>>Media systems, complexity....
SLIDE EIGHT: MEDIA SYSTEMS: HARAWAY QUOTE
Media systems are not an area of study only, but the very air we breathe. They are diverse, active materialities and global ecologies. They actively enfold among and as complex systems such as climate change. Indeed climate change is at the heart of the work described here, and the claim is that media, complex systems, and climate change are faces of, for, with, and about each other: enfolding, in the spirit of physicist Karen Barad's work. The book I am writing approaches media as ecologies of complexity in dynamic, generative sympoiesis. Such a making-with, this sympoiesis, matters today for learning how to work among entangled systems, media systems. The word sympoiesis, which I learned from kin maker Donna Haraway, is a very mouthful of sensation; it practices, plays, alters and adapts. It triggers stories at scales from planetary change and its politics, to gut microbiome communications, to quorum sensing and quantum memory. (Haraway forthcoming) The term media as well is properly saturated; it is animated throughout with attachments and agencies. The word media acts as a lively boundary object, simultaneously plastic and multiply specific, registering and pressuring edges between and routes into worlds.
SLIDE NINE: MEDIA SYSTEMS: UNDERSEA CABLES
Working for climate change justice requires activisms to address global warming and its interlinked ecological damages and areas of concern, such as waste flows, the impact of extractive industries, ocean-atmosphere circulation, and the health of biodiverse ecosystems; and it includes more than that. Climate change is both a model for and the literal being of planetary scale distributed embodiments, a version of media as action writ large. Connect such model-data symbiosis (Edwards 2013, 281) with how as a general designation media keeps shifting scale and reshaping, while new media in action is always reorganizing actors and objects. All of this involves an entanglement of matter and meaning as we come to understand it quite literally: ethical realities and quantum becomings among knowledge worldings that shift scales and actions. What Karen Barad calls meeting the universe halfway. (Barad 2007)
Attaching for climate change also requires attending to some very material double binds and living paradoxes. These include the considerable difficulties of working against the bad faith, big money efforts of fossil fuel lobbyists to create media climates of doubt about the sciences of climate action and justice, with instruments for manipulating loyalties. Knowing more about a systems analysis of double binds is important here. Double binds are not just irreconcilable demands, although such demands are in place politically today when it comes to climate issues. But anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson, the teacher from whom I learned about double binds, theorized their more complex agencies. In some of the most abusive and violent forms double binds constitute communication disorders across infrastructures and systems entangling bad faith, misrecognition, self-deception, and secrecy. But double binds are transcontextual tangles at other scales too, via multiple cognitive and perceptual enfoldings, and by no means uniformly under conscious control. They create and involve circumstances even more tangled than political conspiracy or overwhelming and self-justifying resources. In political terms they are evidence of mismatches of obligation and attachment, and these in circumstances of unpredictable rewards and punishments with survival itself understood as the very stakes of action.
Play in all its permutations figure here: double binds are often, however also abusive, the grit around which new creativities accrete, and figure in spiritual, religious, philosophical, educational, and artful practices too. Media work in all of these. During the last four decades, the time period of my own intense interests, participations, and research into and with media, designations for just what media attentions encompass continually transform, overlap, merge. All this play activates sensations and feelings, as old and new words reaggregate, and as new things agentially re-imagine worldly action, systems justice, forms for working out climate change and for being that change ourselves.
SECTION ONE OF PART THREE >>>Attending in real time ....
SLIDE TEN: ATTENDING: CORAL
Attending in real time to what is happening when it happens is a methodology of companioning with things, speaking with things, all of us bits together in emergent processes. Imagine touching and making the crocheted worlds on this slide: here you can see and later can find on the web a set of crowdsourcing worldly sensitizations to global warming and its effects on coral reefs. These are crocheted worlds curated and otherwise shared by Margaret and Christine Wertheim. A science writer and a performance artist respectively, these twin sisters are founders of the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles and on the web. (2003) Only recently was it realized that physical models were possible to make, in crochet, for the hyperbolic mathematics involved in the forms that coral reefs take. Over 5000 people have crafted these crocheted reef worlds, while over the planet more than three million have inhabited exhibitions of these, feeling out and sensing newly our agencies, our “us” as bits in complex systems.
CONTINUING PART THREE >>>Attending in real time to double binds, attachments, triggers
SLIDE ELEVEN: ATTENDING: METHODS
As media, climate change, complex systems, things are all points of attachment changing now literally moment to moment, so too are their knowledge infrastructures and apparatus expressions of critical experiments in progress. We find ourselves required to participate in the citizen science of this approach to media, while never denying the many double binds we find ourselves in too. I appreciate the gatherings created by anthropologist and journalist Candis Callison in her book How Climate Change Comes to Matter: the communal life of facts. There she explores the non-denying climate change discourses of an Alaskan Inuit community, the evangelical movement Creation Care, and the translations to climate risk performed by the corporate social responsibility group Ceres; as well as analyzing just how journalists and scientists are caught up in what she calls advocacy and near advocacy –
even how climate change itself is best understood as a very form of life.
The most abusive double binds, as Bateson analyzes them, are not simple contradictions but rather complex systemic ones. Two or more mutually exclusive or complexly entangled messages are conveyed on different perceptual channels: voice and action, say, or in divergent sensory media, surveillance and entertainment perhaps. Each requires an action that the other precludes somehow, and both are pitched at levels of such urgency and danger that survival itself is felt to be at stake. There are two additional elements that escalate the danger and damages, psychically and socially, of double binds: if one cannot walk away or leave the situation, and if one cannot say what is happening. There are many reasons one might not be able to say something: you literally might not know what is happening. Double binds are confusing, and misplaced trust or reactive dissociation might make it hard to perceive what is going on. You may be told explicitly that lives, including your own, are in danger if you say anything at all, or you may intuit this. Your sense of reality may be disordered and attempts to seek reality checks are refused in various ways, from disbelief, to self-interested but misrecognized implication, to human reactions in which one upholds one’s own reality at the expense of that of others. And words are all too inadequate to convey the complex perceptions of patterns, effects, danger, layers of escalation, and non-linear entanglements that can be happening all at once.
Experiencing double binds recurrently has intensifying effects. Today we use terms such as trauma, PTSD, and microagressions, to name some of these escalations, each different from but also overlapping with this complex structure of interaction in various layers of experience and neurobiology. And double bind abusive effects vary in modulations too: lower the intensity and danger of any of the elements, talk about them and check out pieces of their reality, walk away; these are common and responsible reactions to double bind situations as well.
Add to that, that mystical practices, initiation into “gated” communities, creative insight, professional advancement, innovation, are also results of or participating elements in the structure of double binds. At this point then, the range of what can count as a double bind becomes in itself daunting. Triggered are reactive responses such as “if it means everything, it really means nothing,” a parsimony of explanation with its own misleading or even punitive effects in its attempts at clarification. Complex systems exist, and even though one productive response is to take them up in pieces and work out segmented details, enfolded systems are not simply the sum of all those pieces.
What double binds do we find ourselves in now, individually and collectively, and just how do we speak with and about them?
PART FOUR >>>systems justice and learning
SLIDE TWELVE: SYSTEMS JUSTICE: BATESON
Systems justice sensitive to multiple contexts, what Chela Sandoval called “differential consciousness,” calls out to various politics of attachment. (Sandoval 2000, Anzaldúa 2002, ASCA forthcoming 2015) Belief and disbelief, really perhaps memberships and belongings, triggered and assembled, stagger between, say, climate change publics, amid money behind global restructurings, and even, we realize, together with feminist juggling acts and territories, amid objects, new materialisms, and communities of justice and practice. Register such intensities and traumas: when do they become ends in themselves? Eschatology, the study of end-times, companions a paradoxically long history in human attention. And humans are often precariously enduring on the planet, and have threatened its existence before. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis myself, and we might well have ended then. This fear motivated much of Gregory Bateson’s work. (See Childs 2012; Bateson 1979:98, 174) Yet Bateson was very vocal and concerned too about unanticipated movements the complexities of systems take on when urgencies become too predictive. Then our urgencies result in less sensitivity to the unanticipated, result in too narrow a focus, as all too human desires for control or for moral prescriptions are inadvertently escalated. Systems justice requires something much more complicated. It means, for example, we have to work with our extended being in the very processes of co-creating being and becoming aware of new things about being.
Bateson famously said, in “the pronoun we, I of course included the starfish and the redwood forest, the segmenting egg, and the Senate of the United States.” (Bateson 1979:4) This is one differential set reminding us that ways to speak of “we” and “us” are as dynamically rescaling bits in systems of complexity and change. Our “we” and “us” register too with Bateson’s living patterns, from the starfish’s invertebrate radial symmetry to redwood cloning timelines to recursive epigenesis, mechanism and structure in a segmenting egg to those human affiliations of power and state and love that we could wish for in the Senate of the United States.
SLIDE THIRTEEN: SYSTEMS JUSTICE: BOUNDARY OBJECTS THAT LEARN
When a set of feminist educators wanted to come up with an alternative to privatizing MOOC platforms they companioned with the web, partner and workshop, making FemTechNet, a Distributed Open Collaborative Course or DOCC. They inhabited their DOCC with what Alex Juhasz and Anne Balsamo, media designers and technologists, called caringly “boundary objects that learn.” All of these feminist specialists in emergent learning processes wanted to enable companionships in which such an object “participates in the creation of meanings: of identity, or usefulness, of function, of possibilities.” Juhasz and Balsamo reminded us that Susan Leigh Star (and her various collaborators) came up with the concept of a boundary object “to assert that objects (material, digital, discursive, conceptual) participate in the co-production of reality. At base, the notion asserts that objects perform important communication ‘work’ among people: they are defined enough to enable people to form common understandings, but weakly determined so that participants can modify them to express emergent thinking.” (Juhasz & Balsamo 2012) Boundary objects that learn are always up for redesign, up for speculative feminisms.
Boundary objects are workaround things, concepts, processes, even routines that permit coordination, sometimes collaboration, without consensus (non-conscious and conscious). (Star 2010:602) This is a new kind of “attachment politics” in which we work for contextually sensitive forms of trust and affiliation among proper practices of dissensus, as Margret talks about in her work, such as Beyond the Cyborg (Grebowicz & Merrick 2013; ASCA 2015)
THE FINAL BIT: PART FIVE >>>Stigmergy: coordinations for climate justice
SLIDE FOURTEEN: COORDINATIONS: TALKSITE
Working as a transdisciplinary scholar is always tricky. One can take neither authors nor audiences, nor especially citation pools for granted. And no proper question is actually answered by saying you should have read what I have read. In that spirit I share what I am actively learning myself as new attachments form. I assume here that we all have differential and on-going knowledges, that they each take up their own range of details, and that we hope to companion well.
My talksite on the web is a workshop for thinking with objects moved around in visual play, a venue for speculative feminisms. Whenever possible I like to take imaginations themselves as my companions, along with other co-creators of worlds. Such imaginations can be sensed and worked on, but not predicted easily, and that is a good thing. All this happens with attention and caring, and among systems humans participate in and do not control.
Attention to knowledge making practices makes it clearer that ways of sharing are makings too. Audiences of all kinds today are in the middle of actively diverging: in practices as well as being unpredictable in their circulations and ranges. These now are actually complex systems. And emergent ones too because audience is always something yet to be performed: What can be taken for granted? What would best be explained? What do we assume are the most urgent issues and things to care about and with? Who and what facilitates such movement among worlds? (Anzaldúa 2002)
SLIDE FIFTEEN: COORDINATIONS: RESTRUCTURING
These are some of the complex systems I care about. Attempts at systems justice.
From the very depths of restructuring, struggled after feminisms task themselves to focus and refocus many on-going and differential projects of decolonization, antiracist politics, and feminist transformation. To “play” with our own differential consciousnesses, to curiously work at the oppositional edge of “this is not it,” these are creativities needed now among double binds and confusions we find ourselves in. Transcontexual movement without falling apart – where we participate as and among these very knowledge worlds and ecologies, learning. I am advocating ways of thinking with and about transdisciplinary attentions and practices. These interconnect multiple actors, among them “ourselves,” extensively inspecting knowledge approaches across time, fields, disciplines, methods, perhaps economic sectors, or ecologies. We can do this while at the same time also savoring and participating in the intensive workings (always only some) of these too, in communities of practice, and among objects that may yet tie these together. Such transdisciplinary travel is functional in its uneven coherences. (Law 2013)
SLIDE SIXTEEN: COORDINATIONS: MEDIA
In other words, I respect how much is required of us to not exit from the double binds of transcontextual necessity that it takes to address climate change. And systems justice. I respect how difficult it is, and also how profoundly it enriches our reality apparatus, to travel among and using boundary objects, as boundary objects ourselves, pulsing at edges, tethering worlds, demonstrating just how alive media, systems, and we, are.