This brief essay introduces a series of performative writing experiments including prose, poetry, and performance that explore ordinary objects from the window opened by theory, including new materialist, posthuman, and affect-oriented approaches.
And the charged particularity of the objects, images and events encountered frame the importance of making implicit things matter.1
This collection presents a series of performative writing experiments that explore ordinary objects from the window opened by theory, including new materialist, posthuman, and affect-oriented approaches. Each of the essays takes up, either directly or indirectly, Jane Bennett's writing on the liveliness and vibrancy of seemingly “inert” matter—books, double-sided tape, light bulbs, plastic animals, rain, paper, and the water, sand, and salt of a shoreline coming together.2 Taken collectively, this array of texts means to move outside the binaries produced by the “habit of parsing the world into dull matter (it, things) and vibrant life (us, beings)”3 and seeks to do so by attuning to the ways objects play an agentic role in the performance of everyday life.4
This collection explores the productive relations among objects and subjects as an entanglement of matter and meaning.5 Rather than taking up, in anti-anthropomorphic fascination, an engagement with objects in and of themselves, we write to enact the messy and vibrant relations we have with objects as they unfold in the spaces of our work and our lives—at home, in the studio, on the page. Objects are, in Karen Barad's words, agentic in their intra-actions with other forces—human and nonhuman alike.6 Thus, our project in this collection is not to bestow objects with agency “just like” that of humans—a “thing” we possess or an ability to act with the purposefulness of “pure agency”—but, rather, to write our mutual entanglement. Barad notes,
Just as there are no words with determinant meanings lying in wait … for an appropriate representational moment, neither are there things with determinant boundaries and properties whirling aimlessly in the void, bereft of agency, historicity or meaning, which are only to be bestowed from the outside. … “Things” don't pre-exist; they are agentically enacted and become determinately bounded and propertied within phenomena [and] particular agential intra-actions.7
Objects, in this articulation, are a becoming-with, rather than a thing.
Objects also ask us to attune to the circuit between bodies, space, and time and affective impressions. Affect, as Kathleen Stewart describes it, is the “impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating … modes of attention, attachment and agency … that catch people up in something that feels like something,” it is what gives “circuits and flows the forms of a life.”8 Brian Massumi describes affect as “the capacity to affect or be affected,” an intersubjective, interrelational space of engagement and encounter.9 Our engagement or becoming-with objects is one place where we can see in some relief the impressions or “stickiness” of relationships as histories of contact that persist in and through time.10 Sara Ahmed writes that this “stickiness” is about “what objects do to other objects—it involves a transference of affect—but it is a relation of ‘doing’ in which there is not a distinction between passive or active, even though the stickiness of one object might come before the stickiness of the other, so that the other seems to cling to it.”11
The idea of stickiness also suggests that the relation of doing in our encounters with objects does not distinguish between “past” and “present,” but rather symbolizes how the past clings and connects us to the present and any idea we might have of the future. Thus, objects do not move us in and through time—they do not take us “back” to a place or a past that is over and gone, nor do they compose a future by their arrangement in our homes or familiar geographies.12 Rather, objects “keep the impressions” of the past alive and, in that keeping-on, make “new impressions in the very weave or fabric of the present.”13 Objects are transistors, rather than transportation. For example, when we travel and bring an object “home,” we enact the displacement and difference of our comings and goings; we make and remake home in the entanglement of here and there, now and then, strange and familiar. Indeed, homes and the objects that gather in their making, are material manifestations of the “entanglement of genealogies of dispersion with those of ‘staying put.’”14 When the objects that compose a life are passed down, they are also passed around—from hand to hand and home to home, an inheritance and a becoming.15
We hope that these essays, approached through the vantage of a window thrown open to the ideas proposed by new materialist, posthuman, and affect theory, “stage the jump from idea to matter and back again” and, in doing so, “fuse a dream world to the world of ordinary things.”16