Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Speculative before the Turn: Reintroducing Feminist Materialist Performativity

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Speculative before the Turn: Reintroducing Feminist Materialist Performativity

Article excerpt

Speculative Before the Turn: Reintroducing Feminist Materialist Performativity

This is a moment for new conversations and new synergies. While a wealth of contemporary speculative materialisms is currently circulating in academia, art and activism, in this article we would like to focus upon a few ethico-political stakes&in the& different, loosely affiliated conceptions of ontologies of immanence. These ontologies all prioritise a horizontal plane on which, or from which, differences are made. These differences are made afresh in every instance, and they come about in conversation with sedimented capital-D Differences or in some variation of these two extremes.1

More specifically, we are concerned here with the very meaning of speculation itself after the many new headings of immanent ontologies, such as object-oriented ontology (OOO), speculative realism or the (feminist) new materialisms. This concern is a feminist concern, as some of the immanent ontologies seem to actively connect with the varied feminist archive of speculative thought while others seem to actively disconnect from the very same archive. What does this imply for the feminist scholar who is in want of tools for navigating the contemporary landscape of ontologies of immanence? In this essay we strive to highlight some important overlapping as well as poignant clashes between various feminist materialist genealogies and OOO/speculative realism.2 No one is easily classifiable as a 'bad guy' or a 'good feminist gal'. Both feminist new materialisms and OOO/speculative realism are writing their own zig-zagging histories and hence each burgeoning discussion we would like to underline the importance of relationality and affinity- and the possibility for rewiring relations-amid a plethora of existing and emergent post-disciplinary movements and world-makings.


While we draft some of these lines in May 2013,3 a conference takes place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The conference theme-'Speculative Art Histories'- resembles the theme of the conference we are writing for-'Movement, Aesthetics, Ontology'. The latter conference is scheduled to take place two weeks later in Turku, Finland. In both cases speakers are drawn from all corners of academia and the world, most of them young scholars, interested in contemporary cultural theories of the immanent kind. One of us receives a text message from a colleague:

Can you please provide me with a quick and dirty definition of Haraway's god trick? I am at the conference in Rotterdam and all speakers proclaim to have left the subject behind and move to the object instead. I am going nuts

Eyebrows are raised. What does the move from the subject to the object entail? And how is it possible that Donna Haraway's god trick needs summarising? Isn't Haraway's work on situated knowledges and material-semiotic agents precisely one of those pleas for slow unpacking and thick plotting of subject-object entanglements? Hasn't this work landed well in contemporary academic landscapes? Isn't Haraway anthologised by now, well read and equally well received? Apparently there is room still for old and new connections within and beyond Haraway's oeuvre, some of which we hope to provide in the following.

It has to be said that the Rotterdam and Turku conferences claim a different legacy and as such they illustrate the conundrum with which this article occupies itself. Besides affirming the transversalities mentioned earlier, the organisers of 'Speculative Art Histories' write in their call for conference papers:

Following the recent 'speculative turn' in Continental philosophy, prepared by Quentin Meillassoux, Brian Massumi, Graham Harman, Isabelle Stengers and Reza Negarestani among many others, the aim of this conference is to propose a counter-discourse of speculative approaches to art and, especially, to art history ... The guiding intuition of this conference is that both the modern gap between philosophy and art history and the postmodern call for more interdisciplinarity are inspired by a consensual abhorrence of more speculative approaches to art . …

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