Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin

New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies

    II. Cartographies > 5. The Transversality of New Materialism

    5. The Transversality of New Materialism

    Manuel DeLanda and Rosi Braidotti—independently of one another—first started using “neo-materialism” or “new materialism” in the second half of the 1990s, for a cultural theory that does not privilege the side of culture, but focuses on what Donna Haraway (2003) would call “naturecultures” or what Bruno Latour simply referred to as “collectives” ([1991] 1993). The term proposes a cultural theory that radically rethinks the dualisms so central to our (post-)modern thinking and always starts its analysis from how these oppositions (between nature and culture, matter and mind, the human and the inhuman) are produced in action itself. It thus has a profound interest in the morphology of change and gives special attention to matter (materiality, processes of materialization) as it has been so much neglected by dualist thought. In the same breath we then always already start with the mater, as Braidotti (2002b, 170) already emphasized elsewhere. This explains why, along with the interest in science seen in particular with DeLanda and Latour, the emancipation of mat(t)er is also by nature a feminist project. [4]

    For those familiar with the materialism of Walter Benjamin, “new materialism” is ironic for several reasons. Analyzing modernity, Benjamin ([1982] 2002, 22) rejects the modern fetish of newness and the illusions it presumes. Particularly because he considers “[n]ewness […] a quality independent of the use value of the commodity,” staging a materialism that is “new” would make no sense at all. But of course there is no reason why we should confine ourselves to such a linear modernist idea of History. Especially if, in following Latour ([1991] 1993, 82), we claim that “[h]istory is no longer simply the history of people, it becomes the history of natural things as well,” Benjamin’s critique can be put aside. The newness we are interested in is not so much a better or improved version of “old” (historical, Marxist-inspired) materialism. DeLanda for instance has made it very clear that he rewrites this Marxism and its (humanist) take on the material (though Benjamin in particular offers us many ways out of these traps). Therefore DeLanda also wrote his famous A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1997) in which he puts such an “other” history, as proposed by Latour, to work (see also Harman 2008).

    In this book it is not so much a history that is presented to the reader, but rather, following Braidotti, a mapping of how the materialism that is referred to as a new materialism is at work in the humanities and in the sciences at this very moment. Of course that does not mean that we exclude historicity, time, or memory; texts are read insofar as they are considered important and valuable for the non-dualist, materialist current in contemporary thought, and not judged according to when they were conceived. Thus, it is no problem to state that we see this new materialism we are interested in at work in Spinoza’s Ethics. Benedict Spinoza, already in 1677, claims that the mind is the idea of the body, making the body necessarily the object of the mind. The mind and the body are the same thing, as he stresses repeatedly. This is a most interesting contribution to a new materialist thinking. Similarly, the present book develops an interest in the new materialist thoughts to be found in the work of the authors mentioned so far, but also in that of Simone de Beauvoir, Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead and Brian Massumi, among others.

    There is a good reason why a book on new materialism is written now. In recent years new materialism has proven to be capable of opposing the transcendental and humanist traditions that are haunting cultural theory, standing on the brink of the post-postmodern era. Of course dualist traditions are stubborn and have buried themselves deep in the minds of (common-sense) scholars today. These traditions continue to stir debates, which are being opened up by new materialists (think of the feminist polemic about the failed materialism in the work of Judith Butler (Kirby 2006), and of the Saussurian/ Lacanian linguistic heritage in media and cultural studies (Dolphijn 2010), which as Karen Barad (2007) has shown, have prevented the theorization of “agential matter” from being effectuated). But at the start of the 21st century, this new materialist ambition does seem to offer a more than equal alternative for scholars working in the humanities and beyond. Perhaps for the first time in its history, this “minor tradition” in thinking (as Gilles Deleuze would label it) is getting the attention it needs, freeing itself from the Platonist, Christian, and Modernist rule under which it suffered for so long.

    In the work of both Braidotti and DeLanda it has been through a rethinking of several French philosophers closely connected to May ‘68 (including Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari) that their thinking came about. And it was the work of Deleuze (and Guattari) that was actually most important to them. Especially in his early work, Deleuze tried to show that the materialist philosophy he proposed was not new but fell into the rich though minor tradition already mentioned. By writing on philosophers like Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson, but also on writers like Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka, Deleuze intended to rewrite the history of thinking by giving attention to those materialist authors it had rejected or marginalized for such a long time. At the start of his career, Deleuze puts the emphasis on re-reading radical minds like Spinoza, thus showing how they actually offer philosophy a new way of thinking—namely, a philosophy of the body. And it is by traversing these different philosophies of the body that Deleuze’s other work (sometimes with Guattari) really starts exploring materialist/monist thought to the fullest, creating the fertile ground upon which new materialist scholars like Braidotti and DeLanda take root today.

    Most faithful to the work of Deleuze (and Guattari), DeLanda’s early version of new materialism proffered the claim that the concept “abstract machine” (Deleuze and Guattari [1980] 1987) captures processes without form of substance that can be found in concrete assemblages of biology, sociology, and geology alike, in a manner that enables cultural theory at large to move away from linguistic representationalism towards “the realm of engineering diagrams” which are “shared by very different physical assemblages. Thus there would be an “abstract motor” with different physical instantiations in technological objects and natural atmospheric processes” (DeLanda 1996, n.p.). This new materialism engenders immanent thought and, as a consequence, it breaks through not only the mind-matter and culture-nature divides of transcendental humanist thought, but also thinking causal structures and teleology (i.e. a determinism):

    This conception of very specific abstract machines […] indeed points towards a new form of materialist philosophy in which raw matter-energy through a variety of self-organizing processes and an intense power of morphogenesis, generates all the structures that surround us. Furthermore, the structures generated cease to be the primary reality, and matter-energy flows now acquire this special status (ibid.).

    The way in which matter seems to gain primacy in DeLanda’s new materialism points instead at a “generative matter,” which is a concept that does not capture matter-as-opposed-to-signification, but captures mattering as simultaneously material and representational (cf. Cheah 1999, Barad 2007).

    Braidotti introduced new materialism or “a more radical sense of materialism” by framing it as “[r]ethinking the embodied structure of human subjectivity after Foucault” (Braidotti 2000, 158). Coming from a very rich materialist tradition in Australian feminism, Braidotti’s “after Foucault” should not so much be read as a reference to a move beyond Foucault, given that she and DeLanda (as well as other new materialists) can be said to affirm, one way or another, the much-noted prediction of Foucault ([1970] 1998, 343) that “perhaps, one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian.” Compared to DeLanda, Braidotti’s new materialism is equally immanent and non-linear, and “embodied subjectivity” is conceptualized accordingly:

    A piece of meat activated by electric waves of desire, a text written by the unfolding of genetic encoding. Neither a sacralized inner sanctum, nor a pure socially shaped entity, the enfleshed Deleuzian subject is rather an “in-between”: it is a folding-in of external influences and a simultaneous unfolding outwards of affects. A mobile entity, an enfleshed sort of memory that repeats and is capable of lasting through sets of discontinuous variations, while remaining faithful to itself. The Deleuzian body is ultimately an embodied memory (Braidotti 2000, 159).

    Apart from the immanence of the new materialism qualitatively shifting the many instantiations of cultural theory that exemplify the transcendental, there is a strong emphasis on the intra-action [5] of the technological and the natural, or as Braidotti has called it, on “the ‘posthuman’ predicament” which entails “much more than the definitive loss of the naturalistic paradigm” (ibid., 158). Bringing “nature” into cultural theory does not make new materialists susceptible to adopting the ontology of the so-called positivist natural sciences. One of the pillars of the new materialism is the claim that modern natural science and postmodern cultural theory are both humanisms (cf. Colebrook 2004). In Braidotti’s work the shared humanist subject of biological determinism and social constructivism is exchanged for a post-humanist subject, which entails for starters a qualitative shift away from the two poles of present-day epistemology: positivism and postmodernism (cf. Haraway 1988).

    In their subsequent work, DeLanda and Braidotti continued constituting new materialism by posing dual oppositions as their main target. Reworking and eventually breaking through dualism appears to be the key to new materialism. Dualism comes to the fore as the structuring principle of the transcendental and humanist traditions that they want to shift in their work. Prioritizing mind over matter or culture over nature is a transcendentalizing gesture following humanist and dialecticist thought. It posits postmodernism as overcoming the flaws of positivism, and social constructivism as overcoming biological determinism. As such, the gesture is predicated upon sequential negation, and has a progress narrative structure. The reliance upon dialecticism has been uncovered as an effect of what Lynn Hankinson Nelson (1993, 127–8) termed “unreal dichotomies” or “non-exhaustive oppositions.” Nelson has made clear that one pole of a dichotomy or binary opposition is always already implied in the other as its negation, which makes dichotomies unreal and oppositions non-exhaustive. In the words of Michel Serres:

    An idea opposed to another idea is always the same idea, albeit affected by the negative sign. The more you oppose one another, the more you remain in the same framework of thought (Serres with Latour 1995, 81).

    The intimate relation between two so-called opposites makes it clear that the transcendental and humanist tendencies, which are fought by new materialist theorists are fundamentally reductive. After all, negation implies a relation, which is precisely what is undone by the dependence of transcendental humanist thought on dualism.

    Attempting to break through reductive dualist thought in A New Philosophy of Society, DeLanda (2006, 45–6; original emphasis) makes the following statement:

    […] general categories do not refer to anything in the real world and […] to believe they do (i.e. to reify them) leads directly to essentialism. Social constructivism is supposed to be an antidote to this, in the sense that by showing that general categories are mere stereotypes it blocks the move towards their reification. But by coupling the idea that perception is intrinsically linguistic with the ontological assumption that only the contents of experience really exist, this position leads directly to a form of social essentialism.

    Linguisticality (which is not denied, but given its proper place, that is, a more modest one) forms the nexus of DeLanda’s non-dualist argument about new materialism. Anti-representationalism (an immanent gesture) is employed so as to break through the assumed binary opposition between realist essentialism and social constructivism. Due to the fact that causally linear, predetermined and constrained reasoning has been left behind (or at least is included in an open, constrained yet undecidable [6] notion of causality that fills up all of its dimensions), it cannot be argued that new materialism entails a simple move beyond social constructivism in a progressive way. According to DeLanda, new materialism is neither realist nor social constructivist. It is precisely the commonalities of realism and social constructivism that are being recognized, though shifted.

    Braidotti (2006, 130; cf. Rossini 2006) theorizes similar moves in Transpositions, yet with a clear focus on feminist politics:

    In the political economy of phallologocentrism and of anthropocentric humanism, which predicates the sovereignty of Sameness in a falsely universalistic mode, my sex fell on the side of ‘Otherness,’ understood as pejorative difference, or as being-worth-less-than. The becoming-animal/ becoming-world speaks to my feminist self, partly because my gender, historically speaking, never quite made it into full humanity, so my allegiance to that category is at best negotiable and never to be taken for granted.

    This is neither an essentialist statement, nor one of semiotic constructivism. It is rather the materialist acknowledgement of a historical location: a starting position of asymmetrical power differentials. This location is not only geopolitical, but also genealogical and time-bound.

    Braidotti’s claim is anti-representationalist in two ways. First of all, she cuts across a biological (or Platonic) essentialism and “semiotic constructivism” (here, a relativism) in a manner that mirrors DeLanda. Secondly, a feminist politics is conceptualized, which does not embrace the dualist move of creating counter-identities (a modernist feminist project) nor does it attempt to move beyond dualism by producing a plethora of counter-identities according to a pluralizing gesture (a postmodernist feminist project, and again a relativism). Feminists “rather go further and push towards qualitatively stronger de-territorializations” (ibid., 134), that is, towards becoming-animal/becoming-world, which entails a breakthrough of the naturalizing tendencies of both sexist humanism and the de-naturalizing tendencies of modern and postmodern feminisms.

    What we find in the work of DeLanda and Braidotti is a series of moves that complexify cultural theory in the light of the habit of dualism. We claim that the immanent philosophies of DeLanda and Braidotti (though by no means exclusively), in their early as well as their recent incarnations, exemplify the constitution and enactment of new materialist cultural theory.

    This chapter engages with the constitution of new materialism, as an object of study and a shared ambition with the scholars whose work we study. Following the interviews in Part One of this book, and building on a comprehensive review of enactments or instantiations of new materialism in recent cultural theory, this chapter proposes that the immanent gesture of new materialism is transversal rather than dualist as it intersects academic (neo-)disciplines (for instance feminist theory, science and technology studies, and media and cultural studies), paradigms (for instance the Saussurian/Lacanian linguisticism that is still prevalent in cultural theory today, or the dualistic take on the natural sciences and the humanities), and the linear spatiotemporalities conventionally assigned to epistemic trends (for instance “new” materialism versus Marxist historical materialism as practiced by Benjamin for instance [7] ). Our proposition is that new materialism is itself a distinctive trend, both in feminist theory and in cultural theory more broadly, and a device or tool for opening up theory formation. This is to say that new materialism not only allows for addressing the conventional epistemic tendency to what can be summarized as classification or territorialization (when a new trend appears on the academic stage, it is usually interpreted as a “class” that can be added to an existing classification of epistemologies), but also—and at the same time—for de-territorializing the academic territories, tribes, and temporalities traditionally considered central to scholarship. After all, the classificatory strategy perfectly exemplifies transcendentalism and the two characteristics of dualism (sequential negation and a narrative of progress). Braidotti has summarized the need for this double move as a “qualitative leap” towards “creating conditions for the implementation of transversality” (ibid., 123). In this chapter, we intend to affirm the transversality of new materialism. That is to say, we study and propose a new materialism that cuts across or intersects dual oppositions in an immanent way. Félix Guattari ([1964] 1984), coining this term as early as 1964, insists on the “micropolitical” nature of transversality, introducing it as a means to search for the new—not by critiquing the old, but by radically questioning (or smoothening out) all the barriers that supported its logic. “Transversality is the transference become vehicular” as Gary Genosko (1996, 15) then concludes. The strength of new materialism is precisely this nomadic traversing of the territories of science and the humanities, performing the agential or non-innocent nature of all matter [8] that seems to have escaped both modernist (positivist) and postmodernist humanist epistemologies.

    New Materialism Generated: Depending on Disciplines

    Although we want to show here that a first instantiation of transversality enacted by new materialist cultural theorists cuts across scholarly disciplines, there is a whole range of scholars working on new materialism from their respective disciplinary locations. In these specific disciplinary takes on new materialism, the potentialities of the new materialism get lost in unnecessarily narrow understandings. Introducing new materialism into a discipline entails a transcendental gesture according to which the new materialism and the discipline in question (e.g. sociology) are positioned as pre-existing or generated rather than generative, and consequently as interacting rather than intra-acting. In other words, due to the presumed schism or dualism, the transversality of new materialism is being undone rather than affirmed or put to work. To transversalize can only be done when always already “invoking a new frame of analysis,” as Jonathan Gil Harris (2003, 281) puts it. A new materialism that emerges from a discipline is an immanent gesture that we will discuss in the next section.

    Momin Rahman and Anne Witz (2003, 245) in “What Really Matters? The Elusive Quality of the Material in Feminist Thought,” for instance, focus exclusively on sociologically induced feminisms, and argue that “there needs to be a recognition of both the limits of a constructionism grounded in materialism and the potential of a constructionism that deploys materiality as a more porous and flexible concept.” Rahman and Witz recognize the shift engendered by a new materialism (conceptualizing “materiality”), and claim that the conceptualization of the material employed in the early days of feminist sociology was more complex than simply economical. This cartography is in line with what we want to present here. Although new materialism has set in motion a qualitative shift in cultural theory at large, this shift is transversal, not dualist. Striking alliances between the old and the new, Rahman and Witz claim that early feminists broadened the definition of the economically determinist material to include social relations and the domestic sphere, and worked on the material as including everyday and institutional practices as well (ibid., 250). As a consequence, they read Butler’s claim about “the distinction between the material and the cultural [being] no longer a stable or viable one” (ibid., 249) as an outrage, precisely because of the fact that 1970s and 1980s feminist sociology did not necessarily work along the lines of such a distinction. In the work of Butler, they imply, a second-wave feminist materialism functions as a straw person. [9] Rahman and Witz find that good-old feminist sociological work worked along the lines of an expanded conceptualization of the material.

    Simultaneously, however, they claim that the good-old feminist sociological work simply added new (relativist, they say) theoretical frameworks to the existing economically determinist materialism. They question whether, in such a context, “the distinctive materiality of materialism has any residual conceptual integrity” (ibid., 252). In other words, they stumble upon the problems of additive/quantitative epistemic approaches, especially, we would say, when the two quantified approaches are non-exhaustive oppositions. We claim that adding a so-called feminist postmodern epistemology with relativist inclinations to a modern epistemology, feminist or not, materialist or not, does not necessarily result in a qualitative shifting of either the modern or the feminist postmodern. This is why the questioning of conceptual integrity is justified in the case of the cartography of Rahman and Witz, but not in the context of new (feminist) materialism per se. The conceptualization of “materiality” that the sociologists Rahman and Witz engage with does not necessarily shift the term towards something that differs from the economical simply because of the fact that early feminist sociologists seem to have added a bodily materiality to the economical.

    The materialism brought to the fore by Rahman and Witz—if compared with economical (neo-classical) materialism, the constructionist approach remains constant, as DeLanda also stressed in the interview in Part One—should in fact be labeled “new” in the teleological sense of the term, whereas we have argued that it is among other things teleology (as shared by realist/totalizing/modern and social constructivist/relativist/postmodern epistemologies) that is broken down in new materialism. Rahman and Witz themselves yearn for a breakdown of linear continuity as well, while remaining in a dualistic mode (pre-distinguishing the social and the physical), which we would interpret as an artifact of their territorial approach to new theory formation:

    The social constructionism being worked at here is not one that is limited by physical matter, but rather one that is able to incorporate body matters as an indivisible part of lived, gendered experience and action. […] it seems to us that there is an attempt to consider the social effectivity of the physical—materiality as embodiment, experienced and rendered meaningful within gendered and sexualized frameworks of meaning and action (ibid., 256; original emphasis).

    Rahman and Witz thus affirm dualisms throughout their article—the dualism between new materialism and sociology being the starting point, and the one between physicality and sociality being the end result. It seems as if they have wanted to rescue (good-old) feminist sociology in light of a materialism that is new in the teleological sense of the term. [10] Analyzing their article, we have shown that such an approach does not allow for the qualitative shifting of concepts that is to be found in the work of, among others, Braidotti and DeLanda. The materiality celebrated remains reduced to being the polar opposite of a sociality—that is, the material here has to be made socially effective, rather than seeing the social and the material as co-constitutive forces through, for instance, the “abstract machine.” We read this absence as an artifact of the authors buying into disciplinary territoriality. Bringing new materialism (here assumed to be a pre-existing body of work) into contact with a scholarly discipline (equally assumed to be pre-existing) has distortive effects. The presupposition that a new materialism is generated contradicts new materialism’s own anti-representationalism. New materialism, then, takes scholarship into absolute deterritorialization, and is not an epistemic class that has a clear referent. New materialism is something to be put to work. [11]

    Cultural theory being less disciplined than (feminist) sociology, the beginnings of a transversal understanding of new materialism can be found in Susan Sheridan’s “Words and Things: Some Feminist Debates on Culture and Materialism.” Sheridan (2002, 23), while not using the term new materialism herself, argues that the impact of post-structuralism on feminist cultural theory has resulted in the displacement of “the primacy of social and economic relations in analyses of women’s situation,” and in the implementation of taking into consideration the primacy of “issues of sexuality, subjectivity and textuality.” Sheridan claims that this seeming shift rests on a misinterpretation of post-structuralist theory, in which words and things got separated (all of a sudden “words” gained primacy) whereas post-structuralism, if read unpolemically, and together with recent work on matter, “demonstrates how inseparable are the symbolic and the material in examining the discursive construction of ‘objects’ of knowledge, and the material effects of that discursive power” (ibid., 25). In other words, post-structuralism and new materialism in Sheridan’s understanding should not be read as dual opposites, and together they should not be seen as theoretical moves beyond a feminist sociological materialism. This cartography is qualitatively different from the one presented by Rahman and Witz, and it finds confirmation in the work of French post-structuralist feminists such as Hélène Cixous ([1975] 1976, 879, 884), one of whose main concerns, after all, was representationalism.

    Sheridan, like Braidotti, positions herself amongst post-structuralist feminists who have argued that cultural constructivist feminism “is not materialist enough” (ibid., 27), and who have attacked “reductive (essentialist) representations of the nature/culture binary divide itself” (ibid., 28). Here, a post-structuralist feminist cultural theory seems to be dualistically opposed to a “cultural constructivism.” Post-structuralist feminists are said to have critiqued cultural constructivism for working with a “de-materialised body,” whereas another critique is that they have been working with “understandings of ‘discourse’” that are “limited” when language is taken to be performative (ibid.). At the same time, post-structuralist feminist cultural theory is said to have attacked the reductive essentialism of both feminist sociology (focusing on the material) and cultural constructivism (focusing on the cultural). Traversing the non-exhaustive opposites of feminist sociology and cultural constructivism, and analyzing the reductivism effected on the basis of a reliance on either matter or discourse demonstrates transversality. In other words, Sheridan argues that the current rise in new materialist analyses in cultural theory shows that both language-oriented cultural constructivisms and sociologically induced feminisms are to be critiqued, since neither has fully employed the agential qualities of matter. Sheridan’s reading of what she calls a “new stage” (ibid.; cf. Hekman 2010, 7 on a “new settlement”) in feminist theory generates a focus not only on biological matter or on a cultural theory incorporating insights from the natural sciences, but also on the matter of the political economy, thus qualitatively shifting a concept of matter as purely physical and opposed to the social or linguistic.

    The new stage’s disciplinary transversality comes to be fully delineated by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman (2008, 9–10; cf. Squier and Littlefield 2004) as a new materialism (here called “material feminism”) that is to be found in the disciplines of “science studies, environmental feminisms, corporeal feminisms, queer theory, disability studies, theories of race and ethnicity, environmental justice, (post-)Marxist feminism, globalization studies, and cultural studies,” and which as an epistemic trend is involved in “integrating them into what amounts to a new paradigm for feminist thought. […] this paradigm is currently emerging and […] is a necessary and exhilarating move for contemporary feminism.” In The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures, Hekman (2010) goes so far as to demonstrate that new materialism is to be found in all scholarly disciplines, cutting across the trans-Atlantic disconnection between analytic and continental philosophy, and putting feminist theory at the forefront. For us, too, the new materialism allows for a move away from disciplines towards the meta-disciplinary, in feminist theory and in cultural theory more broadly, which is a claim that alludes to the importance of studying and engaging with the effect that this move might have on the paradigms of contemporary cultural theory. In what ways does new materialism traverse paradigms?

    Generating New Materialism: Playing with Paradigms

    Demonstrating the workings of new materialism, that is, generating a new materialism rather than relying upon a new materialism already pre-generated, Braidotti (2000, 160) argues that what is to be found in postmodern cultural theory (i.e. the body of social/semiotic constructivist cultural theory considered state-of-the-art once theory formation is positioned on a global classificatory map) is a “denial of the materiality of the bodily self” in paradoxical conjunction with the fast circulation of an excessive number of theoretical discourses about, and cultural representations of, the human body. In other words, cultural theory in the postmodern era has been unable to account fully for materiality, whereas it found itself surrounded by an excessive representation (thus objectification) of (bodily and non-bodily, organic and inorganic, always already feminized) matter in popular culture as well as cultural theory. Braidotti takes postmodernist constructivism’s specific form of anti-essentialism, which affirms representationalism, to be responsible for this curious situation. Postmodernist constructivism is discovered to be a paradigm in which the space for materialism is, in Alistair Welchman’s words (2005, 390), “restricted,” and postmodern cultural theorists are simply included in the huge category of “critics who use an impoverished conception of matter inherited from non-materialist systems of thought” (ibid., 388). Postmodern cultural theory, otherwise seen as constituting and having been constituted by the Crisis of Reason, seems to have continued to work within the legacy of modernism’s foundationalism. The modernist system of thought relying on Reason (and concepts like Logos, Mind, Representation) has not been fully broken down, and this is why transcendental and humanist tendencies continue to haunt present-day cultural theory. We have already explained that a postmodernism dualistically opposing modernism cannot entail anything but a continuation of the Same (cf. Alaimo and Hekman 2008, 2–3, Hekman 2010, 48). How does new materialism succeed in qualitatively shifting the paradigm that had supposedly already left the academic stage after May ‘68? And how does it introduce a conception of matter that is not impoverished?

    As already stated, Braidotti’s new materialism, which she also terms a “bodily” or “carnal” materialism (2006, 182) begins with “the enfleshed Deleuzean subject,” which is “a folding-in of external influences and a simultaneous unfolding outwards of affects.” The exterior and the interior, the subject(ive) and the object(ive), the individual, the social, and the symbolic are conceptualized as co-constitutive instead of pre-determined levels or layers. The genealogy of this Deleuzean subject is created in Continental thought; it includes “Descartes’ nightmare, Spinoza’s hope, Nietzsche’s complaint, Freud’s obsession, Lacan’s favorite fantasy, Marx’s omission” (Braidotti 2000, 159). This cartography shows that new materialism has something to say about Reason/the modernist paradigm as well as the Crisis of Reason/the postmodernist paradigm. In other words, it is a qualified cartography, which opens up for a qualitative shifting of a dual opposition. This shifting is done by rethinking matter. Affirming a radical sense of materialism, or simply radical immanence, instead of starting from Reason (whether adjectified, thus postmodernized, or not), Braidotti does not define matter as solid and stable, as self-identical. A radically immanent conceptualization of matter necessarily affirms its ongoing “metamorphosis” (Braidotti 2002a), or in the words of DeLanda (1996, 2002), its ongoing “morphogenesis” as it shows an interest in intensive material processes and the actual forms they can produce.

    According to a philosophy of radical immanence informed by a Bergsonian concept of time (durée instead of linearity and progress), matter is not thought of as Matter, the photonegative of Reason or Logos or Mind or Representation, but rather by a focus on “duration [inserted] into matter” (Grosz 2005, 111). It is a focus, indeed, on metamorphosis or morphogenesis:

    What endures, what is fundamentally immersed in time is not what remains unchanging or the same over time, a Platonic essence, but what diverges and transforms itself with the passage of time (ibid., 110).

    This boils down to matter immanently escaping every possible representation in the modernist, scientistic meaning as well as in the postmodernist, social or semiotic constructivist sense of the term according to which representation is not the scientistic “mirror of nature” but rather the equally representationalist “mirror of culture” (Barad 2007). This is to say that whereas a modernist scientific materialism allows for one, True representation of matter, and a postmodernist cultural constructivism allows for a plethora of equally true representations, it is the shared representationalism that is questioned and shifted by new materialism. Matter is a transformative force in itself, which, in its ongoing change, will not allow any representation to take root. This is also how Miguel de Beistegui (2004, 110) reads Deleuze with Heidegger, elusively concluding that: “Behind or, better said perhaps, beneath every object, every representation, every physical of metaphysical ideality lies a phenomenon, which is the flesh and blood of the world, the life that continues to live in and through being as it is represented in itself. This is being as it is lived.” [12]

    In “What is the Matter of Feminist Criticism?” Mariam Fraser affirms Braidotti’s new materialism, by working on the academic whom Claire Colebrook (2004, 293) has called the epitome of contemporary (feminist) postmodern cultural theory: Judith Butler. Representationalism or linguisticality is key to the work of Butler. [13] Fraser (2002, 613) claims that in this work, language ends up addressing only the exterior. As a corollary, the interior appears as fundamentally ungraspable as any grasping is done through language. How do Barad and Vicki Kirby, whom Fraser positions alongside Braidotti for the generation of new materialism, qualitatively shift the relation between matter/materiality and language, between the exterior and the interior of the body? The key point is the abandonment of assumptions about linguisticality, and about who does the speaking/writing. For Barad (1998, 105 in ibid., 618; original emphasis), “what is being described by our theories is not nature itself, but our participation within nature.” She theorizes the intra-action of the observer, the observed, and observing instruments, all of which are “agential.” In line with this, Kirby starts from the literacy of matter, re-reading Derrida and Saussure in order to show that a close reading of their work also uncovers their emphasis on materiality-in-change. In the work of Kirby, matter appears as something that is not only spoken about or spoken with, but rather as itself simply speaking. Nature and culture, word and flesh are “all emergent within a force field of differentiations that has no exteriority in any final sense” (Kirby 1997, 126–7 in Fraser 2002, 619; original emphasis). Both cases of transversality, signified by the “within,” entail leaving behind the primacy of either language/culture or matter/nature. In other words, a false dualism comes to be traversed. New materialism, that is, cuts across postmodernist and modernist paradigms as it shows that both epistemologies start from a distinctive pole of what Colebrook (2004, 56) has called “the representation/ materiality dichotomy.” Questioning this dichotomy involved the following:

    When feminists criticized or rejected the notion of women as mired in material embodiment, they did so because matter was deemed to be devoid of dynamism. When, subsequently, that phobia regarding matter was questioned, it was precisely because the border between mind and matter was deemed to be the effect of a prior linguistic or social production. And when ‘linguisticism,’ in turn, was challenged, this was because language had been erroneously taken to be a fixed, determining, and inhuman grid imposed upon life, rather than a living force (Colebrook 2008, 64).

    Bodies are texts that unfold according to genetic encoding, Braidotti says, which implies traversing the material and the representational.

    Key to the new materialist paradigm, then, is an emphasis on the “material-discursive” or “material-semiotic” that we know from the paradigm-shifting work of Haraway (1988, 595; original emphasis):

    […] bodies as objects of knowledge are material-semiotic generative nodes. Their boundaries materialize in social interaction. Boundaries are drawn by mapping practices; ‘objects’ do not pre-exist as such. Objects are boundary projects. But boundaries shift from within; boundaries are very tricky. What boundaries provisionally contain remains generative, productive of meanings and bodies. Siting (sighting) boundaries is a risky practice.

    Such a claim is transversal when it comes to the broad (modernist and postmodernist) paradigms of cultural theory. The focus on the materialization of bodies and other so-called objects of investigation demonstrates how “duration” has in fact gotten “inserted into matter” (how DeLanda, for instance, got to focus on “matter-energy flows”), and how the “the representation/materiality dichotomy” has indeed been broken down (how Braidotti, for example, came to conceptualize the body as “a piece of meat activated by electric waves of desire, a text written by the unfolding of genetic encoding”) in new materialist cultural theory. Working with “material-semiotic agents,” as Haraway calls them, allows for a complexification of the way in which matter used to be defined. An object is no longer passive matter that has to be re-presented; meaning-making takes place on a two-way track. [14] Here it is also demonstrated how new materialism does not discard signification (cf. Ahmed 2008, 34) but rather directs it to its proper place and qualitatively shifts the linguistic turn accordingly (i.e. non-dualistically).

    In the passage cited above as well as in her later work, Haraway focuses upon the ways in which bodies and systems of scholarly signification/representation materialize alongside each other. Harawayian instantiations of new materialism affirm what Barad (2007) has called an onto-epistemology, or even an ethico-onto-epistemology, according to which being and knowing (and the good) become indistinguishable. Inspired by Haraway and Barad, we lastly wish to discuss the cartographical methodology that generates and is generated by the disciplinary and paradigmatic transversalities of new materialism.

    Cartography Rather Than Classification

    New materialism is a cultural theory for the twenty-first century that attempts to show how postmodern cultural theory, even while claiming otherwise, has made use of a conceptualization of “post-” that is dualistic. Postmodern cultural theory re-confirmed modern cultural theory, thus allowing transcendental and humanist traditions to haunt cultural theory after the Crisis of Reason. New materialist cultural theory shifts (post-) modern cultural theory, and provides an immanent answer to transcendental humanism. It is a cultural theory that is non-foundationalist yet non-relativist. In conformity with the interviewees in Part One of this book, we have shown that there is much to be gained from an argument such as the latter; after all, postmodernisms and modernisms are manifold, on the one hand, and epistemologically very similar on the other. It is for this reason that new materialism continues to rewrite the history of philosophy. As already stated, the minor tradition Deleuze proposed is now widely read and commented upon, but increasingly, great minds of the past are being given the attention that their work needs. For there is no need to limit this tradition to a series of personae or even to what the History of Philosophy has labeled a particular “type” of thinking. Scholars at work within modernism such as Bergson, Whitehead, William James and Edmund Husserl, all of whom had been pushed aside or reinterpreted by dualist thinking, are in need of serious materialist re-readings, which are in fact being carried out by an increasing number of scholars today. There is not even any reason to exclude Hegel from this list. For when he stated that “Action divides [spirit] into substance and consciousness of the substance” (Hegel [1807] 1977, paragraph 444), this not only comes very close to Spinoza’s solution to the mind-body problem with which this chapter began, it also allows us to rethink Marx’s (Hegel-inspired) materialism as a (non-dualist) neo-materialism. The richness of all these philosophies had by and large been suffering from dualism-dominated modernism and postmodernism. The way in which new materialism was generated in the previous paragraph alluded to the fact that duration not only came to be inserted into matter (ontology), but also and simultaneously into theory formation (epistemology). In other words, theory formation also entails the materialization of boundaries. Starting theory formation from movement alludes to cartography rather than classification, which is the third instantiation of transversality that we intend to highlight in this chapter.

    In the introduction we claimed that new materialism not only enacts a thinking about theory formation that is other than classificatory (new materialism sets in motion a non-dualistic epistemic practice), but also that it enables us to understand the way in which theory formation used to be thought (following a territorialization pattern). We claimed that classification exemplifies the territorial and is fully dualistic, and throughout this chapter we have made clear how seemingly opposite epistemic tendencies or classes are in fact non-exhaustive oppositions. New materialism criticizes not only the use of “a discipline” or “a paradigm” as pre-determined, but is also critical, along the lines of the dismantling of binary oppositions that it enacts of the pre-determination of classifications of theoretical trends. Classifying epistemic tendencies that are supposedly prevalent in cultural theory implies working along territorial lines, which is a transcendentalizing gesture along with invoking sequential negation and a narrative of progress (i.e., it is dualist). This does not allow for the (un)folding of cultural theory—the matter-energy flows of theory formation, the non-linear coding practices, the cutting across matter and signification—to be captured. New materialism de-territorializes the ways in which cultural theory has been classified, and this process we call cartographical. We referred above to Colebrook, who questioned a conceptualization of “language” as “a fixed, determining, and inhuman grid imposed upon life.” She defined new materialism as allowing us to see not only matter, but also language as a “living force.” Questioning fixity thus opens up the possibility of thinking about theory formation in a non-linear, cartographical way.

    Barad’s “Re(con)figuring Space, Time, and Matter” is useful for explaining the move away from the classificatory towards the cartographical. Earlier we mentioned Barad’s neologism “intra-action,” which allowed us to demonstrate that terms such as mind and matter, or sociology and new materialism, do not exist independently before they begin to inter-act. Barad (2001, 98) explains the machinery of intra-action as follows:

    […] structures are to be understood as material-discursive phenomena that are iteratively (re)produced through ongoing material-discursive intra-actions. This machine is not a Euclidean device, nor is it merely a static instrument with a non-Euclidean geometry. It is a topological animal which mutates through a dynamics of intra-activity. Questions of connectivity, boundary formation, and exclusion (topological concerns) must supplement and inform concerns about positionality and location (too often figured in geometrical terms).

    Affirming onto-epistemology, Barad talks about mapping practices that draw boundaries, and she claims that the same objects/boundaries materialize in non-exhaustively opposite mapping practices (Euclidean space versus stasis in non-Euclidean space). The mapping practice, generating intra-action and generated through it, shifts both options and works along the following lines:

    What we need are genealogies of the material-discursive apparatuses of production which take account of the intra-active topological dynamics that reconfigure the spacetime manifold. In particular, it is important that they include an analysis of the connectivity of phenomena at different scales. […] The topological dynamics of space, time, and matter are an agential matter and as such require an ethics of knowing and being: Intra-actions have the potential to do more than participate in the constitution of the geometries of power, they open up possibilities for changes in its topology, and as such interventions in the manifold possibilities made available reconfigure both that will be possible. The space of possibilities does not represent a fixed event horizon within which the social location of knowers can be mapped, nor a homogenous fixed uniform container of choices. Rather the dynamics of the spacetime manifold is produced by agential interventions made possible in its very re(con)figuration (ibid., 103–4).

    These genealogies, or “cartographies” in our vocabulary, are non-dualist approaches to theory formation that allow for absolute deterritorializing. Not primarily interested in representation, signification, and disciplinarity, new materialism is fascinated by affect, force, and movement as it travels in all directions. It searches not for the objectivity of things in themselves but for an objectivity of actualization and realization. It searches for how matter comes into agential realism, how matter is materialized in it. It is interested in speeds and slownesses, in how the event unfolds according to the in-between, according to intra-action. New materialism argues that we know nothing of the (social) body until we know what it can do. It agrees with studying the multiplicity of modes that travel natureculture as the perpetual flow it has always already been.

    In the next chapter we will take up the question of non-dualism, and we will discuss in a detailed manner how new materialism pushes dualism into non-dualism, thus allowing for a non-reductive take on matter and language.


    1. This mapping of new materialism overlaps considerably with the one produced by Myra J. Hird (2004, 2006), albeit that we (much like Barad in the interview earlier in this book) do not argue that new materialism has gotten off the ground in the natural sciences, and that there are varieties of feminist applications of new materialism. We will demonstrate in this book how new materialism traverses both the sciences and the humanities necessarily, and how it is immediately a feminism.return to text
    2. For this term see Barad 2007.return to text
    3. We take this formulation from Grosz 2005.return to text
    4. For an interesting take on Benjamin’s take on historical materialism, see Tiedemann 2005, 157–63.return to text
    5. See Dolphijn 2004, 24.return to text
    6. See van der Tuin 2009 for a conceptualization of “second-” and “third-wave feminist epistemologies.”return to text
    7. See van der Tuin 2008 and Davis 2009 for a critique of a biologically tainted argument about new materialism (namely Ahmed 2008). A comparison between Sara Ahmed’s work and Rahman and Witz will show that, whether sociologically or biologically biased, a disciplinary take on the new materialism is always already a reduction. New materialism proposes to study the biological and the sociological as intra-acting, thus as relating, rather than as two independent relata that might interact.return to text
    8. Despite the most original and radical thoughts by which DeLanda has inspired so many scholars and scientists all over the world, a returning critique on his work has to be that the scholarly areas of his interest never even seem to connect to one another. Whether it concerns his revolutionary take on geology, biology, sociology, architecture, mathematics or historiography (which only seem to be some of the fields of which he has proven himself to be an expert), the disciplinary boundaries, contrary to the way Deleuze and a lot of other scholars working with Deleuze today deal with this, stay firmly in tact.return to text
    9. It is necessary, for an affirmative reading of Heidegger, that we do not consider his conceptualization of “being” as opposed to a (for instance Whiteheadian) becoming, as Shaviro (2009, ix) proposes. This is very possible if we commit ourselves to a different reading of the former’s texts. For when, in conceptualizing “being,” Heidegger ([1980] 1994, 66) states: “Hegel brings the absolute restlessness of absolvence into this quiet ‘is’ of the general proposition,” he affirms that “being” equals this “true immediacy” which allows us to understand being as equal to metamorphosis or morphogenetic change. Beistegui’s “phenomenon” provides further proof for new materialism’s (as yet underresearched) relation with (new) phenomenology.return to text
    10. Although it is undeniable that Butler features as the epitome of linguisticism in new materialist theory formation, new materialist theorists also try to read her affirmatively. Kirby’s Judith Butler: Live Theory from 2006 is an excellent example hereof, since one reads the attempt to push Butler beyond linguisticism, and thereby towards new materialism, between the lines on every page. Kirby (2006, 162, n. 2; original emphasis) states that “[…] contributions to the question of matter are compatible with Butler’s political project, even through they radically extend its terms.” Butler herself often feeds the dualism between new feminist materialism and linguisticist feminist theory. In her recent work Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? for instance, Butler (2009, 30) distances herself explicitly from Spinozist currents that are so influential, above all, in contemporary Australian feminist (materialist) theory (cf. Kirby 2006, 150 ff). Also when she (Butler) claims that the body reveals itself to us in and according to language (she uses the term “the interstices of language” ([1987] 1999, 193) it makes it easy to conclude that indeed this is a linguisticism at work.return to text
    11. Instantiations are to be found in the work of among others Gallagher (2005) and Massumi (2002).return to text