Ghosts, in/determinacy, virtual particles, and the void

“If it – learning to live – remains to be done, it can happen only between life and death. Neither in life nor in death alone. What happens between the two, and between all the ‘two’s’ one likes, such as between life and death, can only maintain itself with some ghosts...” (Derrida 1994, xviii)

Following Derrida’s thought, death no longer counterpoints life, but life counterpoints itself with its ghostly relations. He puts into question the very idea of the ‘self’. What remains between life and death is not a dichotomous pathway, but its ghostly relations between its im/possibilities, in other words, it is the superposed entanglements of all possibilities and all impossibilities.

To unfold the concept of im/possibilities, Karen Barad would argue that there is no fixed essence for the measuring of matter once the conditions of its ‘possibilities’ are at the same time the conditions for its impossibilities. Rather than ‘being’, mattering is about ‘becoming’ determined by matter and meaning.[i] Barad reminds us of Schrödinger's cat. A thought experiment in which a hypothetical cat is locked in a “Rube Goldberg-style machine, coupling a radioactive atom to a Geiger counter to a hammer to a bottle of poison to the fate of the cat.”[ii] Its state may be considered simultaneously alive and dead until observed. Barad describes the set of possibilities as following:

“… it is not the case that the cat is either alive or dead and that we simply do not know which; nor that the cat is both alive and dead simultaneously (this possibility is logically excluded since ‘alive’ and ‘dead’ are understood to be mutually exclusive states); nor that the cat is partly alive and partly dead (presumably ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ are understood to be all or nothing states of affair); nor that the cat is in a definitive state of being not alive and not dead (in which case it presumably wouldn’t qualify as a (once) living being).”[iii]

What Barad summarizes above is a state of in/determinacy. In opposition to ‘unknowingness’, she describes in/determinacy as a “dynamism that entails its own undoing from within.”[iv] In/determinacy is a state that does not travel in a metaphysics of presence, threatening the idea of continuity, in her words, it is a state of ‘virtuality’, or, as the state of the cat, a ‘ghostly non/existence’[v]. For her, this state troubles the opposition between living and dying, without ignoring their material differences, but acknowledging all possibilities of coexistence.[vi]

According to Karen Barad, “matter is always caught up with the in/determinate dynamism of the nothingness.”[vii] It is exactly within this dynamism that matter exists in relation to its virtuality, in an ongoing experiment with all possible and impossible intra-actions with its ‘virtual particles’, which in her words is “the quanta of the in/determinate play of nothingness.”[viii]

Intra-action[ix], as Barad points, consists in an “infinite set of possibilities, or infinite sum of histories, entails a particle touching itself, and then that touch touching itself, and transforming, and touching other particles that make up the vacuum, and so on, ad infinitum.”[x] It is precisely in the moment of ‘returning’, a touch of the self and the touch of others, that troubles the ruling conceptions of space, time, matter, causality, and nothingness.[xi] That is to say that an infinite number of possibilities exist, and in the moment of self-intra-actions represents the encounter with the infinite alterity of the self.

Therefore, Barad calls into question not only the very nature of the self, but also space and time, once neither of them could be homogeneous, nor unilinear, hence, never empty.[xii] She suggests that the responsibility to unfix the line between ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘past’ ‘present’ and ‘future’, ‘here’ and ‘now’, ‘cause’ and ‘effect’, is taken by not seen them as the intertwining of separate entities but rather to put them in relation to each other,[xiii] in her words:

“…the constitution of an ‘Other’, entails an indebtedness to the ‘Other’, who is irreducibly and materially bound to, threaded through, the ‘self’ – a diffraction/dispersion of identity. ‘Otherness’ is an entangled relation of difference (différance). Ethicality entails noncoincidence with oneself.”[xiv]

These ethics of relations entails possibilities for reworking effects of the past and the future. Nevertheless, Reconfiguring the past doesn’t mean it can be changed or repaired - it is not the reconstruction of narratives. Once we don’t take the past as given, we recreate possibilities towards the responsibility to build a better future. Rather than seeing the interconnectedness of all beings as one, Barad suggests a specific relation of the ongoing differentiating of the world, a relation of obligation enfolded traces of othering.

In Barad’s view, there is a colonized aspect in which the constructed idea of continuity splits nature and culture, giving Humankind the knowledge and control over everything else.[xv] She proposes a shift through looking at a ghostly sense of ‘dis/continuity’ - a ‘dis/jointedness of time and space’, ‘entanglements of here and there, now and then’.[xvi]

It is in the superposition of matter and its virtuality that Mark Fisher comes closer to Barad’s theories, radically undoing classical notions of identity.[xvii]  He defends the ‘agency of the virtual’, as an act without physically existing, thus, he sees a need for a radical abolition of identity itself.[xviii] Fisher draws on Derrida’s concept of hauntology, opening up its understanding into two different directions. The first refers to what is ‘no longer’ happening, but remains effective as virtuality, whereas the second refers to that which has ‘not yet’ happened, nevertheless it is already effective in the virtual. Virtuality then comes to threaten the present state of things.[xix]

Once the present state of things is threatened, what is at stake is not the sense that something is no longer belonging to the world as we know, but that it is not yet visible on the futures we are trained to expect, therefore, it needs to be sacrificed.[xx] As a revolutionary process of the abolition of identity, sacrificing the self doesn’t mean that the self should no longer exist, but rather that is not yet present in the constructions within concepts we know.[xxi] Sarcastically enough, Fisher points to the joyful aspects of rupturing existing identities as anchors to meanings, once the prevalent perspective of futures is drawn on (not a surprise) white, male, and/or heterosexual lenses.[xxii]

 

 

[i] (Barad, Quantum entanglements and hauntological relations of inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime enfoldings, and justice-to-come, 2010, p. 254)

 

[ii] (Ibid., p. 251)

 

[iii] (Ibid., p. 251)

 

[iv] (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 62)

 

[v] (Ibid., p. 78)

 

[vi] (Ibid., p. 78)

 

[vii] (Barad, After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice, 2020, p. 91)

 

[viii] (Ibid., p. 91)

 

[ix] Karen Barad recognizes that distinct entities, agencies, events emerge from/through their intra-action. They are only distinct in a relational sense to their mutual entanglement. For Barad, intra-action reworks the traditional notion of causality. (Barad, Quantum entanglements and hauntological relations of inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime enfoldings, and justice-to-come, 2010, p. 267)

 

[x] (Barad, After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice, 2020, p. 93) also in (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 82)

 

[xi] (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 81)

 

[xii] (Barad, After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice, 2020, p. 94) also in (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 82)

 

[xiii] (Barad, Quantum entanglements and hauntological relations of inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime enfoldings, and justice-to-come, 2010, pp. 264-6)

 

[xiv] (Ibid., p. 265)

 

[xv] (Ibid., p. 249)

 

[xvi] (Ibid., p. 240)

 

[xvii] (Ibid., p. 251)

 

[xviii] (Fisher, 2014, p. 18)

 

[xix] (Ibid., p. 18)

 

[xx] (Ibid., p. 21)

 

[xxi] (Ibid., p. 21)

[xxii] (Ibid., p. 21)

 

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