Metaphysical terms like science, matter, nature, and reality have always been in limbo in critical theory; scholars have deconstructed and problematized and critiqued them, yet they still will not go away. Debates over science’s relationship to discourse and knowledge particularly revolve around the extent to which science’s objects are “real” or, put more formally, to what extent objects of human inquiry exist outside their investigation. This essay critiques two important interlocutors in the debate—Butler and Latour—to argue that this is the wrong question to ask. Resisting the temptation to make the poststructuralist move of positing culture as the origin of nature, which would grant culture the primary status that nature has historically held, Kirby bypasses arguments over whether matter is out in the world or a product of language by expanding what counts as language. Rather than claim that nature in its prerepresentational form is impossible to experience, she argues that nature itself consists of representations, and not just human-made ones. This essay, and, in its own way, each essay in the special issue it responds to, shows how the binaries operating in science were never really binaries. Nature and culture, body and mind, and subject and object are not opposing terms that need to be brought together but always already related terms whose relatedness must be—and, throughout the issue of differences in which it appears, will be—unveiled.
Vicki Kirby; Initial Conditions. differences 1 December 2012; 23 (3): 197–205. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-1892934
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