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  • Objects, Objects, Objects (and Some Objections)
  • Michael O’Rourke (bio)

Diffractive Reading (or Why This Will Not Be a Critique)

The theoretico-pedagogical aims of Robyn Wiegman’s Object Lessons (2012) could not be clearer from the very beginning. At the end of an introductory chapter, tellingly entitled “How to Read This Book,” Wiegman informs us that her book “is not, then, a critique. It is not even a critique of critique” (35). This dossier piece of mine is not a critique either—of Wiegman’s work, of the book—for reasons I will, hopefully, go on to make clear (they have ethicotheoretico-pedagogical stakes of their own). However, I want to tarry a little at the outset with why my essay is “a critique of critique.”

In a much cited article from 2004, the French sociologist Bruno Latour asserted that critique had “run out of steam” (225), and, for my part, I no longer accept invitations to critique the work of others. This is because critique no longer interests me, and, as Karen Barad explains, “critique is over-rated, overemphasized, and over-utilized, to the detriment of feminism” (Barad, qtd. in Dolphijn and van der Tuin 2012, 49). Critique is just another way we teach our students or our readers to trash the work of another author, to pick holes in their oeuvre, their arguments, and their concepts. It has very little to do with close reading or “serious engagement,” since very often critique is just too easy or plain lazy.1 Barad points out the negative critical valences of critique and warns that it is “all too often not a deconstructive practice, that is, a practice of reading for the constitutive exclusions of those ideas we cannot do without, but a destructive practice meant to dismiss, to turn aside, to put someone or something down—another scholar, another feminist, a discipline, an approach, et cetera” (ibid.). [End Page 190]

In place of this all too automatic form of dismissal, Barad suggests we employ diffractive practices of reading, modes of attention which are not motivated by the hermeneutics of suspicion, but are rather “suggestive, creative, and visionary” (50). This piece answers Barad’s urgent call for diffractive, intra-active reading which would oppose itself to the pernicious (and nonreparative) operations of critique, and it does so for ethical, as well as pedagogical, reasons. What I wish the reader to take away from this article is an attentiveness to Object Lessons, and a different patterning of engagement to the claims and arguments the book makes. Diffractive reading is not close reading (at least not in the traditional sense), but neither is it simple dismissal; rather, my diffractive reading practice (elsewhere I call it just reading), which is reparative in the last instance, proceeds through scenes of engagement and intra-active readings of texts, figures, and archives. It might not always be clear why I have chosen the scenes I have (however, I do hope that it is) because, as Barad (2010) explains, in this way of reading

[s]cenes are neither discontinuous nor continuous with one another (or themselves). (They are not wholly separate, nor parts of a whole.) There is no smooth temporal (or spatial) topology connecting beginning and end. Each scene diffracts various temporalities, iteratively differentiating and entangling, within and across, the field of spacetimemattering. Scenes never rest but are reconfigured within and are dispersed across and threaded through one another. … The reader should feel free to jump from any scene to another (is there any other way to proceed?) and still have a sense of connectivity through the traces of variously entangled threads and of the (re)workings of mutual constitution and unending iterative reconfiguring (of sections, reader, writer, ideas).


Each scene below discusses, as Object Lessons itself does, a particular object relation or set of intra-actions and entanglements. My first object is Wiegman herself.

Objects of Affection

So, with all that necessarily laid out, let me reiterate: I cannot critique Robyn Wiegman because for as long as I can remember she has been an object of theoretical affection for me. I can call to mind exactly the primal scene of reading her...


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pp. 190-201
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