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  • Introduction to New Materialist GenealogiesNew Materialisms, Novel Mentalities, Quantum Literacy
  • Vera Bühlmann (bio), Felicity Colman (bio), and Iris van der Tuin (bio)

Like the new materialist turn, feminist new materialist scholarship (Haraway 1988; Barad 2007) draws attention to a novel understanding of literacy that incorporates code and is not limited to linguistic registers of grammar, syntax, and semantics (Haraway 1997). At stake is the conception of literacy, whose articulations are capable of organizing the generative potential/contingency of the expressions and forms of conceptions as real things.

From the materialist investigations that coalesced through and in the merger of the sciences with humanities research (notably in Bergson 2004; Haraway 1988, 1991, 1997; Barad 2007; Lévy-Leblond 1976, 1999; Plotnitsky 2006, 2009), new materialist investigations join as part of a paradigmatic shift that we witnessed occurring across the pedagogic landscape of the early twenty-first century in environmental humanities, science, and technology studies as well as across the humanities and in the sciences (see Dolphijn and van der Tuin 2012). In the humanities, some of these shifts are articulated under the concepts explored in postcapitalist, posthumanist, and postcolonial positions. In the sciences, these new fields that opened in the twentieth century manifest, transversally rather than disciplinarily, the roles that informatics, systems theory, and cybernetics have de facto come to play in all fields (Wiener 1948; Bateson 1972; Whitehead 2011; Margulis and Sagan 2008; Hayles 2012). These investigations all result in a change in the narratives concerning knowledge forms, their production, and their meaning (Floridi 2015; Lyotard [1979] 1984; Serres 1969–80; Terranova 2004).

Through our study of new materialist research,1 what we have come to discern is that this new materialist literacy has in part come about as part of a consideration of the methods that feature in the twentieth century in “quantum-thinking.” The epistemological as well as the ontological status of these methods in their practice — that is, in their current actualization — have largely unsettled the pedagogical landscape as a whole, and they are profoundly disturbing from the point of view of both objectivist and subjectivist philosophy. In effect, there are numerous attempts at disentangling — often in orthodox [End Page 47] fashion — the disturbing co-incidence of information and energy, of code and matter, that we witness in electro-technics and informatics. The novel manners of measuring chance are physical measures of a substantial kind of contingency that are physical in the sense that they afford, within certain bounds, of course, large degrees of controllability and reproducibility of effects in a systematic manner. Electro-engineering is capable of controlling something like an energetic weather, and this to amazing degrees of precision! Electromagnetic waves are singled out within fields from which they can never entirely be decoupled, and yet waves are organized into phases, the frequency patterns of phases are coded, and these markers are being used to host indefinite amounts of electro-technical channels (Bühlmann 2014) — channels with or without need for cables. As far as electronic channels are concerned, there is no difference in principle whether the medium is air, water, or a particularly polarized field (cable between a source end and a consumer end) through which encrypted units-that-make-sense (signals) establish a conditioned kind of a milieu for nonlinear discrete quantum-swappings of electric charges. It is inadequate to speak of exchange here, as there is no reference state that is well balanced and that could be approximated — at least ideally. And by the same token, it is no longer a metaphoric manner of speaking when we say that messages are being received from my hair dryer when it realizes that the temperature is not warm enough after I press a certain button; nor is it a more literal sense when I speak of communication when picking up the phone in order to call my friends or make a dinner reservation per short message services or when the thermostat in our laboratory/office/house records an average temperature or degree of humidity in a room that diverges from the optimal value to which has been instructed to be sensitive, and when that thermostat then receives from this recording a signal...


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