- Performing Metaphors
In an interview, Donna Haraway says: "I find words and language more closely related to flesh than to ideas…Since I experience language as an intensely physical process, I cannot not think through metaphor…I experience myself inside these constantly swerving, intensely physical processes of semiosis."2 For Haraway, the linguistic body is as physical as any material body. Metaphors, these "intensely physical processes of semiosis," are constant reminders of the relation between the linguistic and the material. They can make us aware of it and even enable us to become politically involved with what matters.
Placing language and materiality together should be considered a prerequisite for any matterphorical attempt. Think of what Gilles Deleuze, quoting the Stoic Chrysippus, writes: "If you say something, it passes through your lips: so, if you say 'chariot', a chariot passes through your lips."3 This matterphorical passage is the focus of my text here. I employ metaphors as a sliding movement between language and materiality, from lips to chariot and back as it were. The term "sliding" comes again from Deleuze: "by sliding, one passes to the other side, since the other side is nothing but the opposite direction [sens in French]".4 Both language and materiality produce meaning, sense, direction, although they do it in different, sometimes even opposing but always complementary ways. Let's think of this not as a binary but as a fold.5 And let's imagine metaphors as the sliding movement that passes from one to the other, a sort of gliding that spans the sides of the fold, transferring meaning (in an etymologically faithful understanding of the Greek term μεταφορά, metaphorà, meaning "transfer") and in the process constructing new meaning.
Sliding is living inside the fold, swerving one's way through the physical processes of semiosis: "Understanding the world is about living inside stories. There's no place to be in the world outside of stories. And these stories are literalized in these objects. Or better, objects are frozen stories. Our own bodies are a metaphor in the most literal sense. This is the oxymoronic quality of physicality that is the result of the permanent coexistence of stories embedded in physical semiotic fleshy bloody existence. None of this is an abstraction."6 The [End Page 268] context of this sliding is, following Haraway, stories through which my body became a different body. In this text, I share three autoethnographic sketches of my performance practice, part of my recent explorations in material ways of thinking about law, justice, complicity, and responsibility.7 Karen Barad's urge towards materiality is something I have always taken to heart: "A performative understanding of discursive practices challenges the representationalist belief in the power of words to represent pre-existing things. Performativity, properly construed, is not an invitation to turn everything (including material bodies) into words; on the contrary, performativity is precisely a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real."8 I am, of course, conscious of the fact that a performance is not necessarily an act of performativity.9 But I hope it will become obvious that I consistently try to perform language in a material way. So, at some point during all this, I have realised that I am not actually interested in abandoning linguistic practices (even if that were possible), but rather living through their fold with material ones. And metaphors are the perfect instrument with which to do this.
Three performances, three folded theoretical contexts, three slidings, three matterphors. Strictly speaking, I do not offer an interpretation of the performances. My aim is to place them in a theoretical context that facilitates an understanding of matterphors, but also push them into unpredictable directions that I, as both performer and observer, cannot possibly follow—but the reader indeed might. The performance stories carry the greatest weight here, and the theory is just the context. But the whole text is I hope, an exercise in matterphorical thinking and doing. So, I start by thinking of concepts as objects, and show how all metaphors operate within a specific metaphorical edifice that constrains meaning. This is illustrated with...