Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities Blog

Titelbild TransHumanities 2020

Abstract Elaine Gan

Mapping multispecies temporalities. Diagrammatic Visualizations of Differential Entanglements

Neoliberal scarcity and genetic obsolescence incite displacement, deadlock, and rupture: one out of every six humans is starved, while seven out of ten have migrated to a city disconnected from direct means of subsistence. Agribusiness breeds new transgenic species while committing others to extinction. Practices of shifting cultivation that sustained centuries-old mountain provinces are criminalized, even as industrialized food production becomes the largest source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Seedbanks freeze seeds ex situ as cost-effective archives for future synthetics, severed from ecosystems cultivating them over generations. There is much at stake in building different apparatuses: speculative cartographies and diagrammatic visualizations that composite alternate figurations and map asynchronies and dislocations as “sites of becoming and opportunities for belonging” (J.K. Gibson-Graham). My research seeks to define an interdisciplinary methodology for rendering worlds otherwise by mapping temporalities, or webs of differential times that emerge from and constitute multispecies entanglements. I draw from feminist and historical materialisms to articulate temporal patternings and coordinations among qualitative becomings, incommensurabilities and indeterminacies that enact dynamic agroecologies. Learning from Karen Barad, “temporality is produced through the iterative enfolding of phenomena marking the sedimenting historiality of differential patterns of mattering.” A significant challenge in considering temporality is not just asking how formations change, but which forces, topologies, and trajectories become meaningful and material through shifting assemblages. What comes to matter is a matter of time. Unilinear anthropogenic time is a historical construction that undergirds modernist subjectivities. Representations of species origins, variabilities, extinctions (e.g., parallel timelines, energy cycles, network patterns, genealogies, arborescent or rhizomatic animations) largely depend on a chronological sequence of standardized, homogeneous units of human-calculable time. Polyrhythms are quantified into time series, or measured scales of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries. Modernity configures a temporality abstracted from lived experiences and clocked as a spatial coordinate. Difference is obscured and becomes difficult to mobilize. But, if we are to forego these clocks, then how might we study alternative ontoepistemologies for becoming multispecies, what Donna Haraway describes as “wholes that are non-Euclidean knots of partial connections.” I focus on varieties of rice, highly adaptable species of grass, to unpack time as durational synchronies, sedimenting emergences, contingent intensities, and simmering virtualities. Rice agroecologies are multivectorial and polytemporal manifolds of transformation and exchange. Taste, aroma, color, size, and consistency index more-than-human semiotic technologies. At different stages and forms (variously seed, plant, food, biocultural memory, commodity, genetic code), rice activates and inhabits niches of temporal patternings. Growth, reproduction, mobility are enacted through durational, iterative, and aleatory encounters with wind, light, heat, water, soil, plants, animals, insects, microbes, and from roughly 9,000 years ago, humans. These are not random, isolated events or autopoietic movements, but are coconstitutive, contingent, and recursive: temporal mosaics all the way down. Studying rice both enables and pushes for new theoretical/creative tools. As a media artist, my research also consists of two ongoing web-based experiments (html5) in diagrammatic representation. One visualizes temporalities of commercial and indigenous varieties of rice as four nested and entangled interactions between: matter (soil, air, water, rice), memory, material relations, and technology over the last 2000 years. The second is a fungal clock, in collaboration with Anna Tsing, that visualizes multispecies coordinations in a satoyama landscape as three interweaving temporal folds: phenologies, sedimenting emergences, and ruptures. Thus, my project is a search for critical methods of mapping temporalities. It is a proposal and a call for new clocks.

Universität Bern | Phil.-hist. Fakultät | Walter Benjamin Kolleg | Graduate School of the Humanities | Muesmattstrasse 45 | CH-3012 Bern | Tel. +41 (0)31 631 54 74
© Universität Bern 14.04.2016 | Home