Stalking Unformed Objects
Michelle Murphy's article on the unformed object brings together many of the things that seem to trouble futurists. Or rather, things that trouble people who read futurists. For example, I was recently editing Jack Huber's book, The Future of the Mind, where he speculates that our increasing interaction with the 'cyberous' will lead to an ever more absentee, unknowable and transcendent mind. I pressed Jack to talk less about the history of how the human mind became what it is today and more about what it might become. But, aside from this being a fairly absurd request, his use of the terms absentee, unknowable and transcendent should have told me that I was asking for the impossible.
Anyway, here are some extracts from Michelle's article where, after explaining how technoscience studies used to tell stories about events that aimed to "fix facts" and bring "new entities into the world (from microbes to atoms to DNA) as new self evidencies", she goes on to say...
"Perhaps not so strangely, today this is rarely the story anthropologists, historians, and sociologists tell. Instead, scholarship is more likely to describe a version of the unformed object, of becomings that are never fully finished, of conflicted materializations always in a state of uneasy entanglement, or queer objects that defy attempts to pin them down. ...the stories of unformed objects tend to be heterogeneous, open-ended, and a challenge to convey in linear writing. Perhaps we need a field guide to these stories; but not one organized around a drab Linnaean taxonomy or phylogenetic tree. These creatures of wonder, these monsters, these curious surprises, need something more like a bestiary—an always-unfinished compendium of magnificent and perhaps fanciful creatures..."
And here are some early entries from her bestiary:
IT'S ALL BECOMING: ...the object as always already unformed. ... a vision of worlds in a continuous ontological condition of becoming. When subscribing to a relational ontology (whether assembled through non-representational theory, new materialisms, or feminist and queer theories of relationality, take your pick) all things are conjured as always unformed.
(This seems to relate to Deleuze and Guattari's 'Becoming Whale'.)
ANTICIPATORY OBJECTS: Entities that are in a state of waiting, objects shaped by the not yet of the future, and therefore require pre-emption, preparedness, speculation or forecasting are examples of anticipatory phenomena.
UNDECIDABLE ENTITIES: Whether a particle in physics, or a micro-organism in the ocean, the undecidable entity refuses to respond predictably. When scientists investigate one set of relations that make an entity, other relations slip away, divert, or surprise.
IMPERCEPTABILITIES AND INSENSIBILITIES: Domains or relations that are pushed into imperceptions by virtue of the particular limits of given regime of making sensing the world. For example, a dose response curve can only chart reactions to a chemical that are regular and specific to that chemical, and render as imperceptible reactions that are idiosyncratic.
ILLNESSES YOU HAVE TO FIGHT TO HAVE: Embodied states that technoscience does not register as a coherent disease entity can become partially materialized through struggle even as they are viewed as improperly organized by biomedicine.
AFFECTIVE ENTANGLEMENTS: Entities that cannot be fully captured in representations and are rendered through non-representational engagements of embodiment and feeling by scientists.
CLOUDS: Loose and dynamic assemblies of relations that make up the atmosphere that evokes an entity.
SLOW VIOLENCE: Large-scale forms of incremental chronic becoming of uneven worlds caused by global capitalism, a chronic alteration that stretches over intergenerational spans of time.
All these versions of unformed objects were brought into being by scholars who situated their writing in the ontological politics of technoscience. In many ways, they are the inventions, the epistemic things, that technoscience studies has created. "
See Michelle Murphy's excellent article (below) for much more on all these beasts, with examples.
Credits and references:
Jack Huber - The Future of the Mind
International Futures Forum