Even if one of the recurring points of reference in this exposition is Barad's agential realism, that is, an ontological view that underlines the inseparability of material and conceptual ramifications of world's becoming, its presentation mode is more fundamentally informed by the "epistemocritical" starting point of Walter Benjamin’s seminal treatise The Origin of German Mourning Play.* With regard to this backdrop, I now summarise the key issues of the exposition present in the very distribution of its elements by constructing an emblem of the whole exposition, a kind of allegory. But can an allegory state its own status as an allegory? How, exactly, does the mode of saying turn into an allegorical one? Did this turn already take place? Here?
Benjamin famously identified "expression of convention" as the key operation of Baroque allegory.* The vast majority of both artistic and academic works are constructed in such a way as to invite the receiver to take a frontal position from which the work offers itself for various forms of cognitive encounter. Allegorical constructions, in turn, challenge this accustomed positioning – Gegenüberstellung I would say in German – by showing that it is actually just a contingent construction. They introduce new agential cuts. They openly show their own constructedness.
Benjamin emphasizes the importance of presentation in philosophical work.* “The art of setting apart as opposed to the chain of deduction; persistence of the treatment as opposed to the gesture of the fragment; the repetition of motives as opposed to shallow universalism: the fullness of concentrated positivity as opposed to polemical negation” are the objectives of his treatise.* What is at stake in his emphasis on presentation, is the question of the intertwining of the “what” and “how”. Benjamin’s imperative is to work with the tension between “what” and “how”. This is much more than simply the question of style; it is a question of method, or more precisely: style as a method. For a researcher, the method is the road to knowledge. For a philosopher, who takes up the “heightened position between researcher and artist”, this road or detour is, in turn, Benjamin underlines, the very presentation of truth.*
This artistic research exposition, however, does obviously not commit itself to philosophy. Why all this fuss about philosophy then? If style is the “jump-rope” (Sprungseil) that thought must learn how to hold in order to “push forward into the realm of writing”, as Benjamin suggests,* then artistic research as a form of writing is facing a similar demand as philosophy. In both cases thought must pull all its forces together, without rigidifying into regularity, though. Style responds to this concentration of thought, offers hold, and yet at the same time stays loose in its recurrence like the skipping rope in the hands of the children swinging it, “always leaving room for the Sprung: the leap, to be sure, but also the crack,” as Samuel Weber puts it.* In its attempts at “pushing forward,” thought comes to its limits. The unity of the “what” and the “how” can be approximated but these moments of presentation never coincide. This tension is the demand of style, both in a philosophical treatise and in an artistic research exposition.
Benjamin’s method consists of a calculated way of setting apart and putting together, in a word: weighed reconfiguration. Instead of the classical aim of conceptualization, that is, “making a point”, bringing something to the point by subsuming phenomena under universals, Benjamin commits himself to the method of staging. For him, concepts have a mediating role between the phenomena and the ideas. Their task is to set the phenomena apart and bring forth their "thing-like elements". This implies that conceptual language doesn't act on the phenomena from above. It operates in the midst of things and on the same level with them. It participates in the world of things. With Barad we could, therefore, say that the Benjaminian conceptual operation of "setting apart" is an intra-action.*
For Benjamin, concepts are not something that gathers similar phenomena together and formulate their essence. To conceptualize phenomena is not to formulate what is typical of them. Quite the contrary, by highlighting the "thing-like elements" in phenomena, concepts mark the extremes instead, and through this operation, they prepare the ground for ideas, that is, for the "objective virtual arrangement of the phenomena". With Barad, we might say: concepts introduce agential cuts. Ideas, in Benjamin's vocabulary, are constellations which are made visible through the presentation, through recombination of thing-like elements and the highlighting work carried out by the concepts.*
In Benjamin’s view, this highlighting recombination work is the aim of a true philosophical treatise. He reminds us that its traditional name "tractatus" literally refers to tracing and drawing. In the same pages, Benjamin also characterizes a philosophical treatise as a mosaic. In both cases (the tractate as a tracing constellation and as a mosaic) the whole is dependent on the delicacy of the small details. The details in question are, however, not to be found at the level of
individual claims (“the gesture of the fragment”). Furthermore, characteristic of the arrangement of the all-over presentation is, according to Benjamin, repetitive "retracing". What emerges is a pattern. A diffractive one?
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We have now reached the climax of the temptation of producing a semblance of coincidence of the "how" and "what" in this exposition. This is the place where a poignant conclusion, an academic happy end, is expected. At least something that would explain some of the peculiar traits and loose ends of the exposition. But I am not prepared to turn this exploration of afterlives into a tightrope walk. Instead, I invite you to retrace the leaps, cracks and cuts as well as the discursive shortcuts that were needed to take us here.