Diffractive Technospaces: A Feminist Approach to the Mediations of Space and Representation
by Federica Timeto
Routledge Press, NY, NY, 2015
218 pp. Trade, $109.95
Reviewed by Edith Doove
Transtechnology Research, University of Plymouth
At the end of his essay 'Frameworks of Comparison', recently published as an extract of his upcoming memoir Life beyond Boundaries, finished just before his death on 13 December 2015, the scholar of nationalism Benedict Anderson states, "The point being that good comparisons often come from the experience of strangeness and absences." One of the earlier points being "(…) that within the limits of plausible argument, the most instructive comparisons (whether of difference or similarity) are those that surprise." (Anderson, 2016). His account of his development of comparative studies through nationalism chimes well with the argument that Federica Timeto makes in her Diffractive Technospaces especially in its equal stressing of the importance of being open to strangeness, crossing boundaries and dealing with location. Timeto links this openness explicitly to feminism to discuss mediations of space and representation, as these issues have always been its main concerns.
Diffractive Technospaces is both a complex and a straightforward book. It is complex in its use of a dense, intricate language and terminology that often seemingly contradict the flow it advocates. It certainly calls for re-reading and re-visiting which per se is actually demonstrative of the richness of its material and which a relatively concise review as this one can simply not do justice to. The book is however equally very straightforward in its underlying message about how it is precisely this flow that connects our being in space and time and permeates through it. Using Donna Haraway's concept of diffraction and Karen Barad's interpretation and application of it extensively at the heart of her argument, Timeto's first concern is to move away from any restricting binary visions. She does so in four densely packed chapters discussing respectively space and representation; reconceiving representation; location, mobility, perspectives; and finally diffracting technoscience. An extensive and insightful introduction and a conclusion that is tellingly called 'Opening Conclusions: Performing Represent-Actions', wrap up this rich and intriguing project. The book equally benefits from an elaborate bibliography and index.
The main point of Timeto's book that is repeated in various ways and illustrated through extensive case studies from the arts and sciences is that there is no longer a valid argument for an understanding of our being in the world as standing outside of it. Space and place pervade through us; we are an integral part of it, and new technologies such as VR and certainly AR are clear demonstrations (or illustrations) of this understanding. As stated Haraway's concept of diffraction and Barad's later application of it permeate throughout the book also thanks to Timeto's helpful repetitive explanation and application in various circumstances. Diffraction is in the first place an optical phenomenon that "(l)iterally (…) describes the interference of waves when they encounter an obstacle, such as when light passes through a slit" (Timeto, 2015, 2). It is thus used by Haraway "(…) to show the entangled performativity of reality and representation and the generative power of visual practices (…)" (Timeto, 2015, 12). Barad has extended this understanding to how we are implemented in every measurement or observation, "(…) we do not have an outside from which to measure, so that observed differences are not so much inherent in the physical states of the observed objects but only a further extension of the entanglement, one that includes the measuring action inside the measured entanglements" (Timeto, 2015, 12). The diffractive methodology thus becomes as Timeto states also a different theory of mediations, which follows the co-implications of the observer and the observed and their intra-active relations (Timeto, 2015, 159).
By moving away from a binary vision of the world, from us looking at it, observing and trying to get to grips with it from a distance to being logically fully integrated and immersed in it, Timeto automatically comes to the idea of performing space or as she calls it 'performing represent-actions' that these days lie at the heart of our use of implementation in technospaces. An extensive quote from the 'conclusion' seems fitting to demonstrate Timeto's point:
"Indeed, when figurations of space are not delinked from the processes of spatialisation, as when information is not separated from 'mattering' matter, representations can be grounded in the lived spatio-temporal realities with which they engage and whose boundaries they also perform in mutable configurations. This brings to the fore the generative forces that realign the practice of representing spaces and the practice of situating representations inside a topology of variations, in which continuous represent-actions take place.(…)
A simultaneously displacing and diffracting move is required, so that the space of one's own situatedness and the representation of one's own space leaves room for the other that is already within, but is impossible to perceive or figure from the Subject position. The openness to alterity and heterogeneity that the proposed performative relation of space and representation positively confounds also allows for the adoption of a recombinant perspective in which the mediations inside and among human and non-human beings in technospaces leave room for the creative potential of un-predetermined joints, functions and actions." (Timeto, 2015, 160-161).
As Timeto further states "connectivity is an abused word when talking about technospaces" but "in a context of shared agency and diffused relationality between heterogeneous beings, connectivity becomes an ethical and political issue because it requires an ability to actively engage with differences in respectful companionship" (Timeto, 2015, 161).
In advocating a continuous non-static, creative approach to our surroundings and the way we handle and act in them, thus implying also a clear ethico-political stand partly inspired by Guattari's ethico-aesthetic paradigm, Timeto obviously can not be boxed in by boundaries of any kind that rather become porous. Finishing with 'Open Conclusions' is therefore symbolic in many respects, in the first place of opening up further implications and discussions about this new perspective.
Anderson, B. (2016). Frameworks of Comparison. London Review of Books, [online] 38(2), pp.15-18. Available at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n02/benedict-anderson/frameworks-of-comparison [Accessed 21 Jan. 2016].