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Re/Discovering Diffraction

As I attempt to gather my thoughts on this week’s topic, I’m sat in a bar. The music in the background has just flipped over into “Never Ending Story” by Limahl – a classic – and it gives me the appropriately bonkers portal into this weeks topic: diffraction, discussed here by Karen Barad building on earlier concepts introduced by Donna Haraway.

“..and there upon, the rainbow, is the answer to the never-ending stoooorryyyyyy” – Limahl

I can say with 100 percent certainty and zero percent research that Limahl did not have Barad’s notion of Diffraction in mind when he (or his squad of highly trained lyricists) churned out that number 1 hit. But, it turns out that quite a few of his finely chosen words resonate with some of the key themes from Barad’s work. 

Barad is a quantum physicist and philosopher whose work falls under the umbrella of “new materialism”. In Meeting the Universe Halfway (2007) Barad provides a detailed introduction into “Agential Realism”, which links the scientific weirdness of quantum mechanics (entanglement) to wider relations at micro and macro scales, in poetic and philosophical ways.

Barad describes these metaphysical mutual forces as intra-action: the idea that there is a connection between a cartesian “subject” and “object”, in fact there is always a link between the two, and this link is a dynamic immanent force that changes both as a result – and that this relationship is a transformative and ongoing process. 

Turn around
Look at what you see
In her face
The mirror of your dreams
” – Limahl

Barad would only countenance this if it were made clear that the “Mirror of your dreams” is in fact a reference to Diffraction – an visibly observable phenomenon which may manifest as the way, at night, you can see your face but also the scene outside in a window in front of you, or the spectral film roiling on the surface of a soap bubble, or the way an empty wine glass splits the light into a rainbow on the table surface.

Here it’s clear that Limahl (and Giorgio Moroder, wow I just googled it, he’s a genius) was definitely talking about Diffraction rather than Reflection. The giveaway is the use of “there upon the rainbow / is the answer to the never-ending story” lyric. Barad makes it clear that at the quantum level time doesn’t behave the same way as humans perceive it, and in fact all moments are collapsed into immanence.

This notion of a diffractive apparatus is how I have perceived machine learning models in the past. In what will become a theme this year, I am convinced that the profound nature of this technology is the manner in which it (in a technological fashion) blends together different times, places and spaces into an “archive of immanence” – that is a set of potentialities that may then build new futures.

Ok, Toto’s africa just started playing, god knows what I might type next. Time to call it on this entry.