Friday, June 3, 2011

susan leigh star

I am meeting Susan Leigh Star for the first time, and she is dead.

I am reading Susan Leigh Star for the first time, reading her semi famous essay about the onion, "Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: on being allergic to onions." Personal; political. Critical; theoretical. Insider; outsider.

Poetic. A writer of poems as well as essays and books and theory.

Her essay on onions and justice begins with an Adrienne Rich poem:

Today I was reading about Marie Curie.
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
hr body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes . . .
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds


her wounds came from the same source as her power

(Rich, 'Powcr', 1978)

This means across a wide range of emotions for me (a friend has cancer, she is facing radiation, I was in the snow watching snow fall after Fukushima wondering if my tongue could taste the radiation on the flakes).

Susan Leigh Star did not deny her wounds nor did she neglect to find the source of her power.

I am struck by how present she is, and how many clues are dropped by those who, guilty by association, share her drive to theory and feminism and justice.

I am surrounded, here at her festschrift, at this celebration of her work, by her. She is living in the words her friends are saying, living in her own words illuminated on the big screen in PowerPoint so that a quotation form her book Ecologies of Knowledge glows carmine and hovers above us. She is living in her partner Geoff Bowker, in Donna Haraway and Katie King and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa.

Thursday night, the University Center was late-lit by the in and out sunlight filtering through redwoods. Crystal and I found Warren and we talked until the presenters began presenting, and I listened and felt a ghost suddenly collect herself and float unseen into the room, listening to herself being invoked and represented and admired and honored. The woman behind the words.

Friday we gathered around the comforting altar of coffee urns, then Jenny Reardon invoked her yet again and back she came, and each speaker in her own way was dancing with her, moving as she/they moved, moving us, letting themselves be moved. Astrid Schrader and harmful algae; Maria and the many meanings of soil; Katie King and boundary objects and transcontextual feminism. Karen Barad and the Judaism she shared with Leigh and the meanings of these days between Passover and Shavuot, the days of the counting of omer, of grains, the harvest, a counting and economy not of capitalism but of justice. Tikkun, the healing of the world and ourselves at the same time.

Karen noted that there is the justice of thou shalt not, and the justice of Omer, of thou shalt: thou shalt leave a corner of the field unharvested so the hungry can glean and eat. Each day read against and through seven values of justice.

Today: compassion read through grounding

Yesterday: boundary making read through grounding.

Since Leigh was a theorist of boundaries, of boundary objects (one of her theoretical hobbyhorses and contribution to STS, science and technology studies). I shivered a little when Karen lined up the talk of boundary objects yesterday, and the ancient practice, generations considering boundaries.

So we hear amazing and brilliant women theorize using Leigh Star's work, honoring but also extending and using. And she was present for this; she was doing work still, beyond the grave, or perhaps not in the ground only.

And after lunch (with Donna and Katie and others, that kind of conversation across food and among scholars that I love love love) I drove with Crystal down from on high to the flatter lands below the University, my brain buzzing and blooming, and I thought, oh. This is our first meeting, Susan, and I just hope I held up my end of our encounter, hope I helped bring you around if that is your desire, hope I played a role in the honoring of your soul's sleep, if that is your current state.

You asked important questions, cui bono, who benefits? And I'll take up that banner, if you please. I think we all are looking beyond for the more that we are, that can be, that exists as surely as you continue, just that surely, not less or more.

Lifting my virtual glass to you, and the incredible community you gathered around you.