Julia Fuller responds to Kate Thomas

Kate Thomas’s response led me to consider questions of critical subject position and argumentation raised by Abigail Joseph’s treatment of materiality. Thomas highlights how the book prompts us to think differently with and about objects, noting its departure from our tendency to “engage materiality in the secret belief that it can carry us back in time and make us doubly epistemologically sovereign; more perfectly knowing about then (the object) and now (interpretation).” Joseph shows us that objects are far more fluid than this fantasy of academic authority allows. As Thomas points out, there are implications for how we generate knowledge when a greater intimacy with objects makes them less evidentiary, forcing us to turn away from argumentation based in acts of commandeering and the formulation of grand narratives. I got to thinking about how we are shifted to a non-dominant subject position when our objects of study, in Thomas’s words, “resist our most taxonomical urges” and deny us the structures of order we traditionally use to demonstrate our academic authority.

This reading of Exquisite Materials pairs interestingly with the “Cultures of Argument” cluster published in the latest issue of PMLA, which challenges the argumentative practices that derive from the kind of “epistemologically sovereign” posturing Thomas describes. In her introduction to the cluster, Pardis Dabashi provocatively argues against “constricting our claims within rhetorics of certainty,” with an appeal to embrace indeterminacy and speculation as an approach that is more generous towards marginalized subjects in a critical community. [1] I take note of the resonance between Joseph’s method of attentiveness to the unstable, unfixed quality of materiality, which mobilizes critical thinking not in a mode of perfect knowingness, but rather in ways that hold space for queer alternatives, and the practices of inclusive disciplinary world-building the writers of “Cultures of Argument” envision.

[1] Dabashi, Pardis. “Introduction to ‘Cultures of Argument’: The Loose Garments of Argument.” PMLA 135.5 (2020): 951.

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