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From Communicable Matter to Incommunicable “Stuff”

From Communicable Matter to Incommunicable “Stuff”

Extreme Combinatorics and the Return of Ineffability

(p.81) 5 From Communicable Matter to Incommunicable “Stuff”
Ribbon of Darkness
Barbara Maria Stafford
University of Chicago Press

Since Kant, there has been an intense debate around the question of the location of the Sublime: Is it in the object or in the subject? This essay tackles ineffability’s dark side: the fast-growing, even ubiquitous, socio-cultural phenomenon of not being able to speak or image what we create. These range from a dubious contemporary Cabinet of Wonders stocked with the unnameable products of transplant surgery, to the undecideables emerging from Synthetic Biology Laboratories, to the science-fiction Outback of wetware BioArt. If Neoplatonism linked ineffability with ultimate matters and mattering, such as awe in the presence of the sublime unity of God, light, cosmic harmony, the concept has now descended into shambling unspeakability. This current inexpressibility, evident in the prevalence of the popular non-descriptor, “stuff,” aligns with the imagistic, linguistic, and ontological inability to configure a rising tide of bewildering biological and online entities. These confounding products of an extreme combinatorial laboratory science, technology, and art are not only without a concept, but without the possibility of a concept.

Keywords:   BioArt, Cabinet of Wonders, Extreme Combinatorics, Ineffability, Kant, Neoplatonism, Stuff, Synthetic Biology, Transplant Surgery, Undecidables

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