learning to read dialogically
"We must find another relationship to nature besides reification, possession, appropriation and nostalgia. No longer able to sustain the fictions of being either subjects or objects, all the partners in the potent conversations that constitute nature must find a new ground for making meanings together" (Haraway, 2004b, p. 126).
Paying attention to the ways in which I moved through, in and around this dissertation process helped me find a representational structure. I knew that I wanted readers to make their own way through the dissertation, but I was having difficulty figuring out how to block sections of my writing into reasonable sized chunks (usually chapters), and then to configure linkages that would make sense. I am well trained in writing flowing, linear prose with fine transitions. What kind of structure would provide for easy flow and transitions which would allow animate Earth to participate in readers' meaning making processes? How might both content and form of the dissertation provide a way for readers to read beyond the often-reinscribed and social constructed human/nature binary?
I left my desk with a stack of articles and my notebook and hopped in my car, hoping to gain inspiration by surrounding myself in the orchids at Regina's Floral Conservatory. Sitting amidst orchids, fig trees and other flowers I can't name, an "unstructured structure" emerged.
Encircled by garden plants in Regina's Floral Society greenhouse, I was struggling to sort out an organizational structure for the dissertation... and found myself picking up an article, reading a short section (often from the middle of the manuscript), then stopping. My hand would then be drawn to a second article, or book, and my eyes to a short section once again. As I put the ideas from the two papers together, new meanings, questions, and an organizational plan began to emerge. I realized that not only were transitions and a pre-defined order not essential for my reading, but in many cases they got in the way of what I was learning (how to read and research in co-creation with non-human persons). If I listened to my body's knowing, paused between one passage and the next, and followed my inner felt sense as I moved from one insight to the other, I would find the perfect passages to help me move ahead (or sideways) in my research. And so I would have to trust that the dissertation's 'reader' would find their own direction too. The dissertation would be represented in a series of 'bits' the reader could travel through, making the representational form congruent not only with the methods of its production, but with the epistemological and ontological assumptions within it.
I now only needed to find a way to lay things out so that readers could see their choices and follow them. I sighed with relief, thanked the plants for their help, and did what I think most graduate students in this situation would probably do: looked for affirmation that my chosen form would be recognized by the academy.