Loading Events

« All Events

Experiments in Vision and Abstraction: the Making of Mary’s Amber Spyglass with Neda Genova

June 3 @ 12:00 pm  |  Virtual and In Person


The History of Consciousness department presents Experiments in Vision and Abstraction: the Making of Mary’s Amber Spyglass with Neda Genova, University of Warwick.

Join us Monday, June 3 at 12pm in Hum 1 Rm 420 or register below to attend virtually:


“A fresh instrument serves the same purpose as foreign travel; it shows things in unusual combinations.” (A. N. Whitehead 1948)

In this talk, I will look closely at the process of constructing a fictional visualising device alongside A.N. Whitehead’s formulation of abstraction as a relational process of interaction, objectification, and differentiation (1985). The presentation will focus specifically on an episode from part three of Philip Pullman’s children’s book trilogy “His Dark Materials” – a book that arguably dramatizes the struggle between what with Donna Haraway we may describe as the “god trick” of infinite vision and domination, and the quest to end domination, to learn and know in an entangled world of difference. In the story that I want to explore, physicist Mary Malone is tasked with helping the mulefa – beings from a world parallel to her own, whose delicate ecological balance has been disrupted. Unable to see the elementary particles that pollinate the trees on whose thriving the mulefa depend, Mary ventures to construct an imaging device. What eventually becomes the “amber spyglass” turns out to be the result of an experimental and speculative process of layering and discarding material surfaces, invested with meaning and affect that gain relevance in relation to the technico-political problem that Mary sees herself faced with. In the talk I would like to trace the construction of the spyglass and offer a reading of this episode through recourse to Whitehead’s discussion of abstraction as productive practice, bringing it into conversation with Felix Guattari’s work on machinic assemblages, as well as with Donna Haraway’s and Isabelle Stengers’ contributions to feminist epistemologies. My aim in doing so is to use the fictitious terrain charted out by Pullman to think afresh about practices of experimentation and visualisation, touching upon issues such as truth-making as an ethically grounded and politically committed practice; the interplay between imagination and making sense in common (Stengers 2023); and the role of entanglement and separation in fabricating the worlds we want to inhabit.

Neda Genova is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick (UK). Her research sits at the intersection of cultural, media and post-communist studies and explores questions such as visual culture and transformation of public space in contemporary Bulgaria; commoning as a political practice of imagination in a post-communist context; the production of abstraction; fiction and topology. Her first book, Politics of Surfaces, is forthcoming with Goldsmiths Press.

This event is a part of the Spring 2024 History of Consciousness Speaker Series.


June 3
12:00 pm