Monday, April 21, 2014

Tiny Corporealities: Shared Objects (Yolk)

"Why do you always carry that egg around?
Is it yours? Can I see it?"

Stephan Lance, 2007

The Tiny Corporealities project is aimed at intense analysis of the body as matter entangled with meaning. Frequent observations will be journaled, tracing how "body," "thought," and "narrative" function as apparatuses by which corporealities emerge. Critical attention will be paid to how particular embodiments are formed and inform their social environment. 

This project arises from an engagement with a seminar 
“Alternative Materialisms led by Prof. David Mitchell at G.W.U.


Today, I present my Tiny Corporeality for a seminar on Alternative Materialisms. In part, the project has already happened. If you read my blog ( you have already become an intimate with the object of my study. Yet we are here today, on a place in time marked on the syllabus as "presentations." What is the work of this for a materiality we continue to carry with us and continue to think through? 

As I see it, we come together today to make our Tiny Corporealities present. (1) We make them present, as in current, to ritually mark time in an ongoing process of change. (2) We make them present, as in performative, to signify and become a source of shared meaning for the group. (3) We make them present, as in existent, to open our bodies up and make them a real part of a shared corporeality. Hence the terror and hence the critical ethic act of being an academic, especially one working in disability and material studies. We come together to surrender our knowledge and our bodies, so that we can enter into a shared discourse. We make ourselves vulnerable, so greater intimacy can occur.

And yet what happens when that intimacy is rejected? How might our presentations fail - not as individual works for academic acclaim, but as a corporate act? What are the stakes, the precarious lives that may come into being by making our corporealities present? What responsibilities come with our shared objects?


Last week, our seminar participated in the shared viewing of an Austrialian Independent film, Yolk., directed in 2007 by Stephen Lance. Together we stood witness to the coming of age story of a adolescent girl, struggling to gain access to intimacy while living under the diagnosis of Downs Syndrome. Developing the hots for a local boy, she works to make her body present to him in new erotic ways. As a sign of her burgeoning fertility, she begins to carry around an egg - an unfertilized reproductive vehicle of a chicken - that brings her own tiny corporeality, her ovula, out into the open, to be seen, touched, and shared.

In a key scene, the boy and the girl walk alone into the woods, a familiar symbol of sexual intercourse and female interiority. Sitting down together, the boy asks "Why do you always carry that egg around?" "It's a baby," she responds holding it out for him. "Is it yours? Can I see it?" Reaching towards her, his hand touches the egg, her surrogate child, as it rests in her palm. Gingerly stroking it, it's hard not to feel the thrill of intimacy. What does this shared touch mean? Where might it lead?

Conscious of the state of shared excitation and vulnerability, the girl reaches out for the boys hand and begins to stroke it in like fashion as he touched her egg. Touch goes both ways. The male does not just enter into the female sphere and leave unaffected. The feminine enters into the world of the masculine. The disabled enter into the world and ecology of the abled. Penetration goes both ways as boundaries are torn down. As we become present, naked, vulnerable to another, so too are they revealed to us.

The boy pauses for a moment, a few frames where many possibilities open up for them. Then in an act of rejection and abjection, he pulls out. Withdrawing his hand, his apparatus of contact with her egg, he stands up and walks out of the bower of the woods. The egg of a disabled girl can be a shared object, of academic and even personal interest. But this girl, this child, this crip is too much. 

How often does this happen? The objects of study, especially in new materialism, post-humanism, and object studies become momentary points of contact between us. Yet how frequently does the moment the object brings us back into the politics of the human, we withdraw? The tiny corporeality of an egg can become present, but at the expense of dealing with the personal life of the body that shares it with us.  Our intimacy is precarious and contingent.


These are the stakes of our presentations: to turn shared objects into shared lives and corporate ethics. We could have kept our study of our tiny corporealities private, within the realm of neoliberal self-knowledge and self-care. By making our bodies present, we mark a radical openness that signals that my body is not my own, nor only my responsibility. To better know it, to give it life, and to give it political power we need to move from the dichotomy of subjects (invisible eyes) looking upon objects, into a sense of inter-subjectivity and inter-corporeality.

At first, in my Sinus Analysis (Part 1), I articulate the parameters of my study as concerned with sinus passages. The series of tissue-lined holes in my skull. Sensitive to a variety of penetrating agents, the cilia, very fine hairlike cells, allow for things to enter into my body or else participate in an inflammation in my head, known to me as a sinus attack, where my body attempts to assert its isolation by rejecting the entrance of pollen, mold, and other problematic guests. The sinuses as a cite where the outside and the inside meet, fold into each other or differentiate, of potential openness and alienation interested me.

In part 2, I consider the Frozen Environments of Maine. With the budding of the cherry-blossoms in Washington DC, my tiny corporeality restricts my access to the open air and society by debilitating me with pounding head-aches, disoriented vision, and clogged passages. How might my head's relative clearness in a colder and less fecund environment up north be a way that my tiny corporeality directs my movements? Rather than concentrating on the alienation I feel in the District, I could see how my sinuses as engaging me ever deeper in the eco-system of New England. Might I have, in a perhaps different sense than Wallace Steven's snow-man, a "mind of winter?"

Dwelling in and on New England, in part 3 I recollected my Perfumed Tears at my partner's Installation as Pastor of a local Church. The movement from isolation to intimacy has its costs, and I paid part of that in tear-drops. As this Church community opened itself to accept my partner as its new minister and leader, they covered their bodies and the air with alcoholic vapors smelling of rose and lilac. Sensitive to these chemicals, by opening up my heart and my sinus passages to be present and the ceremony, my body began to cry as the collective acts of celebrating my beloved and chemically overwhelming my head left me crying in the pew. The tears were sincere, I observed, but not my own. My body was not under my control, but subject to the material affects of the environment.

While the debilitating act of crying was acceptable on this occasion, usually the management of Public Allergies (part 4), becomes an aspect of our open interaction with others that we are supposed to manage privately. As a literal cost of participating in the public arena of work or the Church, for instance, we are expected to keep our emotions and our allergies under control by paying for medication or using our own Personal-Time-Off to wallow in our lack of productivity. This is how the fiction of private and public, between our bodies and our corporate responsibilities are designed to be kept separate. 

Looking through the Eyes of the Poor (Part 5), part of the fear in presenting and sharing our tiny corporealities is that we feel how we are trespassing the social agreement laid down by capitalism: that our problems are our own to manage. By opening ourselves up to others we make the silent (or not so silent) statement that we need their help. This threatens others by not only demanding that we cannot do it alone but that they too are dependent on their environment to succeed. Money (the ability to pay for medication to treat our bodies) and success (grades and the like) are ways that we distinguish ourselves from one another. What we say in opening up our bodies and our stories to others is that we want them to take part in the telling. Our economics, our ecology of bodies, meaning, and power are not capable of being pinned down to my abilities or disabilities. 

If my Tiny Corporeality project is a success, as I hope it will be today, it is because we as a community surrendered our bodies, so that they might become shared objects, and from shared objects into shared lives and shared stories. We move from bodies, texts, or a world that we analyze into a corporation that we form and transform together. If I am to breath clearly, during and after presenting, it will be because of you, because of us living and breathing together through all the social allergies, head-aches, and attacks.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Composing Disability: Interrupted, Tweeted, Storified

"These opportunities to talk openly about disability 
are priceless 
#ComposingDis #GWDisability."

The following is a collection of tweets from
Sponsored by the Disability Support Services,
the Department of English and the University Writing Program
at the George Washington University,
on 3-4 April 2014.

Thank you to everyone who spoke, contributed and tweeted.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tiny Corporealities: Eyes of the Poor (Animal's People)

"All things pass, but the poor remain...
Tomorrow there will be more of us."

Animal's People
Indra Sinha

The Tiny Corporealities project is aimed at intense analysis of the body as matter entangled with meaning. Frequent observations will be journaled, tracing how "body," "thought," and "narrative" function as apparatuses by which corporealities emerge. Critical attention will be paid to how particular embodiments are formed and inform their social environment. 

This project arises from an engagement with a seminar 
“Alternative Materialisms led by Prof. David Mitchell at G.W.U.


"Tell me about the pressure in your head," a doctor in a white-coat tells me as I sit in his Chicago office. He hardly looks up from his clip-board when he speaks. As I try to express to him how my sinuses feel on a given day in April, he jots down notes and asks me leading questions. By the end of our interview, I have articulated a narrative that fits within a certain definition of seasonal allergies. Mold and pollen are marked as causes. The pain and inflammation in my sinuses the effect. The result of my ability to give him to story he wants, he writes a prescription for nasal spray - a kind of steroid - that would make my tiny corporeality more docile. 

Through this exchange, there is an enactment of power against disability/debility. The demand for a certain kind of able-bodiement directs the doctor's search for pathology in my body and the arrival at a chemical corrective. Likewise, the same drive brought me into his office and sends me away with the slip of paper. It is a system run on the force of narrative and capital. 

  1. My ability to analyze literature has given me access to a job and healthcare.
  2. The insurance money has given me access to the doctor so that I might present a narrative of my own body.
  3. The effectiveness of my story produced a prescription which will allow me to spend money on pills.
  4. The pills will manage my sinuses so I can better analyze literature.

At first glance there is a circuit being enacted, but it is not a system found in nature. Rather, I have entered into this exchange of body, language, and capital through an ascendence to my Ph.D fellowship. Before this time, if my sinuses were in pain, I would have to consider whether or not I had the money on hand to buy a box of allergy pills. Going to a doctor and getting a prescription for something stronger was not at all possible on my budget. Living on loans and hourly wages, during my Master's program, I could not always afford the luxury of medicine. Thus even though the arrival at a fellowship did not radically change my quality of life, it continued the process of moving towards a certain kind of upper-class model of life - premised on certain kinds of able-bodiment and self-care. My entrance into the doctors office then signaled not only a disavowal of debility, the arrival at an ownership of my own body, but also a distinguishing move through which I disavow my former position among the poor. From this position as an insured Ph.D of literature, I assert an independence that affords me the power to look back at this poverty from the outside, as an object of society, of memory, of story.


In Indra Sinha's 2007 novel, Animal's People, a victim of an American industrial accident in India, calling himself "Animal," comes to articulate his voice to a wider readership (imagined simply by the speaker as  "Eyes") through a series of recorded/transcribed tapes. In the process, Animal distinguishes himself both from the pre-scripted narratives of trauma insisted on by western journalists and from amalgamation with his community members and fellow victims. The result of being distinguished, Animal is given the benefits of an exemplar of his people, offered up for charity and surgical intervention. Despite a longing for treatment that would allow him to walk on two feet, to be "an upright human," the novel concludes with Animal's refusal of the restoration narrative. In remaining Animal on "four-feet," he comes to acknowledge the tense relationship between being in community with the poor and coming to find his own particularity within it (366).

Animal, and his book, remain suspicious of readers. Already a victim of American industry, he insists that his story be told in his own voice, so that his narrative does not become a victim of the press, pressed and flattened into a broad overarching image of his people. Animal will be animal, his body and his story will be his alone. To facilitate, he is given a tape-recorder, allowing him to speak in his own voice. To help the process, Animal is told to consider the tape-recorder like a silent friend, listening to him talk. Twisting this metaphor, Animal calls the imagined audience "Eyes," the ones that watch him and read him like a book. Not only does this assertion turn the attention of readers back on themselves, their bodies, as they physically look at the text, it gestures to reading's larger psycho-social enactments of power. "Eyes" will gaze upon Animal and Animal's People, seeing them like a dark mirror, an Other, divested of humanity (e.g. animals) simultaneously reflecting their worst selves and staring back at them. The homonym between "Eyes" and "I-s" deepen this reading. The reader is the "I" and the Others become the image of the world, an amalgamation to be understood and mastered. In short order, the book names a central dichotomy to be overcome in the novel: the Eyes/I-s versus Animal's People.

What does it mean then that Animal's tale has been heard? He is given money and the offer of corrective surgery. Through the power of story, Animal has gained entrance into the world of the Human. He can become an I/Eye. At this point, Animal's violent and successful narrative opposition reveals itself as a power-play that has distinguished him from his People and put him in leagues with the Eyes who silently consumed him and his story. By trying to be the opposition of the Eye, he made himself into the Other, reflecting and staring back at them. He can be an individual, made like them, acceptable into society, but always dependent on them as a kind of lesser creation. "If I'm an upright human, I would be one of millions, not even a healthy one at that," Animal considers (366). The repetition of the word "one" signifies that he has become a singularity, but singularity is the very language of Neo-Liberalism, of the I-s/Eyes, where every one is a solitary and more manageable one. Everyone is special, so no one is especially threatening. Animal is separated from his community in order to stand in for his community. He is taken, they are left behind.

The decision to "Stay four-foot," and proclaim "I'm the one and only Animal," requires that the story come to an end. "Eyes" he says, "I'm done" (366). To conclude the narrative with his restoration would be to cover over his People's continued suffering with the balm of Western charity. To continue the narrative would be to cover over his People's continued suffering with the acid of Animal's looming personality. The project of the novel has failed. The novel must fail if it is to avoid easy resolution. In a narrative sense, Animal is "done" insofar as his story passes away so that his People's can continue. This is one critical sense that we can understand the final declaration, "All things pass, but the poor remain. We are the people of the Apokalis. Tomorrow there will be more of us" (366). The Eye/I of Animal's story is replaced by the "We" of the People of the Apokalis. The particulars and individuals come and go, their stories, their bodies, but most of all their sense of individuality. What remains is the sense of community and the dependencies of living through the political and material environment. One person's story cannot vanquish poverty, but the refusal to tell the prescribed story of victory or defeat might yet allow the poor to survive the conquest. 


While Animal's twisted spine and my Tiny Corporeality's sinus pressure are distinct materialities, the drive of the industrial medical complex which alienates both of us from our embodiments (as debilitated) also alienates both of us from the poor (as disabled). We are mutually caught in an image of able-bodiment and independence that powers the flow of story, medicine, and money. In accepting the one, moving towards a certain form of body, we accept the other. We come to claim our bodies not as a shared material condition with others in our environment (e.g. chemical waste or air-born mold) but as a personal possession which we (as neoliberal citizens) manage and others fail to manage. Walking upright with clear heads, we distinguish ourselves socially from those who remain bent. Rather than helping to fix the problem in the environment, as a part of that eco-system, by pinning the problem and solution on our particular bodies we have joined a system aimed to separate ourselves from our environment and our society.

In choosing to stop his personal narrative, and thus end his novel, Animal encourages us to remain suspicious of our own participation in systems of power that exploit and marginalize the poor. What stories do we tell with our bodies and with how we narrate our bodies? How does our success as story-tellers move us from the exploited to the exploiter? This does not mean that we all should refuse treatment in the form of surgery or allergy-medication, but it does mean that we should resist the pressure to take this access into the sphere of industrial medicine as an exit from our environment. When the pain in our backs or faces are not so pressing, can we keep feeling the whip of capitalism or the weight of human sovereignty on our heads like crowns of nature? How do we resist telling the I's/Eye's story and instead tell the story of our People?

How has my tiny corporeality come to stand as a synecdoche for a whole ecology of embodiment?

Animal releases Animal's People from the cage of his narrative by ending his story. As I move towards the end of my Tiny Corporeality project, I too release the flow of allergins from being directed through my personal story. This is not a call to shut down story. Animal's People had an effect on me (as an Eye/I), just as I hope the Tiny Corporeality had an effect on you (as an Eye/I). The effect of story in each case, I hope, is an opening up. Instead of a conclusion, this move should be seen as an invitation to tell stories together. I become quiet for a while so that others may speak. I allow my voice to join a chorus of voices calling for social and environmental justice. I turn my voice to tracing our collective stories. Returning to Animal's final words, we might restate them: 

One point of view passes away, but the eyes of the poor remain. We are the people of narrative. Tomorrow there will be more stories to tell.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quantum Objects: Transvestism in Estoire de Merlin

"Cest gent qui me cuident 
connoistre ne sevent riens de mon estre"
[Those who believe they know me 
know nothing of my being]

Suite du Merlin

The following is a transcript of a talk
given at the Catholic University of America
Medieval Objects Conference
on 4 April 2014

The Mantle of Merlin

In the early 20th century, Nature, it is accounted by Karen Barad,(Meeting the Universe Halfway), was under threat of being unmade by the splitting of the atom. Not only was matter burst apart, creating the atomic bomb, but the very meaning of nature set by Newtonian physics. Explicating the work of quantum physicists, Barad explains that at an object, such as an unobserved photon, can be determined to pass through two different points simultaneously, as in the famous "two-slit experiment." This unobserved bi-location in multiple contradictory states occurs, argues quantum theory, because of the "superposition" of matter.

The implications of this superposition on the changes of larger bodies is summarized by Schrödinger's Cat, a though experiment postulated by Erwin SchrödingerA cat placed into a sealed box with a cyanide pill set to go off at an undetermined time, will in fact exist both in an alive and dead state simultaneously. Only after the box is open does quantum reality collapse into a singular event. Through such theories, Quantum philosophy works to bring together disparate experiences in philosophy and science back to a unified whole. In a very real sense, quantum theory attempts to defend the nature of things against the increasingly disparate observations where matter itself seems to be in a constant state of flux and multiplicity.

In the 1940s, with such power at work in the Sciences, CS Lewis suggested, in his sci-fi fable That Hideous Strength, that the Humanities had its own quantum being lurking in its archives, waiting to be unearthed: Merlin. Why this turn to medievalism to engage quantum physics? Lewis himself acknowledges that modern day scientists are "not likely to be influenced by any poetic fancy about Merlin's mantle having fallen on them." Yet, quantum theory boasts a lineage going back to Aristotle and touching upon such 13th century medieval theologians as John Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. Turning back to the 13th century in fact demonstrates an ongoing intellectual engagement with the quantum problem: how to unify bodies that seem to be made of such diverse parts? It was a question answered as much by abstract prose as by literary imaginations of Arthurian Romance. 

In this paper, I argue (I) that the postulation of univocal beings like Merlin, allow for a quantum ideology of constancy through change to perpetuate the Arthurian figure throughout later Medieval and late modern literature. (II) Placed in the center of diverse world that seems at many moments to be coming apart at the threads, (III) Merlin acts as an exemplar and a judge that at times violently over-rides hybridity and change in order to carry out his project of unification. (IV) By attending to the work of Merlin, scholars in medieval studies may speak back in their own terms, the dangers of grand unifying theories in natural sciences and philosophy. Like Lewis, we may resurrect Merlin to oppose the violent eugenic industries that seek remake mankind in the image of a ruthless and univocal god: Nature.

Quantum Medievalism

The 13th century saw a resurgence in quantum theory as medieval theologians began to reengage with Aristotle’s Metaphysics in order to develop unified theory that brought together the equivocal liminality of natural philosophy with the univocal eternity presented in Christian thought. 

Among the great metaphysical treatises of the century, Thomas Aquinas's (1225-1274) Summa Contra Gentiles stressed the "analogical" mode of thinking whereby the wholeness of the soul, ultimately rooted in God, can only be grasped indirectly through the power of metaphor (SCG.I.32-34). The angelic doctor was a careful scholastic, emphasizing the gap between signs and signifiers, meaning and messengers, the soul and angels. This epistemological doubt, which may be recognizable to many post-structuralist thinkers, left some at that time, as today, unsatisfied.

In England, contemporary philosopher John Duns Scotus (1264-1308), tried his hand at bridging the divide between the natural and super-natural in his Questions on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Standing firm on the "univocality" of being, Duns Scotus emphasized and reinvigorated Aristotle's notions of "the quanta." The Subtle Doctor, so called for his attentiveness to the most small and brief of intellectual objects, brought quantum philosophy into the 13th century, explained as manifesting when “the whole time and the parts of motion are joined to some ‘mutated being’ which is not one in the same motion” (Scotus, V.X). What does this mean? Consider an object, like a mantle. Over time the object will be sewn, worn, torn, mended, and torn apart. Each of these instances can be considered as an isolated thing, defined by its "quiddity" (or "thatness"). Insofar as it is itself, throughout time and change, there must be some thing that we call the mantle, that remains constant and stitches together these different moments. The metaphysical significance of this is that objects are mutable.

This unifying claim affirms Aristotelian quantum being. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, we find that "Quantum means that which is divisible into two or more constituent parts of which is by nature a 'one' and a 'this'" (Aristotle, Metaphysics V, ch. 13, 1020a 8-10). This definition of being is key to describing change without consenting the either equivocal or analogical logic that would recognize an internal divide or partialness within being. In quantum theory, the one comes to stand in for the many, insofar as the whole cannot exist without its different constitutive parts. In fact, the quantum object is defined by its iterability, being 
"divisible into continuous parts" (Aristotle, Metaphysics V, ch. 13, 1020a 8-10). The metaphysical significance of the whole being present in each of its disparate parts is that an object exists in multiple places in time and space at once. This is superposition.

The effect of this is reassuring for authorities considering bodies undergoing change and transition. In 13th century French and English society, amidst war, economic revolution, and an influx of Muslim and classical philosophy, univocality (the ability to speak in one voice) offered by quantum theory may be incredibly reassuring. Quantum theory promises that the world still makes sense. However the Kings might change, the kingdom remains itself. However bodies fall apart, the soul abides. These shifts may seem counter to experience, because there are significant differences when one King replaces another King or when you lose an arm. Yet, quantum theory insists, that the attributes of a body can be "transferred to other things also" (Aristotle, Metaphysics V, ch. 13, 1020a 8-10). The metaphysical significance of this is what is expressed and explicated in quantum uncertainty. That is, that we cannot know all of a things attributes at once. From Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), we know that we can either know a particles speed or its location, but not both at once. Likewise, we can either know one King of England (qua King) or else another King of England (qua King). While this is possible to experience over time, to attempt to bring them together into the same time and place creates a contradiction - and likely a war.

It might is not surprising then why Duns Scotus's theory of constancy through change should become so pervasive and come to infiltrate contemporary shape-shifter narratives. Among them, few stories of transformation have spread so far and lasted so long as Arthurian Romances. Within and beyond this body of literature, few figures have taken on so many forms and yet remained himself, as Merlin. As of the 13th century Estoire de Merlin, the shape-shifter had become so notable for his (1) power of mutability, the ability to take on the mantle of many forms without being limited to any one, (2) the power of superposition, the ability to prophesize multiple places in time and space at once (e.g. the past, future, and present), and (3) the power of uncertainty, the ability to enter into a tale without being noticed, affect events, and withdraw without his presence ever becoming fully known (see: Quantum Medievalism Part 1).

the Metaphysics of Transvestism

In turning to the 13th century Estoire de Merlin, here dealt with through its 15th century translation to Middle English, commonly called the Prose Merlin, we find Merlin so exemplifying quantum being that he comes to stand outside the world of transformation in order to act as judge of the changes of others. In one of the included tales "Merlin and Grisandolus," a transvestite knight comes into the service of Julius Caesar, bearing a quantum likeness with Merlin and the mantles he wears. Yet the shape-shifters appearance late in the plot comes as a judge who unveils the trans-being of Grisandol, forcing her back into a "natural" station of womanhood, as well as twelve trans maidens in the service of the empress, leading to their death by fire.

An exemplar of change, Merlin's violence against a trans bodies is startling, but in the context of quantum univocality it is evident that this reading of change covers over difference to sure up a sense of constancy and unity in Nature. In doing so, the violence of the quantum narrative of change becomes evident, wherein the trans/forming body is at once a potential challenge and a potential corrective to deconstructive readings of gender. In the end, Merlin stands outside the system, as the transcendent signifier of trans-being, an exception to prove and enforce the rule. 

The narrative presents the twelve maidens as one of many trans body, reflective of Merlin's (1) mutability, (2) superposition, and (3) uncertainty. While Grisandolus likewise reflects the same characteristics as Merlin and the twelve maidens, scholarship on the tale has focused on the trans man and left the trans women largely unconsidered. Furthermore, while Merlin comes to find a fixed but livable life for Grisandol, the violence of his judgement is most evident in the ritual burning of the twelve maidens at the texts conclusion. Regardless of which of the trans figures is being addressed, however, many of the same concepts and critiques are active or applicable. Reading quantum and trans embodiment through a biopolitical analysis, constancy and change are pervasive throughout a text as symptomatic of wider social tensions.

(1) Mutability

Grisandol's arrival into Julius Cesar's court, the narrative tells of a group of twelve men that live as women at the conscription of the empress, detailing the process of their trans/formation: "for the drede that theire beerdes sholde growe, she lete anoynte her chynnes with certeyn oynementes made for the nones. And thei were clothed in longe traylinge robes, and theire heer longe waxen in gise of maydenes and tressed at theire bakkes, that alle that hem saugh wende wele thei were wymen." (PM.M&G.11-15). Forming and transforming their bodies, these servants use of a hormone mimicking oil to prevent the growth of facial hair, the prosthetics of clothing, the surgery of cutting their hair into long braided locks. Their bodies are de-centered, made up through diverse materials and the pressures of the court. Conscripted by the force of the empress to serve as trans sex slaves; nearly enough for a fortnight.

(2) Superposition

While Merlin's prophecies are localized in his body, the trans women in 
Caesar's court project their prophecies through other people. Experiencing the symptoms of indeterminate knowledge, the emperor becomes troubled after some time by dreams in which he sees the identity of the maids and their illicit sexual relations with his wife. 

"He hadde a vision that hym thought he saugh a sowe in his court that was right grete before his paleys; and he hadde never seyn noon so grete ne so huge. And she hadde so grete bristelis on her bakke that it trayled on the grounde a fadome large, and hadde upon hir heed a cercle that semed of fyn golde... [then] he saugh come oute of his chamber twelve lyonsewes, and com into the courte to the sowe and assailed hir, oon after another." (PM.M&G.38-46).

As he sleeps, the emperor sees many things at once. On the surface, he dreams of a great sow that is sexually engaged with a dozen lionesses. An attentive reader is aware at this point that he is also seeing the ongoing infidelity of his wife with her twelve trans servants. The confusion the emperor experiences upon waking reflects the indeterminacy of what and when he is seeing the information. He sees an meeting that has already happened. He sees what may be going on that very night. He also sees information that will not be given to him until a much later date. This ability to glean something of the shifting bodies in his dream and in his court, but not other information reflects the quantum uncertainty epitomized by Merlin. Each of these trans women might as well be wearing Merlin's mantle, or else closed up with Schrödinger’s cat for all that we might know of them.

(3) Uncertainty

The presence of the trans women are given at the start of the narrative but remain invisibly present in the background for the remainder of the tale. In this way, they are like Merlin when he appears among them in the form of a doe and a mad-man, active in the court of the emperor, influencing events but without giving away their definite location at any point in time or space. "longe thei endured with the empresse unknowen." (PM.M&G.15). The emperor might see them, and the narrator might comment as to their activity, but like 
Grisandol, they operate unnoticed in plain sight. In other words, they pass. The work of transvestism, reflects certain aspects of quantum being. To both be and not to be present, until the moment when their existence is called into question, as at the arrival of Merlin to the court. Then, their fate become as determined (and as deathly) as Schrödinger’s cat in a box full of cyanide.

the Biopolitics of Superposition

Given the shifting, projecting, and obscuring nature of the trans bodies in Julius Ceasar's court, the equivocal and analogical lives of the twelve maids and Grisandol could have potentially continued indefinitely if not for Merlin’s laughter. Up until Merlin's appearance in Grisolde's tale, this state of suspension is maintained, but upon his arrival, quantum theory begins to aggregate flux back into definite objects. Arriving in the emperor's court, Merlin uses all three of his quantum powers to set about the fixing of the trans identities. First, he takes the form of a dear (mutation). Next, he runs into the court and delivers a proclamation that Merlin lurks nearby and only a woman may catch him (prophecy). Finally, he disappears without a trace, leaving the emperor to institute a quest to find Merlin offering his daughter and half his kingdom as a reward (uncertainty). One he enters into the narrative, he continually uses these aspects to begin enforcing the logic of continuity on the shifting bodies of Caesar's court.

(1) Mutability

Grisandol, as the emperor's finest and craftiest knight, is of course the first to capture Merlin in the form of a mad man of the woods. Dragging him back to court, the old prophetic looks at Grisolde and begins his work of judging her gender, calling her a "Creature formed of Nature chaunged into other forme... Ymage repaired and disnatured fro Kynde" (PM.M&G.147-158). As with Duns Scotus's attempt to find the univocality of God in nature, Merlin here invokes nature as the original foundations for the trans characters' gender. It is important to note that in trans/forming, she has changed or denatured that being. In other words, the question at hand is not social constructionism versus essentialism, but one version of essence in debate with another form of essence. The work of Merlin here is to proclaim to her in private that despite any changes she might have gone through, she nonetheless has a proper being into which he sees. 

(2) Superposition

In due course, Grisolde delivers Merlin to the emperor's court, where he continues to preach his prophecies, performing the work of collapsing the trans maidens into unified male genders. Addressing the King, Merlin unravels the obscure dream that had been plaguing him for some time. "The twelve lyonsewes that ye saugh come oute of a chamber betokeneth the twelve maydenes that be ther with the emperesse. And knowe it for very trouthe that thei be no wymen, for it be men… as ofte as ye go oute of the town, she maketh hem serve in hir chamber and in hit bedde" (PM.M&G.316-332). What began as an uncertain dream that held in tension animality and humanity, female and masculine genders, fidelity and promiscuity, future and present, collapses into a definite narrative. Rather than proliferating meaning, Merlin brings equivocal and analogical visions back into a univocal state. The emperor and the reader are lead to believe that quantum reality, the reassuring fixedness of being must be more true than multiplicity and inconstancy. 

(3) Uncertainty

Invoking the role of the sovereign as the embodiment of the law, the emperor enacts punishment to fix the transgressions against constancy that has been argued for by the embodiment of quantum truth, Merlin. "She sholde be brente and the harlottes hanged; and some seide that thei sholde be flayn all quyk. But in the ende thei acorded that thei sholde be brente in a fier." (PM.M&G.331-337). The proper measure of justice is not definite, leading to a debate between burning, hanging, and being pulled limb from limb - each in a sense fractures the body which is seen to transgress their proper forms and thus loose their right to live according to any form - yet, for the trans maidens, their uncertain position is determined as always already set for death. For the court to speak in one voice, difference must be eliminated. Such is the cost the trans body pays at the altar of univocal being.

The Once and Future Theory

In the 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis meditates on the world and being of Merlin, “Did the whole thing [Camelot] fail because he died so soon? Has it ever struck you what an odd creation Merlin is? He's not evil: yet he's a magician. He is obviously a druid: yet he knows all about the Grail.” Indeed, Merlin's ability to bring together discordant aspects into a singular form becomes more than a theme within Lewis's text but a material fact. After an excavation under an old college reveals an forgotten tomb, the shapeshifter suddenly comes back to life in post-World War II England. Merlins return, it is announced through prophecy, signals a great turmoil which threatens to tear the country apart. Only a quantum body, like Merlin, is able to bring together the contradictions, overcoming differences, to see England through a period of great change. Yet, as the name of his book signifies, Lewis was conscious that the terrible power of both Merlin and Science to hold things together and to enforce homogeneity onto the social landscape. The meeting of Merlin and quantum science, in Lewis's imagination, ends with none-other than an atomic explosion that leaves countless dead.

As members of the Humanities, and particular Medievalists, like Lewis, we can speak to our quantum colleagues in the Sciences and remind them of the terrible costs and dangerous implications of looking too hard for totality or unity in Nature. This does not mean that we stand in all places opposed to the observations of physicists in a lab or mathematicians at their white-board. Rather, when science begins working through the complex and sorted world of philosophy, looking to quantum particles for a God's eye image of the Universe, they necessarily step into a sphere that we occupy together. To move too quickly to disregarding one another may lead to yet more lives lost in the swift light of atomic "truth" or the slow fires of "justice."