Like it or not, the craft of research is the craft of representation. You are learning to “speak for” things and people that cannot or will not, or in any case, do not speak for themselves. If your object is some natural phenomenon, like a distant quasar or a tiny quark, then you are representing a thing that is, by its nature, inarticulate. If your object is some marginalized social group, whether by ethnicity, or gender, or sexuality, then you will be giving “voice” to concerns that are otherwise “silenced”, making “visible” what is otherwise “erased”. If your object is the corruption of corporate executives or political leaders, you will be talking about people who are actively trying to conceal their actions from public view; you will be bringing their conduct “to light”.
The effort to “subvert representation” works against your aims as a scholar. What you should be doing is honing your craft of representation. That is, you should become a master of writing “about” things and people that are not automatically represented in writing. Those facts, I like to say, don’t make themselves known. That’s your job. You have to come to know them and then make them known to others. And this does actually mean obeying what Donna Haraway derides as “the injunction to be clear”. If you’re going to say something about something or someone else, it should be clear what you are saying.
For Haraway, “there’s no thinking process outside of some materiality.” I’ll let her explain:
I was more and more compelled by the physical process of writing, creating a tissue of words; by the kind of quasi-dreamstate that writing puts me (and I think most writers) into; by the experience of working through a sentence and finding that it’s committed me to half a dozen positions that I don’t hold, literally because of the material density of language; and by finding that writing is itself a material process of thinking, that there’s no thinking process outside of some materiality.
What I want to emphasize is that not all writing happens in a “dream state”. Sometimes something happens to you in real, waking life, and you are amused or outraged by it. So you write an email to a friend or colleague and simply tell the story. You try to say clearly what happened, because it is what happened, not some quasi-mystical “material process”, that amused or outraged you, i.e., “compelled” you to express yourself in words. You write about the events. They are what your story represents.
Haraway is not exactly wrong that writing is “a material process of thinking”, a “physical process, creating a tissue of words”. And I am by no means suggesting that representation requires us to conceive of a kind of thinking that exists entirely “outside” of all materiality. What I’m trying to say is that the facts you experience (either personally or through the rigors of data collection or by reading a sonnet) are one “material process” and writing is another. In the latter you try, as best as you can, to represent the former. The facts you experience are what the writing is about.
Coordinating these material processes, so that your writing provides a clear view of the facts, does not “assume a kind of physical transparency”, nor do I think “that if you could just clean up your act somehow the materiality of writing would disappear.” To invoke Orwell’s famous simile, “prose like a windowpane” is not prose like hole in the wall. You want to keep the draft out while being able to look at the world. A pane of glass has very definite “materiality”! The idea is to make sure that, in protecting ourselves from wind and rain and snow we don’t shut out the sun altogether, nor that our glass is so imperfect that we can only see through it darkly, gaining only a distorted view of reality from our window.
Writing is difficult. Representation is difficult. You are trying to become one of the best people on the planet at this art, admittedly only in regard to (in “view” of) a specialized set of objects . Or that’s at least what I hope you are trying to do. It’s also what most of the public hopes (increasingly against hope, I’m afraid) your university is making you better able to do, not just by “educating” you, but by “situating” you (as Haraway might say) in an environment where you have the time and resources to represent the world of fact accurately.