I am very excited by this book and think of it, frankly, as companion species to my own book Networked Reenactments, and helpful for thinking about the angle into my next book, Speaking with Things.
A Political Ecology of Things has itself been a vibrant matter of attention since its publication earlier this year.
Reviewed by Bryan E. Bannon, Wesleyan University Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is a provocative addition to the emerging literature redefining the natural world outside the confines of mechanis- tic and teleological metaphysics. In Vibrant Matter the political theorist Jane Bennett, renowned for her work on nature, ethics, and affect, shifts her focus from the human experience of things to things themselves. Bennett argues that political theory needs to do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in events. A pile of trash, a scrap of metal, an overtaxed energy grid, hungry worms, and embryonic stem cells: these are just some of the main characters in Jane Bennett’s short though ambitious work that lays out her theory of vital materiality.
Ethics, Politics, and The Wild Modernity and Political Thoughttying together well recent work in ecology and new forms of materialism. For those who have yet to read it, the interview below should offer reason enough to begin doing so.
She thus describes vibrant networks of change operating beyond and within human beings without providing a purposiveness to the separable matter of nature, either coming from human beings anthropocentrism or some divinity ontotheology. The philosophical problem that Bennett confronts is a post-Cartesian description of nature in modernity as mechanistic and lifeless.
The subject of modernity lives off the materials of the world and, in contradistinction to the inorganic materials around it, has a freedom and agency that transcends its natural environment. In this way, Bennett is not just questioning subjective idealisms, but also supposed materialisms, such as one finds in variants of naturalism, that are mechanisms better belonging to the era of Newton than the enchanting, post-Freudian and post-Einsteinian universe to which we accede.
It is just this agency that is at work, Bennett claims, in our airfields, in the wild, in the rush of a blackout, and all around and within us our bodies are nothing but organic and inorganic assemblages.
This would seem to leave us bereft of any politics worthy of the name and the reader may worry Bennett has brought us either to the edge of some pan-psychic New Age philosophy, or worse, a nihilism that renders meaningless all human actions and common praxis.
With each decentering of the human being, either in terms of structures or the play of language in the philosophies of the last century, there has been less a philosophical answer to these vital questions than a seeming normative disgust that human beings have been cast from their throne.
Merely decrying the human loss of its supposed mastery is not enough. Of course, you are writing out of a different set of philosophers, or at least not directly responding to these recent works.
What do you make of this historical moment where we have this seemingly wide return to the things themselves that your book marks? There is the call from our garbage: A second kind of call is coming from the weather, from volcanos that stop flight traffic across Northern Europe and from hurricanes like Katrina that take down neighborhoods and maybe even George W.
And 24 hour weather reporting and its disaster porn intensifies this call of the wild. For those of us who are philosophically-inclined, the response to such calls has been a renewed focus on objects, on an object-oriented ontology, or a renewed interest in materialisms — there have been in the last decade materialist turns in literary studies, anthropology, political theory, history.
Part of this may be a pendulum swing in scholarship: Could you say more about the limits of this strategy and what it risks?
A perhaps unnecessary caveat: Harman makes me want to focus more carefully on the question of how it is that actants form and hold themselves together, both as individuals and as members of an assemblage. What, for example, initiates this congealing that will undo itself?
Is it possible to identify phases within this formativity, plateaus of differentiation? Or, does the process of formation inside Becoming require us to theorize a non-chronological kind of time?
With regard to the liabilities of the strategy of anthropomorphizing or allowing yourself to relax into resemblances between your-body-and-its-operations and the bodies-of-things-outside, I can think of at least three: I think that anthropomorphizing can be a valuable technique for building an ecological sensibility in oneself, but of course it is insufficient to the task.
This is a view that has been critiqued for a long time now in the works of feminists and in critical race theory, and rightly so. How do you respond to those that may worry, after fighting so long for how certain human are not simply their materiality, that this is what is ecologically necessary to think?
I think that we are in fact constrained by some sort of nature, that we are free to operate but within iterated structures. Though of course a lot turns on how one understands the constraint and the freedom: This is highly unlikely, given a Nietzschean view of nature as flux or a Serresean view of nature as a viscous, clotting flow.In Jane Bennett’s "Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things", she explores the role of inanimate bodies and how humans interact with them.
"Vibrant Matter" serves as Bennett’s manifesto for the benefits of anthropomorphizing/5(20). Jane Bennett is the author of Vibrant Matter ( avg rating, ratings, 43 reviews, published ), The Enchantment of Modern Life ( avg rating, /5(74).
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, ), pp. $ (paper). The impact of new materialism on the study of rhetoric is indefinite. Rather than undermining Bennett’s theory, however, these com- ments are meant to forward the political project of vital materialism without claiming that matter is in some sense alive.
It may prove more fruitful, in other words, to depersonify ecological systems further and focus on the nature of the relations that obtain between bodies. In Vibrant Matter the political theorist Jane Bennett, renowned for her work on nature, ethics, and affect, shifts her focus from the human experience of things to things themselves.
Bennett argues that political theory needs to do a better job of recognizing the /5(4). Reviewed by Bryan E. Bannon, Wesleyan University Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is a provocative addition to the emerging literature redefining the natural world outside the confines of mechanis- tic and teleological metaphysics.