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. Toward that end, she theorizes a “vital materiality” that runs through and across bodies, both human and nonhuman. Bennett explores how political analyses of public events might change were we to (...) acknowledge that agency always emerges as the_ _effect of ad hoc configurations of human and nonhuman forces. She suggests that recognizing that agency is distributed this way, and is not solely the province of humans, might spur the cultivation of a more responsible, ecologically sound politics: a politics less devoted to blaming and condemning individuals than to discerning the web of forces affecting situations and events. Bennett examines the political and theoretical implications of vital materialism through extended discussions of commonplace things and physical phenomena including stem cells, fish oils, electricity, metal, and trash. She reflects on the vital power of material formations such as landfills, which generate lively streams of chemicals, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can transform brain chemistry and mood. Along the way, she engages with the concepts and claims of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Darwin, Adorno, and Deleuze, disclosing a long history of thinking about vibrant matter in Western philosophy, including attempts by Kant, Bergson, and the embryologist Hans Driesch to name the “vital force” inherent in material forms. Bennett concludes by sketching the contours of a “green materialist” ecophilosophy. (shrink)
This essay seeks to give philosophical expression to the vitality, willfullness, and recalcitrance possessed by nonhuman entities and forces. It also considers the ethico-political import of an enhanced awareness of "thing-power." Drawing from Lucretius, Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, and others, it describes a materialism of lively matter, to be placed in conversation with the historical materialism of Marx and the body materialism of feminist and cultural studies. Thing-power materialism is a speculative onto-story, an admittedly presumptuous attempt to depict the (...) nonhumanity that flows around and through humans. The essay concludes with a preliminary discussion of the ecological implications of thing-power. (shrink)
It is a commonplace that the modern world cannot be experienced as enchanted--that the very concept of enchantment belongs to past ages of superstition. Jane Bennett challenges that view. She seeks to rehabilitate enchantment, showing not only how it is still possible to experience genuine wonder, but how such experience is crucial to motivating ethical behavior. A creative blend of political theory, philosophy, and literary studies, this book is a powerful and innovative contribution to an emerging interdisciplinary conversation about the (...) deep connections between ethics, aesthetics, and politics. As Bennett describes it, enchantment is a sense of openness to the unusual, the captivating, and the disturbing in everyday life. She guides us through a wide and often surprising range of sources of enchantment, showing that we can still find enchantment in nature, for example, but also in such unexpected places as modern technology, advertising, and even bureaucracy. She then explains how everyday moments of enchantment can be cultivated to build an ethics of generosity, stimulating the emotional energy and honing the perceptual refinement necessary to follow moral codes. Throughout, Bennett draws on thinkers and writers as diverse as Kant, Schiller, Thoreau, Kafka, Marx, Weber, Adorno, and Deleuze. With its range and daring, The Enchantment of Modern Life is a provocative challenge to the centuries-old ''narrative of disenchantment,'' one that presents a new ''alter-tale'' that discloses our profound attachment to the human and nonhuman world. (shrink)
In _influx & efflux_ Jane Bennett pursues a question that was bracketed in her book _Vibrant Matter_: how to think about human agency in a world teeming with powerful nonhuman influences? “Influx _& _efflux”—a phrase borrowed from Whitman's "Song of Myself"—refers to everyday movements whereby outside influences enter bodies, infuse and confuse their organization, and then exit, themselves having been transformed into something new. How to describe the human efforts involved in that process? What kinds of “I” and “we” can (...) live well and act effectively in a world of so many other lively materialities? Drawing upon Whitman, Thoreau, Caillois, Whitehead, and other poetic writers, Bennett links a nonanthropocentric model of self to a radically egalitarian pluralism and also to a syntax and style of writing appropriate to the entangled world in which we live. The book tries to enact the uncanny process by which we “write up” influences that pervade, enable, and disrupt us. (shrink)
FEATURED IN EVENTAL AESTHETICS RETROSPECTIVE 1. LOOKING BACK AT 10 ISSUES OF EVENTAL AESTHETICS. What kind of things are damaged art-objects? Are they junk, trash, mere stuff? Or do they remain art by virtue of their distinguished provenance or still discernible design? What kind of powers do such things have as material bodies and forces? Instead of attempting to locate proper concepts for salvaged art-things, this essay, from a perspective centered on the power of bodies-in-encounter – where “power” in Spinoza’s (...) sense is the capacity to affect and be affected – attempts to home in on the presence of a material vibrancy in the hope of better understanding the postures, reactions, and comportments that damaged art pieces inspire as we engage with them. This article proposes that even so-called “inanimate” things convey specific degrees of animacy even if not all of them qualify under the biological definition of life. (shrink)
What kind of things are damaged art-objects? Are they junk, trash, mere stuff? Or do they remain art by virtue of their distinguished provenance or still discernible design? What kind of powers do such things have as material bodies and forces? Instead of attempting to locate proper concepts for salvaged art-things, this essay, from a perspective centered on the power of bodies-in-encounter – where “power” in Spinoza’s sense is the capacity to affect and be affected – attempts to home in (...) on the presence of a material vibrancy in the hope of better understanding the postures, reactions, and comportments that damaged art pieces inspire as we engage with them. This article proposes that even so-called “inanimate” things convey specific degrees of animacy even if not all of them qualify under the biological definition of life. (shrink)
The wholesale aestheticization of society had found its grotesque apotheosis for a brief moment in fascism, with its panoply of myths, symbols, and orgiastic spectacles.... But in the post-war years a different form of aestheticization was also to saturate the entire culture of late capitalism, with its fetishism of style and surface, its culture of hedonism and technique, its reifying of the signifier and displacement of discursive meaning with random intensities. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic.
The context for these interviews was a seminar [Peter Gratton] conducted on speculative realism in the Spring 2010. There has been great interest in speculative realism and one reason Gratton surmise[s] is not just the arguments offered, though [Gratton doesn't] want to take away from them; each of these scholars are vivid writers and great pedagogues, many of whom are in constant contact with their readers via their weblogs. Thus these interviews provided an opportunity to forward student questions about their (...) respective works. Though each were conducted on different occasions, the interviews stand as a collected work, tying together the most classical questions about “realism” to ancillary movements about the non-human in politics, ecology, aesthetics, and video gaming—all to point to future movements in this philosophical area. (shrink)
I explore two walks, one by Henry Thoreau on a hot day in 1851 and one by a line as it winds its way into a doodle today. Walks, I contend, generate circuits of energies and affects, some issuing from people, some from elsewhere. The goal is to accent how ahuman energies and affects inscribe themselves upon selves and inflect their positions and dispositions. Borrowing a term from Lorenz Engell, I call this inscriptive inflection an ›ontographic‹ procedure. Ontography will mark (...) the operations of a creative cosmos, of a more-than-human world continuously impressing itself upon us. At the end, I leave the ontographic to return to the linguistic, to human attempts to ›write up‹ the ahuman ontographies they experience. (shrink)
Following a global trend in humanities since the mid-1970s, South African humanities faculties began to include formal programmes in gender and sexualities studies from the mid-1990s on. While the immediate post-flag democratic era encouraged intellectual concentration on diverse questions of power and knowledge, the new century saw a decline in academics’ critical interest in questions of gender, race and class. This article explores the seeming ‘disappearance’ of humanities-based and rigorous debate which assumes the value of feminisms.
Through postcolonial studies, indigenous perspectives are finally being heard, challenging various Western views of the world. However, these challenges are often made in the same moralizing voice as the original conlonizations were justified. In keeping with the moralizing-resistant perspectives of Foucault, Benjamin and Derrida The Politics of Moralizing issues a warning about the risks of speaking, writing and thinking in a manner too confident about you own judgments. Can a clear line be drawn between dogmatism and simple certainty and indignation? (...) This collection starts by questioning what has become a popular, even pervasive, cultural narrative told by both the left and the right-the story of the West's moral decline, degeneration or confusion. Beyond declaiming the perils of this approach, each essay goes on to experiment with strategies for warding off moralistic tendencies and effects within our own texts and actions. Contributors even explore the dynamics and dilemmas of moralizing by advocates of liberal causes, including patriotism, environmental protection and women's rights. The Politics of Moralizing argues that taking the so-called moral high ground gives free license to self-aggrandizement, cruelty, vengeance and punitiveness and a generalized resistance to or abjection of diversity. (shrink)