A group of bloggers has organized a reading group for Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter. It will be hosted by five different blogs; it begins May 23 and runs until June 26. Here’s the schedule I lifted from Philosophy in a Time of Error, who also has an interview with the author.
Host blog: Philosophy in a Time of Error (Peter Gratton)
Under discussion: Preface & Chapter 1, “The Force of Things” (and overview/interview).
May 30-June 5
Host blog: Critical Animal (James Stanescu)
Under discussion: Chapters 2 and 3, “The Agency of Assemblages” and “Edible Matter.”
Host blog: Naught Thought (Ben Woodard)
Under discussion: Chapters 4 and 5, “A Life of Matter” and “Neither Vitalism nor Mechanism.”
Host blog: An und für sich (Anthony Paul Smith)
Under discussion: Chapters 6 and 7, “Stem Cells and the Culture of Life” and “Political Ecologies”
Host blog: Immanence (Adrian Ivakhiv)
Under discussion: Chapter 8, “Vitality and Self-interest,” and the book as a whole (final overview).
I learned today at Graham Harman’s blog that he will review Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter. Now that’s what I call productive, interdisciplinary dialogue.
First, it’s nice that Bennett is not afraid to promote a modest degree of anthropomorphism with respect to objects, even if this promotion is simply a rhetorical maneuver. Rhetorically, it lends object a force that they are often denied. It may just be a Wittgensteinian ladder that we will one day kick away, finding it no longer of use or necessity.
Second, and more importantly, Vibrant Matter is an intense book. This is by virtue of its clarity, concision, and compactness. Each chapter gets right to the point, explaining difficult concepts without the philosophical jargon and without succumbing to the desire to digress into local debates. Bennett’s trajectory is concentrated; she resists diffusion and keeps focused on the book’s payoff: the application of a certain tendency in materialism to contemporary politics. Sure, I would have liked her to engage more object-oriented philosophy, or take up Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, but this kind of engagement would have been out of place in a book which is primarily situated in political theory, not philosophy.
Philosophically, Vibrant Matter is neither remarkable nor contentious. She efficiently assembles some concepts from the likes of Latour, Deleuze, Spinoza, Dreisch, Kant, Bergson, and others (often only a single concept or two: body, elan vital, assemblage, actant), and puts them to work for her ”vital materialism.” She effectively inscribes Bush and his cohort into the history of vitalism, only to quickly display how such a “soul vitalism” has already been criticized and surpassed, worn out. This is where the force of Bennett’s philosophical work is felt, in the political arena.
Perhaps Vibrant Matter could be one of the founding documents of the Materialist Party?
When I mentioned a few posts ago that I’m finding Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter somewhat reminiscent of the object-oriented philosophy of Graham Harman, I had passages like this in mind:
‘In this assemblage, objects appeared as things, that is, as vivid entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics’ (p. 5).
Of course, Harman would not be using the Deleuzian ‘assemblages’. And I will have to check on the consistency and frequency of ‘objects’, ‘things’, and ‘assemblages’ as I continue reading Bennett. One interesting intuition I’ve had is that it seems as though if you substitute ‘object’ wherever ‘assemblage’ is used, you get two parallel ontologies, one substantial and one relational.