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Notes to Self
A Political Ecology of Thingsav Jane Bennett234
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.
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"Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter is an important work, linking critical movements in recent continental philosophy, namely a vitalist tradition that runs from Bergson to Deleuze and even, on Bennett's reading, to Bruno Latour, and (on the other hand) a 'political ecology of things' that should speak to anyone conscious enough to be aware of the devastating changes underway in the world around us. There is good reason Bennett's book has, in short order, gained a wide following in disparate areas of political theory and philosophy." - Peter Gratton, Philosophy in Review "For the sake of assuaging harms already inflicted we have always cobbled together publics that deal with vibrant matters of floods, fires, earthquakes and so on. For the sake of preventing unseen future harms, Bennett's book argues that we need to take a closer look at how we are embedded in a web of mutual affect that knows no bounds between living and nonliving, human and nonhuman. It is in this refreshingly naive 'no-holds-barred' approach that Bennett's work has much to offer for a reconsideration of our role as thinking, speaking humans in a cosmos of vibrant matter that we continually depoliticize even in our efforts to 'protect' and 'save' the earth . . . a highly recommended read." - Stefan Morales, M/C Reviews "Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter is an admirable book for at least three reasons. First, it is wonderfully written in a comfortable personal style, which is rare enough for academic books. Second, Bennett makes an explicit break with the timeworn dogmas of postmodernist academia. . . . The third point that makes this book admirable is Bennett's professional position: Chair of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. That someone in a Political Science department at an important university could write as candid a work of metaphysics as Vibrant Matter is an encouraging sign. Perhaps philosophical speculation on fundamental topics is poised for a comeback throughout the humanities. " - Graham Harman, New Formations "Vibrant Matter is a fascinating, lucid, and powerful book of political theory. By focusing on the 'thing-side of affect,' Jane Bennett seeks to broaden and transform our sense of care in relation to the world of humans, non-human life, and things. She calls us to consider a 'parliament of things' in ways that provoke our democratic imaginations and interrupt our anthropocentric hubris."-Romand Coles, author of Beyond Gated Politics: Reflections for the Possibility of Democracy "Vibrant Matter represents the fruits of sustained scholarship of the highest order. As environmental, technological, and biomedical concerns force themselves onto worldly political agendas, the urgency and potency of this analysis must surely inform any rethinking of what political theory is about in the twenty-first century."-Sarah Whatmore, coeditor of The Stuff of Politics: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life "This manifesto for a new materialism is an invigorating breath of fresh air. Jane Bennett's eloquent tribute to the vitality and volatility of things is just what we need to revive the humanities and to redraw the parameters of political thought."-Rita Felski, author of Uses of Literature "Bennett's is one of those books where, on finishing, you want to begin immediately again to experience the excitement and elan vital of eloquent, simple ideas presented in clear, concise and considered prose, wherein the presence of a generous, kind and unpretentious author speaks straight into your understanding. Vibrant Matter is fresh, alert, quiet and potent, a door opening in a stuffy room to let the outside in, which lets it speak so as to embolden us to breathe differently. It will redraw the boundaries of political thought; it's already doing so. Read it." -- Mark Jackson * Emotion, Space and Society * "Orienting us to re-encounter both nature and familiar objects as newly strange
Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Theory and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics and Thoreau's Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild, and an editor of The Politics of Moralizing and In the Nature of Things: Language, Politics, and the Environment.
Preface vii Acknowledgments xxi 1. The Force of Things 1 2. The Agency of Assemblages 20 3. Edible Matter 39 4. A Life of Metal 52 5. Neither Vitalism nor Mechanism 62 6. Stem Cells and the Culture of Life 82 7. Political Ecologies 94 8. Vitality and Self-interest 110 Notes 123 Bibliography 157 Index 171