Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (a John Hope Franklin Center Book)
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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.
young, or otherwise weaker humans). How can the vital materialist respond to this important concern? First, by acknowledging that the framework of subject versus object has indeed at times worked to prevent or ameliorate human suffering and to promote human happiness or well-being. Second, by noting that its suc cesses come at the price of an instrumentalization of nonhuman nature that can itself be unethical and can itself undermine long-term human interests. Third, by pointing out that the
considered alone. Each member and proto-member of the assemblage has a certain vital force. but there is also an effectivity proper to the grouping as such: an agency of the assemblage. And precisely because each member-actant maintains an energetic pulse slightly "off" from that of the assemblage. an assemblage is never a stolid block but an open-ended coUective. a "non-totalizable sum." U An assemblage thus not only has a distinctive history of formation but a finite life span.l3 The electrical
"material vitalism . . . doubtless exists everywhere but is ordinarily hidden or covered, rendered unrecognizable by the hylomorphic model." 'S The "hylomorphic" model (a term they borrow from the French phi· losopher of technology, Gilbert Simondon) is an explanatory model of how bodies change or develop. According to it a presumably passive, un· organized, or raw matter can be given organic "form" only by the agency of something that is not itself material. The hylomorphic model is thus a kind
the craftsperson to see what a metal can rather than the desire of the scientist to know what a metal do, is, enabled the former to discern a life in metal and thus, eventually, to collaborate more productively with itl9 a life ofmetal 61 Over the past decade or 50, many poHtical theorists. geographers. art historians, philosophers, sociologists, dancers, literary theorists, and others have explored the contributions made by affect to public culture, whereby affect refers to how moods and
cuses rather exclusively on human actants, on the interplay of differeot human beliefs and practices. A richer account would treat the culture of life as an assemblage of human and nonhuman actants. In it, the human belief in a cosmic hierarchy preSided over by an Almighty patriarch, the human feeling of pity for the weak, and the human pleasure taken in acts of aggression and violence would congregate and jOin forces with pluripotent stem cells, ultrasound images of unborn fetuses, the imper