Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

What Matters Now?

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

What Matters Now?

Article excerpt

Review of Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham, Duke University Press, 2010.

Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things has almost immediately come to be considered a necessary intervention in political ontology and political ecology. This is not surprising, as the playful vibrancy of the text, which repeats the vibrancy of its ontology, is quite timely. Adopting a recently popular orientation to objects, or, as Bennett prefers, things, propositioning a Deleuzean inspired political ontology articulated with a Latourian inspired political ecology, a coupling that is stitched together by eccentric readings of classical philosophical texts and classical readings of eccentric philosophical texts, and finding inspiration in early 20th century vitalisms, Vibrant Matter attempts two projects: a philosophical project--to think matter slowly, to think it so slowly that it becomes strange, and strangely vibrant--and a political project--"most ambitiously," to make possible "more intelligent and sustainable engagements" with this vibrant matter (viii). The philosophical project--to make matter strange--is, Bennett suggests, to subject matter to an en-chanting repetition, (1) dissolving it into a strangeness that opens it up to a vibratory tension, a tension that is, at the same time, the opening of humanity to its implication in and by a vibrant materiality. There is a mutuality to this strange and vibrant matter: matter will become strangely vibrant only when humans become strangely matterial. The political project is, then, an articulation of this mutuality, bringing humanities tensed relationality with and within vibrant matter to a political pitch, learning to recognize its own implication in the tensions of matter, and, more importantly, matter's implication in humanities tense political affairs. If there is a singular achievement to Vibrant Matter it is the articulation of this mutual implication, what Bennett refers to as a distributive horizontalization of ontology, agency, and politics (10, 32-33). Yet the non-hierarchical horizontalization that Bennett proposes should be confused with a flat ontology; even against her own reliance on a Deluezean inspired ontology of planes and surfaces, hers is a world of depth, thick with swarming matter (32). The intelligent and sustainable engagement she proposes, then, is an ability to sink into the rich vibrancy of material being.

The philosophical project, presented in the first five chapters of the work, is, in many ways, an elaboration of the post-secular ontology suggested in Bennett's earlier The Enchantment of Modern Life. (2) Recognizing that the modern tale of disenchantment is a silencing of both matter and religion, the "quasi-pagan" (12) and "neo-pagan" (118) ontology of enchantment proposed in The Enchantment of Modern Life attempts to hear matter speak by repeating religion. Yet like Vibrant Matter's repetition of matter, this a repetition that produces a strangeness, here a strange sounding religion, or at least a religion that sounds strange to Western ears: a religion that is absent faith and belief, as well as a divine creator to secure the proper order and working of this living matter (12). It is, in this, an attempted repetition of the religious life of matter without the closure of its presence.

Vibrant Matter repeats this post-secularity, beginning to determine the vibrancy of matter through a theological conceptualization of the absolute borrowed from Hent de Vries. (3) For Bennett, the absolute comes to designate an "'intangible and imponderable' recalcitrance" of things, their existence as an out-side to the human, a something that has been "loosened off and on the loose" (3). In this expansive sense that no longer simply refers to the Absolute, the absolute becomes a "some-thing that is not an object of knowledge, that is detached or radically free from representation, and thus no-thing at all. …

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