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Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (a John Hope Franklin Center…

by Jane Bennett

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1984102,794 (3.5)1
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.… (more)

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Showing 4 of 4
In Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, she explores the role of inanimate bodies and how humans interact with them. Vibrant Matter serves as Bennett’s manifesto for the benefits of anthropomorphizing. Bennett writes, “I believe it is wrong to deny vitality to nonhuman bodies, forces, and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp. I believe that encounters with lively matter can chasten my fantasies of human mastery, highlight the common materiality of all that is, expose a wider distribution of agency, and reshape the self and its interests” (pg. 122). To this end, Bennett uses various case studies to expand her readers’ understanding of what agency is and who or what is capable of possessing and using agency. Some of these agents include worms, the electrical grid, and accumulations of detritus in a storm drain. Bennett writes with the goal of shaping consciousness in order to expand humanity’s understanding of its place in the world. She writes, “My hunch is that the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption” (pg. ix).
Bennett examines the historical debate over a mechanistic or essential arrangement of life. Describing the situating of a basic essence in each subject, Bennett writes, “While I agree that human affect is a key player, in this book the focus is on an affect that is not only not fully susceptible to rational analysis or linguistic representation but that is also not specific to humans, organisms, or even to bodies: the affect of technologies, winds, vegetables, minerals” (pg. 61). She writes of these philosophers’ work, “Something always escaped quantification, prediction, and control. They named that something élan vital” (pg. 63). According to Bennett, Driesch’s goal “was not simply to gain a more subtle understanding of the dynamic chemical and physical properties of the organism but also to better discern what animated the machine” (pg. 71). This recalls the words Master Yoda spoke to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah, “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.” In sum, Bennett’s manifesto demonstrates the importance of resituating humanity’s place in the world by placing humanity within the world rather than outside of it. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Apr 11, 2017 |
An excellent primer on new materialisms/object-oriented ontologies and their relevance to political theory. ( )
  brleach | Jan 26, 2015 |
I can't believe I put all my recreational reading on hold for this! Bennett has an interesting concept, but as so many others have/will note: there's nothing new and there's nothing here (outside of Bennett's grasp of philosophy) that you couldn't find in a New Ager's anthology. I don't think this book will shake political or philosophical foundations and it's a neat footnote, but has little value in anything that I am interested in. Some of it comes off as lazy, but Bennett did put a great deal of work into it. I think it serves as an example of the strange position that many academics in the humanities into which they are corralling themselves.

( )
  veranasi | Jan 17, 2014 |
Some intriguing ideas raised about the way inanimate objects exert their own force in the world -- it put me in mind of the work of Joseph Beuys, but with neither his whimsy nor loopy conviction.

Bennett starts with an interesting concept, but remains necessarily vague about what effects it might have, if any. Ultimately, the work here feels sort of negligible. ( )
  amydross | Oct 28, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
Bennett’s is one of those books where, on finishing, you want to begin immediately again to experience the excitement and élan 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.

Copyright © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
added by LovingLit | editEmotion, Space and Society, Mark Jackson (May 1, 2011)
 

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I must let my senses wander as my thought,
my eyes see without looking...
Go not to the object; let it come to you.
Henry Thoreau, The Journal of Henry David Thoreau
It is never we who affirm or deny something of a thing;
it is the thing itself that affirms or denies something of itself in us.
Baruch Spinoza, Short Treatise II
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In the wake of Michel Foucault's death in 1984, there was an explosion of scholarship on the body and its social construction, on the operations of biopower.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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Duke University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Duke University Press.

Editions: 0822346338, 0822346192

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