Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

Jane Bennett

The lovely piece on the cover is called Neither From Nor Towards 1992, by Cornelia Parker.

With fellowship applications in and the little guy being looked after today, I got to spend some quality time reading for the dissertation. I thought I’d continue my sporadic working through readings in and around object-oriented ontology. I’m still just cracking the surface, but I figured as well that I should start trying to put my thoughts on readings up on the site—to use this place as I had initially intended it to be used. So I got through the first two chapters,this morning and am now coming back to post some thoughts quickly and get back to the book. Sadly, it feels like it’s been a long time since I really read something with such interest, and I am starting to see how this approach to the world might indeed help solidify the theoretical underpinnings of my project. So, following this post today, I’ll just add more thoughts to the bottom of this entry as I read (and maybe bump the date or something), that way there’s only one post per book, but I’m under no pressure to complete the thing in order to outline ideas.

**3 FEBRUARY 2011 CHAPTERS 1 & 2**

Keeping in mind that I am not a philosopher, haven’t read the whole book, and am only beginning to think this whole thing through…These two chapters: The Force of Things and The Agency of Assemblages start to lay out an understanding of objects that denies the human subject a hierarchical role in the organization of power. Tracing lines across (or through) the works of Deleuze, Bergson, Serres, and Spinoza, Bennett attempts to frame a materiality that is, in her words “as much force as entity, as much energy as matter, as much intensity as extension.” (Page 20. What a really nice turn of phrase!) I really like the idea of thing-power, that the non-human actant has a productive capacity in numerous important and frequently undervalued ways. Bennett also does a lot of work up front to embed this philosophy in an ecological field that is really engaged with the contradictions of the current globalized object-driven culture (and object driven clutter):

but it can inspire a greater sense of the extent to which all bodies are kin in the sense of inextricably enmeshed in a dense network of relations. And in a knotted world of vibrant matter, to harm one section of the web may very well be to harm oneself. Here, it seems at this point anyway, what’s being put forward is a philosophy that is rigorous, yet allows for a multitude of simultaneous and contradictory potentialities. And it doesn’t feel forced. I’ll add more tomorrow morning (I hope), something about Latour and the actant, and the relationships I am staring to see between OOO and my work. (This, from page 13, really reminds me of the problematic of security…)



Reading here again, I was thinking about Bennett’s framing of the idea of the swarm, and how this concept is helpful in my project. I should remain, however, mindful that the idea of the ‘swarm’ can easily be overused and also serves as a stand-in term for a certain type of military technological fetishism‐seen in the work of Arquilla and Ronfeldt (2000)—that needs to be carefully navigated. Perhaps one key distinction between how Bennett is framing the swarm and how Arquilla and Ronfeldt do, is that she is tying to keep the discussion focused on ontology, whereas they stick to traditional epistemological hierarchies. The difference being that, ontologically, describing a swarming series of connections and near misses in being is to acknowledge that intentionality is never A)purely human generated, nor do its results only effect humans, and B)it cannot be crafted into and ends based intelligence. When the idea of the swarm becomes a metaphor solely for a more ‘complex’ understanding of threat that can be used to produce new techniques of knowing, that is when we run into trouble. Bennett keeps the discussion in the realm of efficacy and trajectory, while reminding us of Latour’s observation that he never acts, and is always surprised by what he does.