Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Individual Comments for Vibrant Matter - Chapter 1: Force of Things


  1. Paige and Mallory's brief summary and analysis on Chapter 1:

    Bennet is arguing that all things (objects/humans/plants/animals etc) have vitality, vibrancy. They are vibrant matter. She was impacted in the moment she came across the "glove, pollen, rat, cap, stick."

    Now....Thing-Power- please do not confuse with girl power, flower power, or black power. This is called Thing-Power: the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce affects, dramatic and subtle, such as the sun shimmering on the black glove. "And to note this fact explicitly, which is also to begin to experience the relationship between persons and other materials" horizontally so that we may have a stronger ecological awareness (make wise decisions for the environment's sake). These things working all together become actants that work together in a web rather than on their own. When viewing objects as actants we are unable to determine the singular cause of an event (neither positive or negative). Bennett defines humanity as a "rich, complex collection of materials" but what differentiates us from the other matter is that we happen to have intellect. Vital materialism describes the thing power's likelihood to cause suffering to the weaker human and thus is unethical. Bennett addresses Adorno's concept of nonidentity (which we will address as Bennett's "spark" and "shimmer" in the black glove) in order to help us recognize the thing power of this vibrant matter. With this knowledge, we can then make "more carefully, more strategically, more ecologically" sound decisions with regards to the environments and matter around us.

  2. I found the language that Bennet uses in the first three pages of describing thing-power very interesting. She makes multiple references to Thoreau and ideas of "Wild" or "wilderness". In the last paragraph on page 2 Bennet writes, "Thing-power bears a family resemblance to [...] what Thoreau called the Wild or the uncanny presence that met him in the Concord woods and atop Mount Ktaadn and also resided in/as that monster called the railroad and that alien called his Genius. Wilderness was a not-quite human force that addled and altered human and other bodies". I have read very similar accounts from Thoreau used in several writings that are attempting to define the relationship that exists between "wilderness" and the sublime, such as in (my favorite book) William Cronon's "Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature". I think these two topics go hand in hand because they are both trying to define a feeling that humans can have about an object or a presence that exists outside of ourselves. It's the affect, the impact, that moment where we find ourselves aware of a power in something other than ourselves. I think a simple illustration of that idea is when Bennet described vibrant matter in its ability to exist as the actant and the operator (page 9). The fact that an object is able to enforce a physical, emotional, or mental change in our understanding bears a heavy weight on the way we view inanimate or organic matter. Thing-power to me is often personal, albeit situational, as each person is going to view things from their own human perspective, and actually, when I start to really think about that way I begin to understand the compulsion behind hoarders a little bit more (not that I'm justifying that action). I think that is a facet of this conversation that can't be ignored. The entire first paragraph of the section: Thing-Power IV: Walking, Talking Minerals on page 10 rounds out several of these ideas in a nice, concise paragraph.

    Here is a link to Cronon's chapter of Uncommon Ground if anyone is interested in reading it. I found it very relatable to the idea of vibrant matter, and it's a great read if you're even slightly interested in nature! http://www.williamcronon.net/writing/Trouble_with_Wilderness_Main.html

  3. Main Points
    · Recalcitrance – resistant force
    · Cultural productions
    · Thing-power – “the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (p.6)
    · Conatus – “active impulsion…present in every body” (p.2)
    o The absolute ab (off) + solver (to loosen)
    o The absolute is that which is loosened off and on the loose.
    o “Absolute names the limits of intelligibility” (p.3)
    · “To be surprised by what we see” (p.5) – on glove, pollen, rat, cap, stick
    · Antimateriality – American materialism
    · “absolve matter from its long history of attachment to automatism or mechanism.”
    · Actant – “something that acts or to which activity is granted by others. It implies no special motivation of human individual actors, nor of humans in general” (p.9)
    Everything? I’m going to be honest - I had a difficult time reading this entire chapter. I also found her lack of footnotes troublesome. While I knew some of the people she mentioned, she also noted a number of people unknown to me, and I wish she had a quick footnote for them without expecting the reader to have prior knowledge. I’m hoping to have a better understanding after the class discussion.

  4. The main question I have for people after this reading is; Do you feel like you will stop and look at accumulated trash in the street now after reading the attraction the author had with the debris of one men's glove, the dead rat, the accumulated pollen, a smooth stick, and a white plastic bottle cap? For me this reading was highly personal and although Bennett is trying to explain the thingness of things, and their apparent attractions and relationships to the human, I find myself unrelated to "things" in the way she is. The main idea that I can pull from this reading is that experiences with things is highly personal. Although Bennett had a unique draw and pull to the accumulated debris, would I have the same reaction / intrigue, most likely no. There are so many deciding factors that would make me stop and gaze at accumulated things, mainly my mood, if I'm searching for something specific, if I'm in a rush, am I just out walking, biking, scooting etc. For me, I don't feel the same draw to material things but one of the most relatable moments from the reading is when Bennett mentions that inorganic matter has the energy and potential for self-organization. Examples like ocean waters leading to tsunamis resonates most with me because on a scientific level I can understand how molecules can accumulate for a purpose. I also was intrigued by the discussion on the organization of bone mineralization and the evolution that "allowed new forms of movement control, setting animals in motion to conquer every available niche in the air, in water, and on land" This type of accumulation makes most sense to be on a scientific level, and although I do believe in luck, chance, and coincidence, I am still not as convinced about this thing-power in in-organic matter.

    Lastly, one of the most poetic descriptions was how Robert Sullivan describes the vitality the trash continues to have. I can related to this description and wish more people would have a better perspective on the material objects they possess. I'm always aware of what I'm throwing out and I am always curious about where it will end up and for how long it will continue to sit in a pile. Also for some reason this reminds me of Toy Story 3, where the toys have a life of their own and care so much about their owner that even though my a chance mistake they still find their way back home. What if all of our belongings have an attachment like this to us and we don't even realize it. I recently saw a post on Facebook that said, "What if the spider you killed in your home had spent his entire life thinking that you were his room-mate? Ever think about that? No. You only think about yourself. What if more of us put into perspective, that even though our material possessions don't have feelings, if they did would we care more about what we owned and what happened to these belongings? Just a thought.

  5. For Bennet, matter is not passive, inactive, and unitary, also nature for bennet is not a subject “active powers from non-subjects”.
    • Thing power produce affects.

    Bennett argues that “an actant is a source of action that can be either human or nonhuman; it is that which has efficacy, can do things, has sufficient coherence to make a difference, produce effects, alter the course of events.

    • “Nonidentity is the name Adorno gives to that which is not subject to knowledge but is instead “heterogeneous” to all concepts.”

    • “The notion of thing-power aims instead to attend to the it as actant; I will try, impossibly, to name the moment of independence (from subjectivity) possessed by things, a moment that must be there, since things do in fact affect other bodies, enhancing or weakening their power.”

    • “Thing-power: the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle.”

    • “Actant, recall, is Bruno Latour’s term for a source of action; an actant can be human or not, or, most likely, a combination of both.”

    • “Nonidentity is the name Adorno gives to that which is not subject to knowledge but is instead “heterogeneous” to all concepts.”

    • “in this assemblage, objects appeared as things, that is, as vivid entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics. “

    • “It hit me then in a visceral way how American materialism, which requires buying ever-increasing numbers of products purchased in evershorter cycles, is antimateriality. The sheer volume of commodities, and the hyperconsumptive necessity of junking them to make room for new ones, conceals the vitality of matter.”

    How would political responses to public problems change when we take seriously the vitality of (nonhuman) bodies?

    What concept of “life” is best captured by the idea of vibration? Why “vibrant matter”? is it a biopolitical understanding of life?

  6. Throughout the chapter, Bennett refers to things (matter) that continue to act without human intervention. The rat, cap, stick, pollen, glove assemblage which she comes upon in a gutter, she comes upon with the writings of Thoreau in mind. Reading this passage again it struck me that Bennett's assemblage, Kafka's Odradek, and all of the accounts of material acting of its own accord, exist within text written by human beings considering these objects and their implied history/cultural significance (or insignificance). Odradek is described as having all kinds of old thread attached to it and having the appearance of having been broken. I'm wondering if new objects carry the same level of activity as old, broken, and discarded objects. All of the examples provided in the text are of the latter variety.

    The deodand is an object, acted upon by God, which causes injury to an individual (I like the example of a falling piano). Nowadays this concept is not as much a thing as if any accident occurs the owner of said object is, in most cases, held accountable.

    We are made of bone (walking talking minerals). Everything in our bodies is made of things from the natural world and we are part of the natural world. It's been proposed that the distinction between nature and the man-made is a false one and I think this argument is worth considering.

    some other notes:

    "Moralism can itself become a source of unnecessary human suffering"

    "inadequacy of representation"

    What I'm most interested in is the idea of the story and the human interaction with these objects that makes them important. Though I believe the argument of the text is that these objects act on their own.

    "The mountains don't need our accolades"