December 20th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Jane Bennett: Vibrant Matter and Vital Materialism

"Life is one long struggle in the dark."
     - Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

"Desire is the essence of a man."
      - Spinoza

Jane Benett finds in Spinoza and Lucretius a monism that helps sustain her project, one that moves toward a vital materialism which affirms that "deep down everything is connected and irreducible to a simple substrate," and resonates with an ecological sensibility that unlike deep ecology "posits neither a smooth harmony of parts nor a diversity unified by a common spirit."[1]  She explains her form of vital materialism "is not a vitalism in the traditional sense; I equate affect with materiality, rather than posit a separate force that can enter and animate a physical body... my aim, again, is to theorize a vitality intrinsic to materiality as such to detach materiality from the figures of passive, mechanistic, or divinely infuesed substance. This vibrant matter is not the raw material for the creative activity of humans or God" (ibid. preface xiii).

The notion of human-nonhuman evokes the affective and afflictive power of matter as a differentiated field of acting things (what Bruno Latour has called ‘actants’), ever moving in shifting assemblages that include, exclude and comprise humans, accumulating, manifesting and dispersing powers to act with and on each other in ecologies of temporary material forms and relations. In this respect, humans can be understood to exert a far wider array of powers as sites of material action and interaction – as things – than as reflexive subjects. This notion of the human-nonhuman is associated with terms such as thing-power, thingness or thingliness and positions of enquiry such as actor-network theory, vital materialism, posthumanism, speculative realism, object-orientented ontology. As Dr Emma J Roe tells us  'Human-nonhuman is a challenge to the category of the human as it leads one to consider how as humans we are inextricably connected to nonhumans from sentient animals to inert pieces of technology by both how we know ourselves and how we form ethical and political relationships with other humans and nonhumans.' [2]

If Bennett has a credo it might be one that absolves us of our humanity and creates a sacred space without gods:

"I believe in one matter-energy, the maker of things seen and unseen. I believe that this pluriverse is traversed by heterogeneities that are continually doing things. 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." (122)
Yet, one wonders, to what end would she reshape the "self and its interests"? Who would control these changes? What powers of politics, persuasion and mastery within the post-human trauma - that singularity beyond us that beckons to us from an inhuman future, would authorize such strange goals; and, for whom?

Instead of going into further detail at this time, since I'm still in process of finishing the book, I wish to relay what has already transpired on five other blogger sites who participated in a reading group event which seems to be expertly summed up by Adrian J Ivakhiv on his blog immanence in his post wrapping up Vibrant Matter.

1. Vibrant Matter A Political Ecology of Things Duke University Press (2010) preface xi
2. Dr Emma J Roe, International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 251-257.
S.C. Hickman

Nick Srnicek: Toward an Immanent Ontology

"Bring something incomprehensible into the world!"
      — Gilles Deleuze (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia)

Commenting on Charles Taylor’s, The History of Secularization, Nick Srnicek tells us that this "work holds interest to me insofar as he defines religion in terms of a belief in transcendence. The history of secularization, therefore, is the story of the emergence of immanence over time."[1] Now Srnicek is a bonafide member of that new breed of thinker who questions the humanistic post-Kantian traditions in political, religious, secular, and philosophical thought as it pertains to our grasp of the Real, which has emerged under the - not so tranquil - umbrella of speculative realism. In his Master's Thesis, Assemblage Theory, Complexity and Contentious Politics, which he has published freely on his blog, The Accursed Share he follows a trajectory set out by the philosophical and political writings of  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. His main thesis is based upon Deleuze's concept of assemblages as "particularly powerful ways to conceptualize the complexity, dynamism and differences that are inherent to the political world" (ibid.).

He quotes Deleuze who defines assemblages as a text that produces real material effects, rather than solely transmitting information:

"An assemblage, in its multiplicity, necessarily acts on semiotic flows, material flows, and social flows simultaneously (independently of any recapitulation that may be made of it in a scientific or theoretical corpus). There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of these orders, so that a book has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one or several authors as its subject. In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside. The outside has no image, no signification, no subjectivity. The book as assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world."

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S.C. Hickman

Pete Wolfendale: The Radicalization of Kant; or, Transcendental Realism as Epistemology

"There have already been widespread reports about the novel hypotheses of this work, which declares that the earth moves whereas the sun is at rest in the center of the universe."
      - Nicholas Copernicus, De Revolutionibus (On the Revolutions), 1543 C.E.

"All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us."
      - Immanuel Kant, 
Critique of Pure Reason (1781; 1787) 
Pete Wolfendale in an essay on Transcendental Realism posted on his blog deontologistics describes his epistemological approach as providing "a non-ontological account of the structure of thought", and then shows that there is a thick notion of reality "implicit within it". He takes this to be the essence of a genuinely transcendental approach to realism. [1] He goes on to define transcendental realism as "any position that shows that the structure of thought itself implies that there is a real structure of the world in excess of the structure of thought" (ibid. p. 11). To do this "one must understand the structure of thought in order to understand what it would be to give a proper account of the real structure of the world. This is what Kant would call the critique of metaphysics, which is supposed to come before metaphysics itself" (11).
Ray Brassier told us that his conception of transcendental realism is "a ‘transcendental realism’ according to which science knows the real but the nature of this ‘real’ is not strictly speaking objectifiable. The basic idea is that we know the real through objects, but that the real itself is not an object." [2] He goes on to say "he would characterize his new philosophical stance as "a new compact between metaphysics and epistemology: transcendental realism in the former and revisionary naturalism in the latter. There is a reality that transcends the bounds of possible human experience set out by Kant, but we are learning that it is populated by ‘things’ about which it is proving increasingly difficult to say ‘what’ they are using the resources of sense currently available to us. We will have to forge new vocabularies to be able to say what these things are. Admittedly, this still has a ‘speculative’ ring, but I would like to insist that metaphysical speculation be constrained by scientific knowledge" (ibid.).

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