review of Bennett

May 4, 2010

My review of Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is finished, but since it will appear in print soon I cannot post it here. It will be published in new formations (their website is HERE), either #70 or #71, both of them slated for 2010.

In the meantime, you can read THIS REVIEW OF THE BOOK BY J.J. COHEN.

Just one point of clarification. Cohen accurately states as follows:

“in the meanwhile, it is interesting to note that OOO is not considered in Vibrant Matter.”

That is true. But in fairness to Bennett, I wasn’t aware of her work either until 2008, in exactly the same month that she became aware of mine (an enterprising undergraduate first noticed the similarity, and informed both of us more or less simultaneously).

This quite often happens in intellectual life: there is often a delay in reading or even knowing about people who are doing work that has many similarities with one’s own. I also should have read Latour 4 or 5 years earlier than I did, and had to be urged to do so by a third party. It would have saved me a lot of time to have read him much earlier. And I often think: “God knows what else I’m missing that would be really helpful.”

But back to Bennett for a second… The most important principle we share is that it’s not enough to say that the world is “resistant” or “recalcitrant” to the human subject (that’s her way of putting it, which I found quite appealing). If you take that step, you’re simply adding a bit of darkness and occlusion to the same old human-world pair that was made central by Descartes and fixed in cement by Kant.

To really get out of the human-world correlate, you have to be able to say something about “world-world” relations too: or rather, thing-thing relations.

Whitehead can get you there too, but my reservation about Whitehead is well known: I think relational ontologies are a spent force, even though so many bright people think they’re the wave of the future.

In other words, I don’t think the problem with correlationism is simply that it’s human and world, as though bringing non-humans in can fix things. Shifting from (cor)relationism to simple relationism is already a refreshing step, but still leaves the central problem untouched. There are too many pitfalls that arise when you think a thing is only what it is for other things, without reserve.

Why don’t more people see this? I think it’s because the realism of autonomous objects still sounds boring to people. It sounds as if one is defending a sterile landscape of essentialist billiard balls and eternal solid forms that engage in relations only through trivial and fleeting incidents.

Towards a non-boring realism…


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