Vital Materialism

I started reading a book of philosophy called Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett as part of a blog-chain reading group this past week.  The book presents an argument for “vital materialism,” for a recognition of “nonorganic life” or the vitality and agency that assemblages of objects can have.  While the underlying philosophy goes too deep to delve into here (if you’re interested in exploring some of the sources of her argument, see some of my other blog’s entries), the following quote will give some idea of the book’s purpose:

Vital materialists will thus try to linger in those moments during which they find themselves fascinated by objects, taking them as clues to the material vitality that they share with them.  This sense of a strange and incomplete commonality with the out-side may induce vital materialists to treat nonhumans–animals, plants, earth, even artifacts and commodities–more carefully, more strategically, more ecologically. (17-18)

While Bennett is attempting to elevate things to the level of “agentic assemblages” which “are vital players in the world” (4), her desire is for human agents to “take a step toward a more ecological sensibility” (10) by means of better understanding how humans are part of a larger matter-energy flow.  Ultimately, the goal is to move away from anthropocentrism toward cosmocentrism, a goal largely shared by the poetry journal that stands behind this blog.

When I read about lingering in a fascination with objects, I thought of the work that the poets published in Albatross do:  call attention to an awareness of nature that will bring us as a species to a greater sensitivity toward the nonhuman.

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