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.



  1. June 6, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Richard, this looks like a fascination book. (Also, I like your blog chain reading idea!) I have linked your blog entry in my reading blog, so others can find out about Bennett, “vital materialism,” and your own thoughts and projects.

  2. June 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I meant “fascinating.” I blame brain & fingernails.

  3. Joan Colby said,

    June 6, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    I will look for this book that apparently espouses views with which I would be most sympathetic. It has always seemed to me that our species will eventually be supplanted by more evolved versions (but not in merely a materialistic sense, I hope)

  4. Lee said,

    August 23, 2010 at 2:19 am

    This is a fascinating blog. As someone new to poetry (writing) it’s helpful to understand the thoughts and interests that go through an editors head when reading and selecting poetry for publication. I’ve always heard that poetry and philosophy are cousins, but I’ve been left to perpend exactly what that means. Here’s a piece to the puzzle.

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