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Monday, 19 December 2011

Vibrant matter and non-philosophy

Jane Bennett, in her Vibrant Matter, focuses on a combination of matter and process - of what is left loose yet harbouring powers and what is in the process of producing whatever exists. Matter is akin to the absolute, to the Schellingian unbedingt that Hamilton Grant brings back to the fore. Hers is a story about thing power, a potentiality of matter that contrasts with the actuality of objects. She has room for the onto-genetic tectonic underlying objects and finds it in whatever resists, in whatever escapes, in the clinamens present in every orbit. She claims from the outset that she will "shift from the language of epistemology to that of ontology, from a focus on an elusive recalcitrant hovering between immanence and transcendence (the absolute) to an active, earthy, not-quite-human capaciousness (vibrant matter)" (p. 3)

This is an interesting shift. No more meeting the borders from within - talking about what resist the drive to correlate, so to speak - but rather to speculate on matter as something that acts underneath our correlating practice. The focus on matter is one towards an underlying agent that requires alliances, attention, negotiation and all sorts of painful interaction (to use my friend's Cabrera beautiful phrase) from whoever concocts thought that attempts to encompass the objects that it composes. Matter acts on thought and its resistance to thought is no more than a proof of its powers. Bennett wants to shift from the discourse on passivity and resistance to that of activity. Speculation here makes use of a transcendental argument in favour of matter: there ought to be something acting upon my thought as there is something that resists its productions (the contents of my thought). The manoeuvre is somehow similar to something I proposed in my "Excesses and Exceptions": the multiplicity present whenever we think about something singular is best explained by the escaping character of what makes something singular singular. It indicates a singularity beyond thought that somehow imposes some features on thought - namely, its capacity to rely not only on (already) thought contents but also on acts of thought (and interpretation). This capacity to rely on contents and acts is, according to what I claim in the book, the very basis for the multiplicity of thought concerning singularities. I could have said that these escaping singularities impose some features on thought. They are, as it were, the agents making us think the way we think.

Bennett's strategy is one that by stressing the thing power makes us appreciate starting points like that of Laruelle's non-philosophy. Philosophy, even of the most courageous sort, is based on a pride, the pride of knowledge - of ontological knowledge if we want to speak with Lévinas. It is based on a decision to make thought focus on something. Laruelle claims that philosophy is grounded on a decision to focus on something and this decision contrasts with the appeal of things to thought. While philosophy makes thought active on its contents, non-philosophy makes thought somehow subject to its objects. The many features of thought are therefore determined (to use again the image of determination that Hamilton Grant finds in Schelling) by things - just like escaping singularities impose acts of thought. Matter would then have something like a non-philosophical upper hand on thought. It is matter that vibrates and thought makes no more than attempt to find a way to resonate.

Quick note for the blog's first anniversary: I started out around a year ago on thrash, on the rubbish bins and on how nothingness works like a metaphysical litter. I claimed that nothingness could be nothing but a recycling bin. Jane Bennett quotes Robert Sullivan: "The ... garbage hills are alive... there are billions of microscopic organisms thriving underground in dark, oxygen-free communities...". Just as much in the nothingness hills.

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