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Coffee: grad school warrior food

by on April 28, 2013

The core of Bennett’s argument in Vibrant Matter – or what is, for me, the most compelling and perhaps politically urgent of her contributions to the discourse we have been following throughout this seminar – comes up in her seventh chapter, on “Political Ecologies”:

If human culture is inexplicably enmeshed with vibrant, nonhuman agencies. and if human intentionality can be agentic only if accompanied by a vast entourage of nonhumans, then it seems that the appropriate unit of analysis for democratic theory is neither the individual human nor an exclusively human collective but the (ontologically heterogeneous “public” coalescing around a problem. (108)

This redefinition of the ‘appropriate unit’ for political analysis seems to be based upon what she introduces, in an earlier chapter, as “the ‘prodigious’ idea that activity is the ‘vague essence’ of matter,” drawn from the ontological work of Deleuze and Guattari (54). As with Deleuze and Guattari, she seems to be referring here to essence in a decidedly non-Platonic manner – that is, as an essence that is not to be understood as some sort of essentializing mobile-colonial universal. (Hence the application of the qualifier ‘vague’ – a quality with which I think, in general (vaguely speaking), we could all stand to be somewhat more comfortable, in appropriate circumstances. Abstraction is not something to be feared always, or condemned, outright and universally!)

Such a notion is, by this point in the semester, one that we have encountered rather frequently, in one form or another. Coupled with the fact that I have read Bennett’s text previously once before – around a year ago – this led to me feeling quite comfortable with Bennett’s assertions throughout Vibrant Matter. My mind wasn’t blown, so to speak, by any of her assertions regarding being, ontology, etc. However, what I did appreciate most, were her forays into more specific exemplum of the places in which we encounter the vague essence of vibrant materiality. In particular, I appreciated her discussion of food, typically conceived of as the epitome of passive and inert matter – something that is simply there to be consumed, without any reciprocal agentic capacity of its own. As I sit in front of my laptop, a large cup of coffee at my left hand, I am all to aware of the agentic capacity of those entities I take into my body – consumption is a two-way street, as any graduate student who has ever overdone it on the coffee (or burritos, or beer, etc) can attest.




From → Quadruple Object

  1. I would have to agree that while nothing in Bennett really “rocked” my perceptions on being and objects, her practical considerations made the text a very interesting read. The section on food and vitalism was fantastic, and the idea of the “sex appeal of non-organic objects” from chapter 4 (though this was a fairly brief discussion). One quote from the section on food that I have been considering quite a bit in relation to “illicit” drug use is:

    “the agency of the added element(s) is only “slowly brought to light as the assemblage stabilizes itself through the mutual accommodation of its heterogeneous components” (42)

    I think this point is effective for illustrating the shortsightedness of making certain substances illegal as it assumes the effects of heterogeneous components are constant. Marijuana comes to mind because of how distorted its affects were by “clinicians” in 1940’s and 50’s. Same goes for caffeine, alcohol, etc. While certain areas of the medical establishment still have access to these medications in limited circumstances (even substance like meth have SOME medical purposes), and I think this section makes a compelling argument for legalization efforts (disclaimer: I am indifferent to most of these arguments, nor am I advocating that we legalize meth. I just think this section offered an interesting approach to such arguments).

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