General Notes

  • Whence the new materialisms? A stew of:
    • exhaustion with the cultural turn’s absent materialism and Marxism’s dialectical materialism, esp. under the imprimatur of “radical constructivism,” which no longer seems radical enough in the face of scientific study.
    • increased passage of knowledges from the sciences to the humanities, particularly around questions of affect, biology, and neurology.
    • the ethical demands placed on scientific and technological advances, particularly in relation to biotic matter. (Digital involvements in the Anthropocene, both on the level of traditional pollution and more conceptual concerns, end up here.)
  • New materialism and speculative realism are often gender-coded, which is unfair to all involved (although the speculative realists need to answer for that). One thing that’s worth noting as a shared interest is that both are offering truth claims about the real, that both are strategies of realism.

0. Introduction, Coole & Frost

  • “Our commitment to editing a book on the new materialisms at this time springs from our conviction that materialism is once more on the move after several decades in abeyance and from our eagerness to help define and promote its new directions” (2); materialism has been in abeyance for a few decades post-Jameson through the cultural turn, but now we’re reinvigorating even premodern materialisms (e.g. Lucretius) in an effort to get a handle on the proliferation of lively matter in the world (4).
  • “First among [our themes for this volume] is an ontological reorientation that is resonant with, and to some extent informed by, developments in natural science: an orientation that is posthumanist in the sense that it conceives of matter itself as lively or as exhibiting agency. The second theme entails consideration of a raft of biopolitical and bioethical issues concerning the status of life and of the human. Third, new materialist scholarship testifies to a critical and nondogmatic reengagement with political economy, where the nature of, and relationship between, the material details of everyday life and broader geopolitical and socioeconomic structures is being explored afresh” (6–7). Shorthand: new materialism = biology.
  • “Even natural science, whose influence on some of these new accounts of matter is far from nugatory, now envisages a considerably more indeterminate and complex choreography of matter than early modern technology and practice allowed, thus reinforcing new materialist views that the whole edifice of modern ontology regarding notions of change, causality, agency, time, and space needs rethinking” (9). Interesting that this is thought a product of instrumentation and technique.
  • New materialisms, drawing from chaos theory, lends itself to applications in large systems and complexity theory (13–14).
  • The bio-informatic inclination of the new materialisms is a useful link back to cybernetics: we could perhaps tell a story of how the bio-informatic (genetic) turn has reasserted itself as relevant to humanistic praxis. (Think also of the bio-genetic essays in Nakamura and Chow White’s Race After the Internet collection.)
  • “What we see as new in this aspect of materialism is twofold. First is its practitioners’ reinvention of materialism in response to criticisms that radical constructivists and deconstructionists rightly made of earlier critical materialisms and realisms, Marxism in particular; second is this cohort’s ongoing invention of new concepts and theoretical frameworks in order to understand the complexities of global capitalism (in its broadest sense) and its diverse, localized effects on everyday lives” (25).
  • Climate change’s material reality then demands realist approaches.

1. “A Vitalist Stopover,” Bennett

  • This is a substantial recapitulation of her Vibrant Matter, so we shall pass over it here.
  • “In her comparative study of the vitalist philosophies of Hans Driesch and Henri Bergson, Jane Bennett explores efforts to specify and give a philosophical and scientific language to the liveliness of living matter while also warning of the ways vitalism can be given troubling new life in the political rhetoric of Nazism or the contemporary ‘culture of life’” (37–38).

2. “Non-Dialectical Materialism,” Cheah

  • “In tracing Jacques Derrida’s and Gilles Deleuze’s distinctive projects of figurin materiality outside of the grasping hold of consciousness, Pheng Cheah marks the ways the new materialist ontologies call into radical question some of the foundational concepts in politics” (38).

3. “The Inertia of Matter,” Coole

  • “Diana Coole uses Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among other thinkers, to trace the philosophical paths by which phenomenologists have tried to refigure perception and agency by relocating and reimagining the body-in-the-world” (38).

4. “Impersonal Matter,” Orlie

  • “Emphasizing and analyzing the impersonal character of both Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the will to power and Sigmund Freud’s account of psychic life, Melissa Orlie explores how we might imagine creativity and freedom from within a new materialist framework” (38).

5. “Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom,” Grosz

  • “Elizabeth Grosz analyzes Henri Bergson’s effort to sidestep the ‘freedom versus determinism’ problem that is often posed as an obstacle to political elaborations of new materialist ontologies. She explores the feminist political possibilities in Bergson’s contention that freedom is best conceived not as a characteristic of a subject but rather as a characteristic of acts that express the subject” (38).

6. “Fear and the Illusion of Autonomy,” Frost

  • “Samantha Frost draws out Thomas Hobbes’s materialist analysis of the ways the passions orient subjects in space and time to suggest that fear is a passion through which individuals produce a sense of themselves as autonomous agents” (38).

7. “Materialities of Experience,” Connolly

  • “William Connolly weaves together insights about perception and power gathered from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and contemporary neuroscience to explore how our attachment to the world shapes the texture of political judgment and critique” (38).

8. “The Politics of ‘Life Itself,’” Braidotti

  • “And finally, situating pain and death in relation to impersonal life processes, Rosi Braidotti reassesses contemporary forms of biopower and sketches the possibility of an affirmative ethics and citizenship” (38).

9. “The Elusive Material,” Chow

  • “Using Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Louis Althusser, and Slavoj Zizek to reexamine historical materialism and its progressivist teleology, Rey Chow considers the potential for terror as well as progress when iterative practices are presented as a model of political agency” (38–39).

10. “Orientations Matter,” Ahmed

  • “Reading Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology alongside Karl Marx’s historical materialism, Sara Ahmed meditates on the ways the materialization of bodies is bound up with the materialization and objectification of the world(s) in which they live” (39).

11. “Engaging Discrepant Materialisms,” Kruks

  • “Sonia Kruks uses Simone de Beauvoir’s diagnoses of the infirmities and oppressions of old age to illustrate how the materialisms in existential phenomenology, Marxism, and social constructivism can, in tandem, provide fruitful insights on the genesis, experience, and perpetuation of injustice” (39).

12. “The Materialism of Historical Materialism,” Edwards

  • “Jason Edwards supplements Karl Marx’s and Louis Althusser’s analyses of the development of capitalism with Henri Lefebvre’s studies of the practices of everyday life, in order to propose an expansive and more politically useful conception of the material practices that reproduce global capitalism and structure the geopolitical system” (39).