Monday, June 28, 2010

Bennett, ch. 8

Sorry again for running late. Hopefully in the next few days I will have a post on the book in toto. This will be a short one on chapter 8. Also, if you haven't already, read Adrian on the final chapter here and here.

First, let me say I liked this chapter a lot. It's important and interesting. Her arguments for what a vital materialism can bring to the green movement is strong and important (though her object of critique, environmentalism, seems a little unclear to me. But critique isn't the most important thing here). Her criticism of portrayals of nature as harmonious is key here. And it ties into her closing point that we need to be careful of our only environmental maxim being to tread lightly. This image of nature is one where it is passive and perfect until the evil humans come and muck everything up. I doubt highly it is accurate, and probably doesn't help us figure out better models of interaction and communication with everything that isn't human. Rather, echoing the conclusion by Bennett, sometimes we need to tread lightly, and sometimes we need a Bataillian expenditure, and sometimes we need other levels of action. What we need is a Kairos, a sense of time that is bound to action and inaction, to the opportune time. We need an archer's sense of time, a time that cares about hitting our target, and that takes into account all sorts of nonhuman interactions like bows, strings, wind, force and velocity.
While I think it is clear what benefits vitalist materialism brings with it for the green movement, my only worry is the language is filled with far more radical conditions for success. Complete revolutions in relations to ourselves and to others. I am not saying all of that is not needed, but something like cap and trade whose benefit is that it manages a goal without requiring a revolution should not be lost. We cannot be like, "Let's stop cap and trade because it keeps the market system in place!", because such a move would surely be suicidal as well. This too must be kairos, a sense of timing of when to take a revolutionary step, and when to take a reforming step. Deleuze liked to speak of the importance of stammering, but I think stumbling is also a necessity.

Though my favorite part of this chapter was Bennett's defense of anthropomorphism. Adrian wrote on this, but I think it is also one of the things that would seem the most familiar and important to many of the readers of this blog. Bennett argues, "[m]aybe it is worth running the risks associated with anthropomorphizing [...] because it, oddly enough, works against anthropocentrism" (p. 120). I cannot possibly remember the number of times I have said some version of anthropomorphism might not be the worst thing ever. If one is willing to risk anthropomorphism, it is often because anthropocentrism is seen as a greater enemy. However, if you think that human exceptionalism is actually a good thing or a necessary thing, then anthropomorphism would be one of the worst sins you could commit. I'm not sure I want to defend anthropomorphism as always a good thing, but it is certainly a risk I don't mind running. Maybe we can turn to the both familiarizing and de-familiarizing effect of anthropomorphism later, but this stumbling and stammering end seems a good place to end this post.