Thursday, May 27, 2010

Random Thoughts on Vibrant Matter so far

First, I want to thank Peter Gratton for getting us started off so nicely, and for being a one person army for collecting all the various reflections of Bennett's book as we proceed. So make sure you check his blog to know what is going on (I'll try to do the same work next week).

What I am going to present here is some not fully formed, fairly scatter-shot thoughts about Vibrant Matter so far. I should note that I am far from finishing the book, yet, and Bennett has made it clear in the book that many of my particular questions might be addressed in chapter's 7&8, so I'll bracket a lot of those questions for now.

(1) "Enabling Instrumentalizations"

I don't want to bury the lede, so the most interesting part of the first chapter for me comes on page 12, where Bennett speaks of the need to create and maintain enabling instrumentalizations rather than escaping from instrumentalizations. It is unclear to me if she argues for this position because she thinks it is a better system period, or if she argues for it because she believes escaping from instrumentalization is a pipe dream. However, I am in broad agreement with Bennett on this point, that politically, ethically, and ecologically we need to start thinking of mutually enabling instrumentalizations that escape anthropocentrism. I would push this to say that we need to engage in some type of calculation, the type of calculations that Derrida gestures towards in "The Force of Law" and Rogues. Now, for Bennett, this enabling instrumentalizations is for the physiological and opposed to the moralistic. This moralism, for her, seems to mean Kantianism. This means that Kant's desire to treat people as ends in themselves is great if you get to be a person, but no so great if don't get to count as a person (I would add that it shouldn't surprise us how few beings really got to count for Kant). I'd like to raise two more points here. The first is that Kant isn't the only thinker worried about instrumentalization, and I'd be interested how Bennett feels about Heidegger's fears of technological en-framing and Agamben's desire for rendering inoperative ontological and metaphysical machinery. But the second and more important point deals with conflict of interests. Sometimes choices are going to have to made, sometimes instrumentalizations will not be mutually enabling. And when these moments occur (and I'd say they occur a lot), we are going to have to have some level of normative thought at those moments. Now, that normative thought may be profoundly anti-individualistic and anti-anthropocentric, it may be conceived in terms of tactics and strategy and relations and forces, but the normative element cannot escape a system of enabling instrumentalizations. In a footnote (p. 127 n. 39) Bennett cites that Adorno "describes this pain as the 'guilt of a life which purely as a fact will strangle other life' (ND, 364)." I think that 'pain' has to be part of any thought of enabling instrumentalizations. Moreover, this pain is coupled with or complicated by the opacity of other beings (Edouard Glissant, admittedly anthropocentrically, deals wonderfully with this issue of opacity in his text The Poetics of Relation, which I highly suggest).

(2) A New Adorno

Bennett doesn't give us a new Adorno, but her few pages on Adorno's concept of nonidentity are simply marvelous (though I am probably even more sympathetic to Adorno than even she is). I think that in general this forms part of a rather uncoordinated but important re-evaluation of Adorno, who is emerging not just as a thinker of the culture industry and music but is becoming one of the great thinkers of doing philosophy and the limits and pitfalls of humanism. And while his pessimism doesn't match my own personality or feelings, I think it has often forced me to confront things I would have normally not addressed or have passed quickly by. I won't summarize Bennett on Adorno, but I suggest a close reading of these brief pages for part of what I feel is this new reception.

(3) Being a clown, being naive.

Bennett brings up both Adorno's thoughts on being a clown and Deleuze's thoughts on naivete. This clownish power, this naivete, is certainly an interesting response to the critical function. Besides those terms, we also have the fool from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy?, Ronell's work On Stupidity, and Derrida's long reflection and play on the term betise (in The Animal That Therefore I Am, among other places). What all of these figures mobilize (in and outside of Vibrant Matter) is the opposite of Kant's famous description of the critique as a tribunal with all the pomp and circumstance that figure entails. I don't think it is surprising that thinkers who are trying to move outside of a merely critical tradition so often likely to associate their efforts with clowns and fools than they are with tribunes and kings.

Anyway, I am enjoying the book so far.