How do objects sometimes act as vibrant things, with an effectivity of their own, a degree of independence from the words, images, and feelings they provoke in humans? Political theorist Jane Bennett delivers the inaugural lecture as the Vera List Center for Art and Politics embarks on a two-year exploration of the material world. In the face of virtual realities, social media and disembodied existences, the center will focus on the material conditions of our lives and examine “thingness,” the nature of matter.
Renowned for her work on nature and ethics, Bennett investigates the power of things, which sometimes manifests as the strange allure that even useless, ugly, or meaningless items can have for us. Her latest book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke, 2010) asks how our political world would approach public problems were we to seriously consider not just our human experience of things, but the capacity of things themselves. How is it that things can elide their status as possessions, tools, or aesthetic objects to manifest traces of independence and vitality? Following the tangled threads linking vibrant materialities, human selves, and the agentic assemblages they form, Bennett examines what hoarders – people preternaturally attuned to things – might have to teach us about the workings of agency, causality, and artistry in a world overflowing with stuff.
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Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, where she teaches political theory and American political thought. She is a founding member of the journal Theory & Event, and is currently working on a project on over-consumption, new ecologies, and Walt Whitman’s materialism.
* Presented on occasion of the Vera List Center’s 2011-2013 focus theme “Thingness.”