Jane Bennett – “The Force of Things” (2004)

Bennett proposes a phenomenology of non-human recalcitrance read as vitality, which she calls “thing-power.” She proceeds to give an alternative (to Marxism, Foucault) genealogy of materialism. This contradicts Adorno’s non-identical warnings by proposing a naïve realism—where concept and object are at least heuristically consonant—that helps us to imagine more ethical relationships to the non-human. Thing-vitality is that which stands in excess of material reference to human projects (be they failures (trash in Baltimore seen as mise-en-scène or assemblage) or success (monuments)).

“A material body always resides within some assemblage or other, and its thing-power is a function of that grouping. A thing has power by virtue of its operating in conjunction with other things.” (353-4)

This is derived via Deleuze via Bergson via Spinoza. [It should be connected to Esposito.] But this also leads to Latour’s notion of an actant (not actor) as way of describing a middle zone in the horizontal continuum between human and non-human (not a vertical chain of being).

Against Marxist (Adornian) critiques, Bennet asserts:

While humans do indeed encounter things only in a mediated way…a moment of [naïve relaism] is necessary for discernment of thing power…A naïve realism…allows non-humanity to appear on the ethical radar screen. (357)

Bennet accuses the fetish of mediation of a prejudice against things in favor of the subject (exactly what Adorno wants to avoid, btw). In contrast, Deleuze, Lucretius, Negri (and Bennett) presume to speak from the object’s position (which is also problematic).

Bennett does an extended reading of Adorno’s negative dialectics, and proposes joy as a way of responding to the non-identical, of motivating social awareness and change (ecological, political, etc.). While Adorno assigns the non-idenitical dark utopian (spiritual) forebodings—the thing materialist describes these things but they offer no promise, but rather hopes to make them more awake to us.

The ecology that emerges is not one of “organic wholes,” but one of participation in collectivities (not harmony, but participation—which is what Nietzsche advocates in Beyond Good and Evil).

Thing-power is an alternative to both historical materialism and body materialism (cultural studies, etc.).

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