Two Recent Articles on New Materialism

The Head, the Hand, and Matter: New Materialism and the Politics of Knowledge

P Rekret – Theory, Culture & Society, 2018
This article seeks to examine the political connotations of a recent ‘material turn’ in social and political theory and its implications for theorizations of political agency. ‘New materialist’ theories are premised upon transcending the limits which social constructivism places upon thought, viewed as a reification of the division of subject and object and so a hubristic anthropocentrism which places human beings at the centre of social existence. Yet new materialist theories have tended to locate the conditions of the separation of mind and world they seek to overcome upon the terrain of epistemic or ethical error. By taking the work of Quentin Meillassoux, Jane Bennett and Karen Barad as exemplary, this article contends that new materialist theories not only fall short of their own materialist pretensions insofar as they do not interrogate the material conditions of the separation of the mental and material, but that the failure to do so has profound repercussions for the success of their accounts of political agency. This essay seeks to offer a counter-narrative to new materialist theories by situating the hierarchy between thought and world as a structural feature of capitalist social relations.

Materia Agens, Materia Loquens: Ecocriticism and the Narrative Agency of Matter

S Iovino – 2018

Inspired by the theoretical debates about distributed fields of agency and of meaning, the so-called “material turn” sheds its effects also on ecocriticism. Its main conceptual tenet, the agency of matter, has in fact vast implications on the ideas of narrativity and text. If matter is agentic, and endowed with meanings, every material configuration, from bodies to their contexts of living, is “telling,” and therefore can be the object of a critical analysis aimed at discovering its stories, its material and discursive interplays, its place in a “cho- reography of becoming.” In this article I will explore this new dimension of ecocriticism looking at the example of some meaningful narratives about the intermingling of living bodies, social forms, and what, following Bruno Latour, we can call “actants”: “things” or assemblages of things that, in various forms and patterns, interact and interfere with human life, interlacing with the emerging meanings and agencies. In particular, I will concentrate on visual media and literary “embodied” narratives that show how the “material self” is a crossroads of multiple agencies.

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