Entangled Worlds (2017)

Historically speaking, theology can be said to operate “materiaphobically.” Protestant Christianity in particular has bestowed upon theology a privilege of the soul over the body and belief over practice, in line with the distinction between a disembodied God and the inanimate world “He” created. Like all other human, social, and natural sciences, religious studies imported these theological dualisms into a purportedly secular modernity, mapping them furthermore onto the distinction between a rational, “enlightened” Europe on the one hand and a variously emotional, “primitive,” and “animist” non-Europe on the other.

The “new materialisms” currently coursing through cultural, feminist, political, and queer theories seek to displace human privilege by attending to the agency of matter itself. Far from being passive or inert, they show us that matter acts, creates, destroys, and transforms—and, as such, is more of a process than a thing. Entangled Worlds examines the intersections of religion and new and old materialisms. Calling upon an interdisciplinary throng of scholars in science studies, religious studies, and theology, it assembles a multiplicity of experimental perspectives on materiality: What is matter, how does it materialize, and what sorts of worlds are enacted in its varied entanglements with divinity?

While both theology and religious studies have over the past few decades come to prioritize the material contexts and bodily ecologies of more-than-human life, Entangled Worlds sets forth the first multivocal conversation between religious studies, theology, and the body of “the new materialism.” Here disciplines and traditions touch, transgress, and contaminate one another across their several carefully specified contexts. And in the responsiveness of this mutual touching of science, religion, philosophy, and theology, the growing complexity of our entanglements takes on a consistent ethical texture of urgency.
— Read on www.fordhampress.com/9780823276226/entangled-worlds/

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.

Political Geology: Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life (Palgrave 2018), ed. Adam Bobbette and Amy Donovan

Image result for Political Geology Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life

“This book explores the emerging field of political geology, an area of study dedicated to understanding the cross-sections between geology and politics. It considers how geological forces such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and unstable ground are political forces and how political forces have an impact on the earth. Together the authors seek to understand how the geos has been known, spoken for, captured, controlled and represented while creating the active underlying strata for producing worlds.

This comprehensive collection covers a variety of interdisciplinary topics including the history of the geological sciences, non-Western theories of geology, the origin of the earth, and the relationship between humans and nature. It includes chapters that re-think the earth’s ‘geostory’ as well as case studies on the politics of earthquakes in Mexico city, shamans on an Indonesian volcano, geologists at Oxford, and eroding islands in Japan. In each case political geology is attentive to the encounters between political projects and the generative geological materials that are enlisted and often slip, liquefy or erode away. This book will be of great interest to scholars and practitioners across the political and geographical sciences, as well as to philosophers of science, anthropologists and sociologists more broadly.”

This looks like a great collection!

Table of Contents

Political Geology: An Introduction
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan

Political Geologies of Knowledge
Front Matter
Pages 35-35

Genealogies of Geomorphological Techniques
Rachael Tily
Pages 37-69

Baroque Soil: Mexico City in the Aftermath
Seth Denizen
Pages 71-104

Geo-Metrics and Geo-Politics: Controversies in Estimating European Shale Gas Resources
Kärg Kama, Magdalena Kuchler
Pages 105-145

From Becoming-Geology to Geology-Becoming: Hashima as Geopolitics
Deborah Dixon
Pages 147-165

Amodern Political Geologies
Front Matter
Pages 167-167

Cosmological Reason on a Volcano
Adam Bobbette
Pages 169-199

Against ‘Terrenism’: Léopold Sédar Senghor, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Fear of a De-spiritualised Earth
Angela Last
Pages 201-217

How the Earth Remembers and Forgets
Bronislaw Szerszynski
Pages 219-236

Political Geologies of the Future
Front Matter
Pages 237-237

Attention in the Anthropocene: On the Spiritual Exercises of Any Future Science
Simone Kotva
Pages 239-261

Political Geologies of Magma
Nigel Clark
Pages 263-292

Politics of the Lively Geos: Volcanism and Geomancy in Korea
Amy Donovan
Pages 293-343

Epilogue
Front Matter
Pages 345-345

Encountering the Earth: Political Geological Futures?
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan
Pages 347-371
Back Matter
Pages 373-379

 

 

 

The Return to Lucretius III

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We are witnessing a return to Lucretius. What felt like early shoots in 2014 are today now starting to bear fruit in numerous recent books breaking with the received tradition. My work on Lucretius is now part of a handful of new works offering contemporary interpretations of Lucretius. The authors of this return offer different perspectives but also share a common belief that something is deeply missing from our current reception of Lucretius and that certain problems in contemporary life might find their surprising solution in the work of this ancient poet. Just like the moderns and the romantics before us, we are just now beginning to rediscover a Lucretius for our time. 

The New Lucretius

The new Lucretius has an old lineage. This lineage traces its roots back to the German philosopher, Karl Marx’s 1841 dissertation “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.” There Marx gave one of the most radical and heterodox interpretations of Epicurus and Lucretius the world never saw. The complete work was not even available in German until 1927 and in English until 1975 in his expensive collected works. It is no wonder that it remains one of the most neglected of all Marx’s books. However, in his dissertation, Marx was the first to argue not only that Epicurus had a distinct philosophy different form Democritus but that the core concepts of atomism (atom, void, fall, swerve, repulsion) were actually all continuous dimensions of the same flow of matter. 

This idea was largely left for dead until it was picked up by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in 1962 in his book Nietzsche and Philosophy. There, Deleuze credits Marx’s brilliant discovery but argues instead that the swerve is caused by a vital “force” immanent to matter. Later Deleuze develops this reading into a new “immanent” interpretation of Epicurus and Lucretius in an appendix to his 1969, Logic of Sense. 

From here this idea was explicitly adopted by the French philosopher, Michel Serres who developed it into the first truly path-breaking book-length treatment of a new turbulent Lucretius consistent with the early chaos theory of the day, The Birth of Physics in the Text of Lucretius (1977). Unfortunately, Serres book was not translated into English until 2000, after which it went out of print.

The Immanent Interpretation of Lucretius 

This is a brief history of only the most sustained book-length attempts at the “immanent” reading of Lucretius being reactivated today. Beginning in 2016 an unusual burst of new books either tracing their lineage back to this tradition and/or deconstructing the orthodox reception of Lucretius came out. In 2016 a wonderful collection of essays offering contemporary reassessments and reinterpretations of Lucretius drawing on the “immanent” tradition was edited by Jaques Lezra and Liza Blake and published as Lucretius and Modernity. In the next year Ryan Johnson published, The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter and in the fall of 2017 Pierre Vesperini published a devastating critique of the “myth of Lucretius” in his Lucrèce: Archéologie d’un classique européen. Among other things, Vesperini argues convincingly against every single major point made by Stephen Greenblat in his narrative history of the discovery of De Rerum Natura, The Swerve (2011). Vesperini argues that Lucretius was not a faithful Epicurean; that Lucretius was not an unknown radical of his day; and that Lucretius did not provide a “complete kit for modernity,” but was historically appropriated by mechanistic modernists and then retroactively lionized by the Romantics. This lionization is explored in Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life (2017) by Amanda Jo Goldstein. Goldstein’s conclusion is right on target in citing Marx as the start of this tradition.

The coup de grâce of this burst came in January of 2018 when Michel Serres, The Birth of Physics was retranslated and republished with a blurb on the back explicitly acknowledging the timely importance of reintroducing this book for its contributions to twenty-first-century new materialism. Two months later saw the publication of my first book Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion and Jacques Lezra’s book On the Nature of Marx’s Things. Even in just the past eight years, we have seen a notable return of Lucretius to contemporary philosophy, in particular by new materialist philosophers.