23 September 2012

Recorded Lecture: Jane Bennett, "Powers of the Hoard: Notes on Material Agency"

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
In 2010, Jane Bennett published Vibrant Matter (read the blog post here), a fascinating foray into the agency of things which challenged readers to think beyond the confines of an unquestioned anthropocentric perspective.

If Vibrant Matter proffered the rough layout or skeleton of such a concept, Bennett's talk, "Powers of the Hoard: Notes on Material Agency", begins a process of enfleshment, building some theoretical muscle on top of that bone. Continuing her project of "thing-power" through a distinctly vital materialist lens, her discussion in this presentation at the Imperial War Museum in London on 3 December 2010 asks the crucial question of what kind of lexicon is available to us to acknowledge and explore the active power of things when language itself tends towards anthropocentrism and instrumentalist positionings.

Propensity, action, trajectory, vital impetus, assemblage - Bennett cycles through a host of possible vocabularies before fixing on the concept of the hoarder. The various attitudes towards objects demonstrated by "extreme" hoarders on the A&E reality television show Hoarders, she argues, gesture towards the intercorporeality of things and humans within the amasser's environment. In such a perception, the self is both porous and aggregate, itself a collection of a vast number of attendant things.

"A vibrant materialist would say that hoarders have exceptionally acute awareness to the extent to which all bodies are intertwined with those in its vicinity. They sense that a variety of 'its' make up a self and that the 'its' possess a vibrancy formerly thought to be unique to organic bodies." 
Bennett's talk in London has been archived on the Backdoor Broadcasting Company website and can be streamed or downloaded from here, along with slideshows from her presentation. You can also track the evolution of this project of lexical accretion by listening to or viewing her other talks on the topic at ICI Berlin in May 2011 and at The New School on 13 September 2011.

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