In this interview, Jane Bennett discusses her highly influential notion of vibrant matter, which is her term for the idea that the locus of agency is always a human/nonhuman assemblage. In other words, there is an impetus to action in humans and animals, but the impetuses of “things” also contribute. Long interested in environmental studies, Bennett has written on the Hegelian dialectic of faith and enlightenment in order to examine the relationship between nature and the state. In a related project, she defines a modern political enchantment in terms of an animate materialism that she traces in ancient atomism and in Gilles Deleuze. She associated enchantment with sensibility, hoping to encourage a different repertoire of sense encounters with the assemblages in which humans participate. Sensibility is the level at which Bennett undertakes political ecology, which she defines as the art of persuading people—at the levels of perception and sensibility as well as reason—that they are Earthlings. Her current project considers the possibility that a kind of materialism informs Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Bennett’s previous monographs include Unthinking Faith and Enlightenment: Nature and the State in a Post-Hegelian Era; Thoreau’s Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild; The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics; and Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.

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