Vibrant Matter, Zero Landscape: Klaus K. Loenhart interviews Jane Bennett

GAM07_234wOver at eurozine:

Klaus K. Loenhart: For the Zero Landscape edition of GAM, landscape and the environment, often perceived as the seemingly passive background to our cultural endeavours, are elevated to the status of a protagonist. In your own work “on the seemingly passive”, how did you arrive at your position of a political ecology of things and matter?

Jane Bennett: Prior to reading GAM's call for papers, I had not focused on the sensibility-shaping powers of the category “landscape”. But of course “landscape” (like “environment”) has presented the world as naturally divided into active bodies (life) and passive contexts (matter). I think many people now find this picture implausible. For us, landscape is better understood as an “assemblage” or working set of vibrant materialities. In Vibrant Matter[1] I inflected Deleuze and Guattari's notion of assemblage in this way: “Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within. They have uneven topographies, because some of the points at which the various affects and bodies cross paths are more heavily trafficked than others… Each member of the assemblage has a certain vital force, but there is also an effectivity proper to the grouping as such: an agency of the assemblage”. Clearly, a landscape possesses an efficacy of its own, a liveliness intermeshed with human agency. Clearly, the scape of the land is more than a geo-physical surface upon which events play out. Clearly, a particular configuration of plants, buildings, mounds, winds, rocks, moods does not operate simply as a tableau for actions whose impetus comes from elsewhere.

You ask how it came to pass that it now seems to me wrong (not morally wrong but perceptually imprecise) to speak as if materiality or landscape were mere matter. No one knows exactly how one comes to believe and perceive as one does, but I'll give it a try, speaking first of a biographical factor, and then naming some literary-philosophical influences.