Volume 27, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2021
Guests in the Out-Side
Becoming, Knowing, and Acting in Jane Bennett’s Vital Materialism
Jane Bennett’s vital materialism develops positive ontological commitments to lively matter and resistant vitality, articulated using notions of actant and assemblage, thing-power and the out-side. I show that these ontological commitments reveal a limit for traditional modes of human knowing, favoring an emergent epistemology that attends to the ways actants and assemblages express themselves. I then argue for an account of acting that positions humans as guests of vibrant matter. Compacts of guest-friendship in Plato’s Crito and Kant’s To Perpetual Peace indicate that to be a guest is to be embedded in an asymmetrical system. The compact that binds the guest in a world of vibrant matter is the prospect of friendship with nonhuman others, a prospect I discuss following the work of Nick Bingham. I conclude by addressing Axelle Karera’s recent critique of Anthropocenean discourses, explaining the role guest-friendship can play in addressing certain of the weaknesses Karera identifies.