- Editor’s Note
As this issue amply demonstrates, materialism is alive and well in contemporary theory. Still, any effort to deal with it places one face to face with the history of philosophy in both the East and West. If Greek philosophy dates its engagement with materialism back to the fifth-century B.C.E. atomic theories of Democritus and Leucippus, who laid the groundwork for later Greeks including Epictetus and Epicurus as well as the ancient Roman philosopher Lucretius, then Indian philosophy goes back even further to the ninth-century B.C.E doctrine of Charvaka or Lokayata.
Since the ancients, materialism has gone through a number of periods of “revival,” most famously in the seventeenth-century through the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Pierre Gassendi. For the next three centuries, a pattern continued with a succeeding generation of philosophers “reviving” materialism for their own time. The eighteenth-century saw this through the materialisms of Julian Offray de La Mettrie, Baron Holbach, and Denis Diderot, and the nineteenth through the work of figures such as Jacob Moleschott, Ludwig Büchner, Ernst Haeckel, and most famously, the dialectical materialism of Friedrich Engels, a doctrine which persists today through many of the subsequent schools of Marxism.
Though twentieth-century philosophy would establish a number of new non-dialectical materialisms including W. P. Montague’s “animistic” materialism and the naturalisms of George Santayana and John Dewey, it has been the “eliminative” materialisms of first C. D. Broad, and then later J. J. C. Smart and D. M. Armstrong, that gained the most traction by centuries’ end among non-dialectical materialists. Here the general view is that pain and thoughts are merely states of the central nervous system, hence fundamentally material in nature.
Like clockwork though the new millennium has brought with it a host of “new” materialisms including efforts to arguably develop eliminative and dialectical materialisms both independently and together. This issue is aimed at exploring some of these developments. However, because current the work in this area is so broad and multifarious, our focus is divided into two sections: the first section, entitled Materialisms I, takes a broader approach to the topic, and is guest edited and introduced by Chris Breu; the second section, Materialisms II, focuses attention on what might be termed “object emotion,” that is, the intersection between materialisms, histories [End Page 5] of emotions, and affect theory, and is guest edited by Marta Figlerowicz, Padma Maitland, and Christopher Patrick Miller.
Together, the focus editors have done a fine job bringing together a variety of essays that engage twenty-first century versions of materialism in ways that avoid reducing it to either eliminative or dialectical materialisms though at points are arguably enlisting elements of each. They lead us to wonder how different forms of materialist speculation can be brought into productive dialogue with each other, and whether certain materialist approaches should be privileged over others. The essays here assembled under the capacious title Materialisms provides a rich sense of the variety and range of work affiliated with the term today. Collectively, our focus engages a diverse range of questions and issues concerning materialism and materiality.
In sum, the contributions in this issue amount to an extended dialogue with emergent positions on materiality and materialism ranging from new materialist, feminist materialist, speculative realist, and object-oriented accounts of materiality to notions of materiality and materialism in Marxist theory, ecotheory, biopolitical theory, affect theory, and animal studies. They provide a strong sense of the kinds of questions a focus on materialisms and materiality open up—as well as close down—for theory today. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they ask whether “materialism” can serve as a new organizing principle for the humanities as “culture” and “language” did at an earlier moment. Obviously, the answer here has to be, “Why not?”
Looking forward, we have two issues under preparation. The first, entitled Passports (Vol. 25, No. 1 ), explores the implications of the passport as a crucial, yet imperfect instrument of state power. How do passports restrict or enable mobility, and what social logics determine the distribution and granting of access in a globalized world? What dysfunctionalities arise...