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  • What's the Matter?
  • Melissa Autumn White (bio)
Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010
Catriona Sandilands and Bruce Erickson's Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010

Begin, though, not with a continent or country or a house, but with the geography closest in—the body. . . . Begin, we said, with the material, with matter, mma, madre, mutter, moeder, modder, etc., etc.

—Adrienne Rich

To begin with matter, mma, madre, mutter, moeder, modder, etc., etc.What does it mean to begin, and to begin anew, with the geography closest in, the one that archives the traces of that which has gone before and that which might yet become—thought, enacted, embodied, felt, reached toward? What does it mean to reach out, beyond, toward, and back through the text—to cast, or break, perhaps, a "temporary spell" through the art of writing? To engender a pause (for reflection, for vibrant becoming) in the quickening compressions of the knowledge economy, the academic industrial complex, the writing that must go on even though—because—a writer has just been lost?1 (Not her words, though, they live on, they matter, a portal through which to come back into touch with the cadences and textures of those who have gone before, who continue to matter, who haunt the poetic edges of texts that insistently demand, mma, "new ways of thinking" (Coole and Frost, New Materialisms, 2). The march goes on; faster now, out of March and into the spring. The bloom).

To begin, again, with matter, this review turns to two recent collections that take up the question of matter in distinctive philosophical and political ways: Diana Coole's and Samantha Frost's New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (2010) and Catriona Sandilands and Bruce Erickson's Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire (2010). Together, these volumes [End Page 339] materialize richly populated and verdant worlds in which to rethink and reconsider the matter of materiality, a matter of theoretical concern that is, as Coole and Frost see it, "everywhere we look" (2). "Everywhere we look," they write, "we are witnessing scattered but insistent demands for more materialist modes of analysis and for new ways of thinking about matter and processes of materialization" (2). The question that both of these volumes leave us with—or ought to leave is with—is, Why? Why now? In other words, what are the material conditions that make the turn to the "new materialisms" not only possible, but also felt as urgent, indeed, necessary? Marx, mma: "all that is solid melts into air," and it makes us, understandably, anxious. Longing for a return to what matters as even the geography closest in—the body loses its solidity, experienced as a system of parts (kidneys, wombs for hire, limbs that don't belong), an assemblage of cells, an ecology of microbes, parasites and viruses, a fleshy knot of capacities and debilities, as our intimate and physical lives become increasingly saturated "by digital, wireless, and virtual technologies" (5).2 Sorceries of capitalism: "all that is holy is profaned."

Both New Materialisms and Queer Ecologies are, in the truest sense, timely volumes; both collections illuminate and reflect contemporary compulsions in critical theory while making important contributions to transdisciplinary feminist and queer posthumanist inquiry, a minor arc of theory that nevertheless has an extensive history in feminist studies of science, technology, and epistemology, as Sara Ahmed (2008) has argued elsewhere.3 There is, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost suggest, "an apparent paradox in thinking about matter: as soon as we do so, we seem to distance ourselves from it, and within the space that opens up, a host of immaterial things seem to emerge: language, consciousness, subjectivity, agency, mind, soul; also imagination, emotion, values, meaning, and so on" (1-2). Yet, after Butler's theorizations of the radical inseparability of embodiment, psychic life, and discourse (1990, 1993, 1997), and in the face of autonomist theorizations of the information economy (e.g., Marazzi 1994; Hardt and Negri 2004; Clough 2007; Berardi 2009), what can it possibly mean to render language, affect, subjectivity, imagination, mind, and, indeed "soul" as "immaterial things...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1520
Print ISSN
0732-1562
Pages
pp. 339-345
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-03
Open Access
No
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