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New Left Review 45, May-June 2007

Jane Bennett presents a case for seeing matter as actant inside and alongside humankind, able to exert influence on moods, dispositions, decisions. Might food in fact be seen as possessing a form of agency? Vitality and volition in motifs from Thoreau and Nietzsche, viewed through the prism of the biological and physical sciences.



Do the ways in which we conceive of politics sufficiently acknowledge the force of ‘things’? [1] Thanks to Anders Berg-Sörensen, John Buell, Bill Connolly, Jonathan Goldberg, Jake Greear, Hadley Leach, Jennifer Lin, Patchen Markell, Noortje Marres, Nicholas Tampio and Lars Tønder for their contributions to this essay. Does our thinking about political agency—about what can make things happen in the public arena—take adequate account of material agency? The traditional approach is exemplified by Leon Kass, appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 to the President’s Council on Bioethics and its one-time chair. He argues in The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature that this everyday activity reveals humanity’s place at the top of the hierarchy of being and our rightful mastery over things. According to Kass, ‘in eating, we do not become the something that we eat; rather the edible gets assimilated to what we are . . . . the edible object is thoroughly transformed by and re-formed into the eater.’ [2] Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul, Chicago 1994, pp. 25–6.

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Jane Bennett, ‘Edible Matter’, NLR 45: £3

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