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The Call of Things: Jane Bennett Talks About Hoarders at the Vera List Center

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Les chose sont contre nous” ("Things are against us") is the wry slogan of Paul Jennings’ parodic philosophy resistentialism*. But Professor Jane Bennett of Johns Hopkins University doesn’t think so. (*For more on resistentialism, check out: Paul Jennings, "Report on Resistentialism," The Jenguin Pennings, 1963.)

Bennett, who is the author of “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things” (Duke, 2010), presented a provocative digest of her own material philosophy at a lecture at the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics on September 13.

Her talk examined the idea that hoarders (as portrayed on the A&E reality show “Hoarders”) might be viewed not within the framework of socio-pathology, but as “people who are preternaturally attuned to things.” From this platform, Bennett went on to examine and classify the intrinsic power of inanimate objects, while avoiding the idea of animism.

Bennett’s lecture inaugurated a two-year exploration of what the director of the Vera List Center, Carin Kuoni, in her introduction called “Thingness,” which she describes as “the nature of our material world and us in it, and within it.”

Bon Mots

On hoarders and things: "The things with which [hoarders] live and that live with them in close proximity are less possessions … than pieces of self."

On hoarding as a symptom of our society: "Perhaps hoarding is the madness appropriate to us, to a political economy devoted to consumption, planned obsolescence, planned extraction of natural resources, and mountains of discarded waste."

On “thingness”: "Our projections are only part of what draws us to things. If we subtract all our 'self' — what’s left?"