Orlando Helfer Rabaça

Critical Media Journal

The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter
Jane Bennett, 2004

Thoreau's notion of the Wild,that is, his idea that there is an existence peculiar to a thing that is irreducible to the thing's imbrication with human subjectivity


Lucretian figuration of materiality as capable of free or aleatory movements; a non-Newtonian picture of nature. as matter-flow, especially as it is developed in the thought of Gilles Deleuze; and the Spinozist idea that bodies have a propensity to form collectivities


one largemen's black plastic work glove
a mattedmass of tree pollen pods
one dead rat who looked asleep
one white plastic bottle cap
one smooth stick of wood

between, on one hand, stuff to ignore, on the other hand, stuff that commands attention as vital and alive in its own right, as an existant in excess of its reference to human flaws or projects.

a singularity brought to light by the contingency of their co-presence, by the specific assemblage they formed.

In this assemblage, objects appear more vividly as things, that is, as entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics.

Thing-Power I: Trash

Thing-power is a force exercised by that which is not specifically human (or even organic) upon humans.

‘Odradek’ ,is a spool of thread who/that can run and laugh. As animate wood, Odradek is the result of a "spontaneous structural generation”.

Like a soliton, this particular mode of matter-energy resides in a world where the line between inert matter and vital energy, between animate and inanimate, is permeable and where all things, to some degree or other, live on both sides.

Is ‘Odradek’ an artifact?
Or is ‘Odradek’ a living creature?

Thing-Power II: Creative Self-Organization

For Spinoza, this capacity is bound up with the fact that every entity is a "mode" of one ontological substance.

Each human, as one mode, is always in the process of entering in to a set of relationships with other modes. Because this set itself changes over time (bodies move about, propelled by internal and external forces), to be a mode is, in turn, to mode-ify and be modified.

Nature according to Spinoza is a place wherein bodies strive to enhance their power of activity by forging alliances with other bodies in their vicinity.

never under the full control of any one body, for it is always subject to the contingency of aleatory encounters with other modes.

The relevant point for thinking about thing-power is this: a material body always resides within some assemblage or other, and its thing-power is a function of that grouping. A thing has power by virtue of its operating in conjunction with other things.

Thing-Power III: Conjuctions

an actant can be either human or nonhuman: it is that which does something, has sufficient coherence to perform actions, produce effects, and alter situations.

In cases of accidental death or serious injury to a human, the evil thing involved - the knife that pierced the flesh or the carriage that trampled the leg - became deodand or "that which must be given to God."

Deodand, "suspended between human and thing“, designated the instrument of death or destruction

"deodand", a figure of English law: "suspended between human and thing

There is of course a difference between the knife that impaled a man and the man impaled but the thing-power suggests that the difference needs to be flattened, read horizontally as a juxtaposition rather than vertically as a hierarchy of being.

Today the tendency is to refer all expressions of thing-power back to a human operation conceived as its ultimate source -

But what if we slowed this crossing from thing to human culture in order to reach a more complex understanding of their relationship?

Thing-Power IV: Actancy

For Lucretian materialism, there are bodies and void (the space in which they move), and that's it.

Naive realism: the belief or assumption that one's sense perceptions provide direct knowledge of external reality, unconditioned by one's perceptual apparatus or individual perspective.

A naive realism allows nonhumanity to appear on the ethical radar screen.

naive realism takes human fascination with objects as a clue to the secret life of nonhumans. It seeks the holy grail of the materiality of the rat body, the bottlecap, the wooden stick. It pursues the "actancy" of materiality.

A Naive Moment

it is that things have the power to move humans, the beings who are figured as self-movers.

The emergence of bone "made new forms of movement control possible among animals - Here bone is a mover and shaker, mineralization an agent. There is a sense in which we are its object, and improved in our own agency as a result.

It does not deny that there are differences between human and non human, though it strives to describe them without succumbing to the temptation to place humans at the ontological center.

humans as things composed of a particularly rich and complex collection of materiality

The view that there is a thing-ness to humans, that the human contains no distinct substancerisks being used as a justification for the instrumental use of persons, for their objectification or commodification.

Walking, Talking Minerals


How do to extract connections from the unknown in an artistic process?

Is the unknown really unknown?