Matters That Matter

Matter has long been an issue in the humanities, be it in the language of materialism, of material culture, of substance, or of science. For a long time, idealisms of all stripes have subordinated non-human matter to the ambitions and extensions of human thought. Materialisms, on the contrary, have traditionally seen matter itself as what matters: as what determines the shape and conditions of human life. More recent developments have sought to level down the cosmic hierarchies from theology to humanism by proffering a “flat ontology” wherein all matter “matters” equally. After decades of deconstructive undermining, reliance on the old Cartesian subject seems to finally have given way to a proliferation of often mutually incompatible post-Humanist theories whose desire to generate new forms of inquiry stem from a profound discontents with the Humanities and sciences having cultivated predominantly representational modes of knowledge. We see aspects of this in fields as diverse as material-culture studies, Animal(ity) Studies, Object-Oriented Ontology, commodity histories and various approaches to "things," and in Speculative Realism with its anti-Kantian pathos of knowing the thing-in-itself. Thus new emphases on the significance of substance and thingness -- and even the agency of matter as such -- have emerged across fields and disciplines. Of course, attention is also being drawn to the determination of what exactly matters and how to assess this. To put it simply, current contemporary thought insists that matter be given its due. Arguments within and across theoretical traditions seem to have converged, if only momentarily, on a vague but palpable sense that matter as such should be recognized: recognized as one subject recognizes another. It is not clear, however, whether the numerous articulations of this turn are working in tandem or at cross-purposes, how they can be mapped in relation to one another, or whether any of them manages to escape the subjectivist and hierarchical ontologies they criticize.


All lectures begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted, and are held in the Daniel Family Commons, which is located in the Usdan University Center.


The Brain Hard-Wired in History


LARRY MCGRATH • Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Wesleyan Universtiy


Germline Ruptures:
Methyl Isocyanate Gas and Transpositions of Life, Death, and Matter in Bhopal


DEBOLEENA ROY •  Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, Emory University


City, Site and Memory: Santiago Through the Lens of Street Performance


MARCELA OTEIZA  • Wesleyan University


Matter, Mind and Meaning


MICHAEL SILBERSTEIN • Associate Professor of Philosophy, Elizabethtown College


The Implacability of Things


JONATHAN LAMB  • Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanites, Vanderbilt University


Toward a Language of Things


COURTNEY WEISS SMITH  • Wesleyan University


Matter as a Philosophical Posit


STEVEN HORST • Wesleyan University


What is Matter?


BARBARA MONTERO • Associate Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York


On Positive Parasitism


JEANETTE SAMYN • Andrew Mellon Post Doctoral Fellow, Wesleyan University


Extinction Events and Entangled Humanism


WILLIAM CONNOLLY • Krieger-Eisenhower Professor, John Hopkins University