Detached Materialism (Reading Religion, Politics, and the Earth, pt I)

I’ve just finished reading the new-ish book by Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey Robbins, Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism. It’s a fantastic and provocative book. I highly recommend it, and it’s a model work for the interdisciplinary front where philosophy, religion, and political theory meet.

“The New Materialism is a logic of sense, based upon energy and life, rather than merely a logic of abstract ideas.” (139)

I really appreciate and affirm the materialist move that grounds this book, but it seems to me to stand in tension with the highly abstract and speculative nature of much of it (in particular when they cover ontology). While on one hand Crockett and Robbins want to direct our attention to the what-is, and upturn it with intriguing analysis, at a point analysis of the nature of being (as energy, as brain/brane, as screen) can become so highly abstract that it distances us from the material conditions of lived reality. This in no way calls into question the legitimacy of their materialist move as such, as they very clearly establish that all being is “energy transformation” (111). Yet I feel an existential tension in its abstractions.

While Crockett and Robbins want to return our thinking “to itself in and as earth,” (140) at times they take us far below recognizable terrain. While this isn’t a problem logically, and marks the work in many ways as metaphysical, it does leave the political concerns that animate the first part of the book to cool. In order to have revolutionary political potential I think Crockett and Robbins need to do more than posit a speculative way to develop athermal energy. While energy is always the issue at hand, given their argument, energy production proper (burning of fossil fuels) isn’t then the only energetic crisis of concern. For all their talk of energy – and to truly energize our democratic political potential – I think Crockett and Robbins need much more flesh and blood.

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