Anthony Paul Smith has a great post, and he links well her point by point descriptions to Catholic Social Thought.
As I’m working on another project, I’ve been putting away references to “life” going back to Aristotle, since I’m not satisfied with much of the work on it. I think on this Agamben’s work has been fruitful since he points to the sovereign decision over life/non-life. This chapter enters this tricky area right at what would be a border case of stem cells. I think Bennett sets up fruitful distinctions for her own vitalism, but I didn’t find this chapter convincing. But in the end, as Aristotle would say, the aporia in the object (peri tou pragmatos), not just in the path we have taken. As such, I’m not I’d find any chapter on this wholly convincing.
To be simplistic, we see this question of life on both the side of increased mechanization (does a robot count?) and knowledge about bacteria, etc. (do viruses count as life?). And “a” life is at what level? Is the eco-system itself “a” life? (People who like Deleuze always thought that reference to “a” life over “life” did much more work than it ever did, since obviously that just kicks the question down the road a bit…) In any case, this chapter is well worth reading because she in quick order moves to exactly the right questions.
A.P. Smith added to his post this, and here I pause of moment:
I think Bennett needs to do more work in terms of the place the lab takes here. She suggests that the difference between Driesch’s vitalism leading pacifism and the Nazi’s violence undergirded by soul vialism has to do with Driesch paying attention to things in the lab. But, this fostering of empathy, this recognition of “thing-power”, didn’t occur in the Nazi’s labs. The fact that the Nazi’s also had labs, that many of the worst crimes of the holocaust occurred by turning these places into labs, surely means this is not where we can locate the difference.
I’ll have to get my copy off of my desk to see if this is her argument, since somehow I missed this when I read it the first go-round. Driesch had more empathy for things, and therefore this lead him to pacifism? Because he worked in a lab? Let this be another example where “one didn’t become a Nazi because X” doesn’t really work…
This is why, I’m sorry to say, critics of Levi’s onticology will not be at all convinced by his example of his daughter. I’m not disagreeing for a moment with what he writes (especially the lack of control part), but the difference people will point to is that “life” is autonomous and secrets away its singularity—but this would prove nothing about “objects” that are not life. This is why Bennett’s book is fruitful, since I think she sees (as I’m sure Levi does, from posts on this) that it is this question of what counts as “life” is the cudgel used to deny what he describes to actants that don’t happen to be precocious 3 and 1/2 year olds.