Jane Bennett, “The Efficacy of the Slight: Zhuangzi and Lucretius in Times of Ecological Crisis”

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Conrad A. Elvehjem Builidng-Room L150
@ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Co-sponsored by European Studies, Anonymous Fund, and the Department of French and Italian.

Jane Bennett’s talk explores a trans-temporal resemblance between the Zhuangzi (a source-text for Daoism, China, 5th-3rd century, BCE) and the materialism of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura (Rome, 1st century, BCE).  The two orientations affirm what she calls the efficacy of the slight — the salience of the most spare of shifts in the flavor of the real. The operative presumption is that the tiniest difference can be what matters the most, and this thought could be salient for us as we struggle today to identify and forge paths aways from climate disaster. In the Zhuangzi, the entire world of perceptible things is but a hair’s breadth from the (generative) Absence (wu 無); likewise, in Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, an indiscernibly slight swerve of atoms (and those fortuitous collisions that ensue) gives birth to every formed item (natura naturata). Both texts bespeak of a liminality between “not-there” and “there,” an oh-so-subtle interval or gateway between world and not-world. This pivot is called the “hinge of the Dao” in Zhuangzi and named as the barely-there, already-gone swerve (clinamen)in De Rerum Natura. Both texts mark the power of that which is utterly sparse and share a desire to live in creative sync with that extremely slight edge. Just what this might entail is not easy to say, but at the end of my talk I will consider some ecological practices and modes of action that might fit the bill.”