Fearful Materialism

Devyn Remme

“Fear is the mind-killer, fear is the little-death...” (Herbert, 1965)

Departing from a position of fear leads to the desire to dominate and control. Fearful '-isms' insist on a single account of reality that is threatened by the suggestion of multiple interpretations or explanations. Fearful materialism believes in the existence of an objective Truth and claims privileged access to it through empirical science as the only valid way to know about the world. This Truth is more than a collection of empirical facts and measurements which have instrumental utility, for example that the melting point of water decreases with an increase of pressure. Facts are simple; 'true' and 'real' are entirely more complicated matters requiring semiotic construction. The construction of meanings is always a subjective process, subverting the most ardent attempts at an objective account of reality. Thus, monopolies on truth tend to be enforced by violence, attrition and internalized oppression. In the dialectics of authoritarian thinking, those who claim privileged access to truth are either tools for the authentication of power and legitimacy or a threat to it. When Richard Dawkins argues for militant atheism he is not radically challenging the hegemonic order, he is reinforcing it.

“Many scientists are infected, of course, as well as all those who accept their authority concerning what objectively exists. But those who would claim to be animists if they affirm that rocks “really” have souls or intentions, as we have, might be infected, too. It is the “really” that matters here, an emphasis that marks the polemical power associated with truth.” (Stengers, 2012: 5)

Dogmatic truths are vulnerable (fragile?), that is why heresy was invented. Fearful materialists are the descendants of the witch burners (Stengers, 2012). The ineffable powers of the feminine and of nature went from unchristian to merely irrational. As the patriarchal consolidation of power progressed, the spectacle of burning flesh was replaced by symbolic annihilation, they simply made magic unthinkable. This is done in the name of reason and progress. However, power always entails resistance—the contemporary neo-pagan Starhawk chants, “The smoke of the burned witches still hangs in our nostrils” (1982: 219). In 'Reclaiming Animism', Isabelle Stengers writes, “Learning to feel the smoke is to activate memory and imagination regarding the way we have learned the codes of our respective milieus: derisive remarks, knowing smiles, offhand judgments, often about somebody else, but gifted with the power to pervade and infect—to shape us as those who will be among those who sneer and not among those who are sneered at.” (2012: 6).

Derision becomes discredit and social alienation so we learn to censor our own thoughts. Fear in the driver seat again, suffocating our creativity.

SYNONYMS: monothetic realism, objectivist materialism
ANTONYMS: new materialism, vitalism, animism

Herbert, Frank (1965), Dune. New York City, NY: Chilton Publishing co.
Starhawk (1982). Dreaming the dark: Magic, sex and politics. Boston: Beacon Press.
Stengers, Isabelle (July, 2012). Reclaiming Animism. e-flux, #36. Retrieved on 6/16/17 from: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61245/reclaiming-animism/

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

Here you will find background material, current activities, calls for papers, working group information, and project outputs.

With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who

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Working Groups focus on four key areas of research

Working Group One

Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more

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New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more

Working Group Three

New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more

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New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more


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COST Action IS1307

New Materialism —
Networking European Scholarship on 'How matter comes to matter’

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