The (Fractious) Kinship Between the Human and the Nonhuman

Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988-9) – Cornelia Parker

Vital materiality better captures an “alien” quality of our own flesh, and in so doing reminds humans of the very radical character of the (fractious) kinship between the human and the nonhuman. My flesh is populated and constituted by different swarms of foreigners. The crook of my elbow, for example, is a “special ecosystem, a bountiful home to no fewer than six tribes of bacteria. . . .They are helping to moisturise the skin by processing the raw fats it produces. . . .The bacteria in the human microbiome collectively possess at least 100 times as many genes as the mere 20,000 or so in the human genome.” The its outnumber the mes. In a world of vibratory matter, it is thus not enough to say that we are “embodied.” We are, rather, an array of bodies, many different kinds of them nested in a set of microbiomes. If more people marked this fact more of the time, if we were more attentive to the indispensable foreignness that we are, would we continue to produce and consume in the same violently reckless ways.

Jane Bennett
Vibrant Matter

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