Vital Materiality: A Train Ride

“I believe in one matter-energy, the maker of things seen and unseen. I believe that this pluriverse is traversed by heterogeneities that are continually doing things. I believe that it is wrong to deny vitality to nonhuman bodies, forces, and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp. I believe that encounters with lively matter can chasten my fantasies of human mastery, highlight the common materiality of all that is, expose a wider distribution of agency, and reshape the self and it's interests.” - Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter

I recently was on a long train ride through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. I was hypnotized by the odd landscape that unfolded on the other side of the scratched and bruised glass window. The land oscillated between small towns littered with corroding cars, half-frozen rivers that meandered lazily alongside the train, and mysterious naked forests scattered with abandoned tents. The screech of the wheels was a whistled lullaby as a young Mennonite couple attentively cared for their newborn baby; we all collectively swayed back and forth on the rails in a dizzy peace. 

I watched the light transform from crisp early morning blue, through half-awake momentary glances, to late afternoon gold, with wide eyed attention and admiration. I watched others sleep beside rocky hillsides, wrapped up in makeshift blankets made of winter jackets. I watched them wake up and experience that moment when they had to remind themselves where they were.

At moments the trip seemed like a monotonous drag; impatience would make me restless and achy. But then the sun would begin to vibrate in the gaps between the trees. It would illuminate the objects and things on the train at an irregular and unpredictable rhythm: my opaque blue water bottle, a man's wool sweater, the youthful skin on my hands. They were unified as coexisting and cooperative matter, together on an overnight quest from here to there. 

A compilation of observations from the trip