Excerpts from Hunter Dukes’ review of: Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (University of Minnesota Press, June 2015. 376 pp.):
In an Empire of the Dead
Los Angeles Review of Books – July 17th, 2015
“. . . [Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book] Stone seeks liveliness in what might be the most mundane of substances. For too long, the lithic has been thought of as cold and inert, the unchanging foil to life’s rapid evolution. If our historic engagement with stone is the story of cave painting, toolmaking, and home building, Cohen wants to recover a secret history that moves beyond such utilitarian domination. His version is about collaboration and gregarious commingling between humans and stones. Look closely at ammonite and watch the borderline between the organic and inorganic quietly dissolve. Contemplate a gem to reveal medieval lapidary magic, global trade routes, and the humbling scale of deep time. Cohen zooms out from a pebble to a planet and finds ‘a durable link to a dynamic cosmos . . .’ ”
“. . . The most interesting sections of Cohen’s book are the places where stone appears alien, only to suddenly reveal a glossy sheen. Look closely enough and see two eyes staring back. That face gazing out from the world of objects is our own distorted reflection, made strange enough to clearly see . . .
“. . . Jane Bennett, coiner of concepts like ‘thing-power,’ suggests that we need animistic rhetoric to combat the way our language inherently privileges the human: “We need to cultivate a bit of anthropomorphism— the idea that human agency has some echoes in nonhuman nature— to counter the narcissism of humans in charge of the world . . .
“. . . One day we too will leave this dervish dance behind. Our bodies will be buried or burned, returning troves of elements to the earth. Carbon, nitrogen, and magnesium will feed a new generation of plants, which will nourish animals, including human beings. We might become part of subducting plates, plunging deep into the planet’s mantel[sic]. What enters as a loose confederation, will emerge as ordered, igneous stone.”