Plastic is ubiquitous. It is in the Arctic, in the depths of the Mariana Trench, and in the high mountaintops of the Pyrenees. It is in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Nanoplastics penetrate our cell walls. Plastic is not just any material—it is emblematic of life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In Plastic Matter Heather Davis traces plastic’s relations to geology, media, biology, and race to show how matter itself has come to be understood as pliable, disposable, and consumable. The invention and widespread use of plastic, Davis contends, reveals the dominance of the Western orientation to matter and its assumption that matter exists to be endlessly manipulated and controlled by humans. Plastic’s materiality and pliability reinforces these expectations of what matter should be and do. Davis charts these relations to matter by mapping the queer multispecies relationships between humans and plastic-eating bacteria and analyzing photography that documents the racialized environmental violence of plastic production. In so doing, Davis provokes readers to reexamine their relationships to matter and life in light of plastic’s saturation.
Preface: Complicated Inheritances vii Acknowledgments xi Introduction: Plastic Matter 1 1. Plasticity 21 2. Synthetic Universality 39 3. Plastic Media 63 4. Queer Kin 81 Conclusion: Plastic Futures 103 Notes 109 Bibliography 135 Index 155
Heather Davis is Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at The New School, editor of Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada, and coeditor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments, and Epistemologies.
“In her extraordinary book, Heather Davis traces plastic’s haunting colonial legacies, proliferating environmental violences, and queer futurities, showing how plastic represents both the dreams and the horrors of Western modernity. This rich and absorbing book is invaluable for understanding one of the most useful, destructive, and disconcerting substances of the Anthropocene.”
~Stacy Alaimo, author of, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times
“There is no outside of plastic. Rejecting a purity politics in favor of figuring plastic as our queer progeny, this book reckons with plasticity from an intimate epistemological and material inside. In a world where the lure of plasticity remains inseparable from fossil-fueled white supremacist utopias, Heather Davis asks us to think honestly about the kinds of futures we desire when plastic simply ‘won’t let go.’”
~Astrida Neimanis, Canada Research Chair in Feminist Environmental Humanities, University of British Columbia Okanagan
“Davis offers a thoroughly engaging examination of material relations, focusing particularly on people's current relationship to plastic and notions of plasticity. . . . [Plastic Matter] has relevance for scholars and adult general readers with widely divergent interests and in various fields. Highly recommended.”
~M. Marinucci, Choice
“Through wide-ranging examples of media artworks, in situ cases, and chemical disruptions to the body, and within a framework of queer affordances that is less emphatic about non-reproductivity and extinction, [Davis] demonstrates that there can be, and most certainty still is, beauty, curiosity, new lifeforms, and queer kin among the toxicity that teach us much about facing a future filled with suffering, death, decline, joy, survival, flourishing, and hope.”
~Emily Collins, ISLE
“Plastic Matter is a stellar addition to the Duke Elements series and a must-read for anyone engaging with contemporary conversations about material responsibilities in a world where contamination cannot be escaped. . . . For contemporary theory, the writing is equal parts beautiful and accessible, with Davis generously explaining adopted concepts in her own words rather than alienating with jargon. This clarity means her exemplary theoretical contributions are at the same time very readable.”
~Kim De Wolff, H-Sci-Med-Tech, H-Net Reviews
"Plastic Matter is convincing in putting forth its arguments because first and foremost, it is an engaged and involved scholarly work. . . . Acknowledging the harm and violence caused by plastic while simultaneously proposing a type of kinship both with plastic and plastic-eating bacteria and fungi is a difficult split that Davis nonetheless manages gracefully."
~Svenja Engelmann-Kewitz, Edge Effects