Asbestos’s Animacy; or, Salamander Cotton

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2021 Number 104 & 105

Asbestos’s Animacy; or, Salamander Cotton
Arthur Rose pages 105-127
DOI: 10.3898/neWF:104-105.05.2021


As new technologies emerge, they demand reinscriptions of the ordinary. Some cope with these changes by ascribing an animacy or liveliness to the technologies. In this respect, they solicit a reappraisal of matter’s agency, as examined by Actor-Network Theory, New Materialism, Object-Oriented Ontology, Thing Theory, and, of course, New Animism. This essay explores the question of animate matter by focusing on the mineral fibre, asbestos. In particular, it considers how asbestos acquires a liveliness in the thinking of those affected by it, as they process the all too real threat it poses to life. This acquisition occurs through a process of what I describe as interanimation, whereby the substance’s animacy emerges from, and in dialogue with, its relation with human observers. To show how this develops through a long history of human-asbestos interactions, the essay recalls a close, if erroneous, association between asbestos and the mythical salamander, from Classical and Medieval Natural Histories to the poetry of Marianne Moore, Yves Bonnefoy, and Octavio Paz. By reanimating asbestos through the analogy of the salamander, I demonstrate how linguistic interanimation works: a two-way process that depends on both human subjectivity and the animating power of discourse.

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To cite this article
Arthur Rose (2021) Asbestos’s Animacy; or, Salamander Cotton, New Formations, 2021(104 & 105 ), 105-127.

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