I have to be honest, currently my life is a series of tasks–things I must get done in order to accomplish life-long goals. Of course, I don’t mind this at all and I know it’s only temporary. However, situations can get a little taxing at times (as I write this I see the clock spurting towards 8 pm and I’ve only just begun after completing a different project for another class). It is when the going gets tough that I rely on my own assemblage the most. Disclaimer: I know there are elements of this assemblage that I am probably entirely unaware of, so let’s keep with what I deliberately put together in my knapsack of magic:
-My iPhone, my iPad, and my MacBook Air. Yes, I have and need all three. I am a big supporter of Apple Inc because I think that they have the best products, and Steve Jobs is a personal hero of mine. When I’m in a tight spot I easily have access to all of my email addresses’ inboxes and my calendars on my iPhone. If I were a knight, my iPhone would my dagger. It is small, but when wielded correctly it can be very powerful. (Siri is my magical fairy that goes and retrieves things for me).
-My red book bag. I hate this bag and I would rather not talk about it–I am so tired of carrying around hundreds of pounds of books in it. But, like an ugly pilgrimage coat, it is pretty vital to my survival. This bag carries everything for me and even keeps my technology gadgets dry in times like that torrential downpour I walked several blocks in on Monday night.
-My loafers. I have walked hundreds of miles in those. They didn’t quite fit at first, but you can believe they have molded to my feet by now.
-Coffee. This is pretty self-explanatory. You know that magic potion that all fairy tales require? It’s probably really just coffee.
I am almost to a Gold Card! (Also, another reason why I love my iPhone...I can pay for coffee with it on the Starbucks app!)
-And, finally, in my assemblage I have my values that guide all my actions (including why I have chosen the above items in particular).
I intend on completing option C for my paper. The text that I will be using is Marie de France’s Bisclavret. I will be reading it with a feminist approach, and then with an object-oriented approach. From the feminist approach I will further consider aspects of the lai like the motives for the wife’s betrayal of Bisclavret, her representation as the sole female in the lai, the male-dominated society in Bisclavret, and Bisclavret’s brutal attack of the wife at the end of the lai. I expect this to be a typical feminist reading of Bisclavret.
However, through the work I have been doing with the annotated bibliography, I find the feminist approach inadequate. That is because the standard male versus female dichotomy is not all that is present in Bisclavret. Instead, a male versus female versus werewolf division is in the works—and this is when one is considering the human only. A feminist approach attempts to keep Bisclavret in the realm of the human, but what is human? Is Bisclavret human? Is he werewolf? Or is he simply Bisclavret with all that it entails?
Those questions call in the object-oriented approach. From the object-oriented approach I anticipate exploring questions like “Is being human a prerequisite for being a knight?” or “Is being werewolf being human? What does it mean to be ‘human?” To better consider these questions I will be utilizing sources that discuss monsters and their purpose in the human realm, critical animal studies, and object-oriented studies. I would like to explicate the idea that the werewolf experience is unique to Bisclavret, that he is not the universal werewolf, and that a strictly anthropocentric feminist reading of the lai is too limiting.
This week while reading “Yonec” I was reminded a lot of “Guigemar” because of the same wife locked away in a room scenario. However, I liked that in “Yonec” the wife has more of a voice. In “Guigemar” we are given a description of the king that is very much like the description of the king in “Yonec.” he is “a very aged man who ha[s] a wife” (Guigemar 210). In “Yonec”, the king is “rich, old and ancient” (Yonec 12). So in “Guigemar” the king is characterized in terms of having a wife, and in “Yonec” the king is identified by his money. I don’t really see anything out of the ordinary here, but in “Yonec” we are provided with the wife’s perspective of her husband which I thought was just great. She calls him a “jealous old man” (71), and says that “when he should have been baptized / he was plunged instead in the river of hell; / his senews are hard, his veins are hard, / filled with living blood” (87-90). Whoa! I didn’t realize how much of a woman’s voice was lacking in the lais until this one finally spoke. I know women do speak occasionally in the lais, but this is the first time I really felt like I heard one with a voice.
Another exclamation of the wife’s that made me think is when she cries that she should have never been born, her fate is terrible, and that she is imprisoned until death (67-70). Most intriguingly she thinks, “What is this jealous old man afraid of / that he keeps me so imprisoned?” (71-2). If we place everything on a horizontal plane like Bennett suggests, I wonder how many other “things” like the wife are screaming inside to be allowed to be the director of their own agency instead of being forced to serve the agendas of others (humans). Going back to the wife’s earlier opinion of her husband: what if things could talk? What would they say about their “owners”?
For this week’s blog I would like to focus on the agency of love in Eliduc. The characters of Eliduc and Guilliadun seem kind of helpless to its powers don’t they? At one point, “love [even] sen[ds] [Guilliadun] a message, / commanding her to love [Eliduc] / that ma[kes] her go pale and sigh” (304-6). Love has a lot of agency in these lines. It commands Guilliadun to love Eliduc. Instead of recognizing herself that she has feelings for Eliduc that respond to his character, she instead attributes it all to love as if she has no part in it whatsoever. At first, the effects of this love sound pretty terrible: Guilliadun can’t sleep at night (331-2), her heart is “assaulted” (387), and she is “in grief” (391). The reader really gets the idea that if love does not get its way here Guilliadun is pretty much doomed and “never in [her] life shall [she] have any joy” (400).
The agency of love is pretty far-reaching because Eliduc feels it too. He begins to feel distress from the time he sees her (459), and has “no joy or pleasure / except when he th[inks] of her” (460-1). Though he wants to stay faithful to his wife he literally cannot “keep himself / from loving [Guilliadun]” (467-8). I would like to take the opportunity here to point out the vibrant materiality of love in this lai. Not all love is the same here. The love Eliduc feels for his wife is not the same love that he feels for Guilliadun. It is almost like it is two different forces just like no two hammers are exactly the same nor do they possess the same agency.
The chapel scene
Then, there is the scene in the chapel with the weasels when an act of love brings the female weasel back to life (1038-53). Not only is love capable of destruction when it doesn’t get its way, it is also a lifesaver. It takes many different forms in this lai, but I don’t think that it is one love “thing” that is morphing to suit every character’s needs. I really imagine a few different “loves” each with their own agency and agenda just like there are different characters in the lai.
There is a lot of God present in this week’s Biclarel. We have touched on the subject of God and agency a few times, so I would like to try to work through it myself as well.
In line thirty-three we are told that “As it pleased God, Biclarel / [has] a trait that he hid” (33-4). We are well-aware that this trait is that Biclarel becomes a “beast / [t]wo or three whole days” every month (38-9). Then, when Biclarel’s wife is begging for him to share his secret she invokes God by reminding him that God created all including their marriage, and that by hiding things from her he is “transgressing greatly against God” (61-70). She goes further by saying that God will abandon them (101) and hate Biclarel for his lying (108). However, notice that it is not the threat of eternal damnation that prompts Biclarel to reveal his secret. It is instead when she begs for death (138).
Let’s pause here. Biclarel hides his secret and that pleases God. Okay. Does Biclarel does this because it pleases God, or is that just an unintentional result of him hiding his wolfhood for his own reasons? I would argue the latter because, again, Biclarel isn’t really phased by these threats of God. Could you say then that Biclarel doesn’t give God much agency? Let’s continue….
Biclarel explains to his wife that he would speak to no one of his secret but God (151). However, this is not his reason for keeping it secret. He doesn’t keep his secret because God would disapprove, but because he “should nevermore have honour, / [n]or should [he] be esteemed in any court / [i]f everyone ever knew of it” (152-4). He doesn’t fear God’s damnation for sharing his secret, but is instead afraid of how other people will react. It is this reason and the previously mentioned one that I think that God does not have a lot (though he does have some) of agency in the assemblage of Biclarel’s life.
When Biclarel reveals his secret his wife says that if she were to reveal his secret she would lose God’s faith (190). Biclarel never evokes the wrath of God on himself as a consequence for his revealing the secret. However, for the wife God has a lot of agency. This reminds me of yesterday’s class when we were discussing if agency is given. Could I say here that the wife gives God a lot of agency in her life? From what we have been studying, no. Would it be right, then, to say that she is more aware of his agency? That she recognizes it more than Biclarel?
Skipping to the end here I noticed that Biclarel doesn’t “commend [his wife] to the devil” like Melion does (Melion 581). Instead, he requests only that she be killed—he doesn’t invoke the spiritual at all (453).
As I was reading Les Deus Amanz I noticed two assemblages in particular. The first one I took notice of because of Jeffrey Cohen’s visit when he pointed out all the assemblages we had all put together on our desks. So when I got to the part that describes all that the young man puts together to journey to see his mistress’s aunt the assemblage was pretty obvious. I’d like to discuss this assemblage in two parts: the deliberate assemblage and the unacknowledged assemblage. By deliberate I mean the items that the young man deliberate gathers to take with him on his journey: “rich clothes, money, / palfreys and pack mules; / only the most trustworthy of his men” (122-5), and the letter from his mistress (129). This young man thought that these were the items that would aid him most on his journey and deemed them necessary. However, the lai does not go into detail about how these things effect his journey so it is hard to say how agency is spread out among this assemblage. However, we do know that the letter has great agency in aiding him in acquiring the potion (130-4).
However, the young man does not realize there would be a number of other things accompanying him on his journey—this is the unacknowledged or unanticipated assemblage. This assemblage consists of all of the things that I have previously mentioned along with the advice of his mistress (118), the idea of retrieving the medicine (117), the king’s sadness (28) that makes a journey up a mountain requiring a strength potion necessary, and the years of his life in term of age that have not yet provided him with the title of adult leading the king to scoff at him (109-2). All of these things (and more, I am sure) are all acting upon the young man and his situation. Yet unlike the items that the young man deliberately collects to bring with him not all of these agents will aid him.
The same kinds of assemblages are present when the young man prepares himself to journey up the mountain—the second assemblage that stood out to me in the lai. The deliberate: the mistress (174), the chemise the mistress wears (173), the small phial (175), and the potion (175). The unacknowledged: the mistress’s desire (166), the crowd who would distract the young man (193), and the young man’s lack of control (179) that results in the couple’s demise (203-27). I would say that the young man’s lack of control is the agent with the most power here because it ends both of their lives. If the lack of control had not been present perhaps the young man would have taken the potion and that would have had the most agency.
“Two Lovers Illustration” by Yoon.Ji Kim. This is an interesting comic interpretation that I found online (clicking the picture should lead you to a larger version). It didn’t occur to me that the mistress may have been overweight and needed to fast because of it. I just thought the journey was tumultuous and long so she wanted to be as light as possible.
I enjoyed this week’s reading, particularly Bisclavret. I always enjoy when we read the medieval literary texts because I get a chance to test out OOO.
I was hooked as early as line five in Bisclavret. As soon as I read the “old[en] days” (5) description of a werewolf I thought, “Ok! Here we go!” (5-14). In addition to my modern notion of a werewolf I am now equipped with the knowledge that the medieval werewolf as an object is just as gruesome, if not worse. Seems as if Bisclavret is pretty limited in his range of actions, huh? Eating men, unleashing fury, and hanging out in the depths of the forest. But not so fast! After Bisclavret’s wife has her new knight hide Bisclavret’s clothing (120-6) causing Bisclavret to be stuck as a werewolf the audience learns that this werewolf retains many of the same tendencies (16-20) he had as a nobleman (178-84). As it turns out, werewolves aren’t as static as our definition would like for them to be. Though the king and his men expected him to behave like a wild animal (151-7), this werewolf is noble and loved by many.
An artist on deviantart.com with the handle MelancholyTsuki created this drawing of Bisclavret.
Therefore, Bisclavret isn’t the “savage beast” (9). Rather, I would argue, that it is his “estimable wife, / one of lovely appearance” who is the beast (21-2) here because of what she does to Bisclavret. How interesting that while she looks worthy of respect and looks lovely she is the one who maliciously does harm while Bisclavret only attacks in vengeance. Just like with the werewolf, this is not how one would expect a pretty, noblewoman as object to act. I even hesitate to title this blogpost “The Noble Werewolf” because essentially I am discrediting the possibility of werewolves to be noble and am therefore labeling Bisclavret as an exceptional werewolf.
[Sidenote: And isn't it interesting that werewolves are actually human as well? Do you think it could be argued, then, that Bisclavret has such a wide range of agency (evoking both fear and loyalty) because he retains this human part? I think that what we have been studying would argue against that and claim that any thing possesses this possibility in their agentic reach. Bisclavret reminds me a lot of Dr. Frankenstein's creature--was anyone else reminded of the creature?]
This week I read the Yates essay before reading the Latour introduction, and I am glad I did because a lot of the difficulty that Latour warns us about is difficulty that I experienced while trying to read the Yates essay. I could definitely relate to the immediate satisfaction that Latour talks about with how sociologists are able to “jump straight ahead to connect vast arrays of life and history, to mobilize gigantic forces, to detect dramatic patterns emerging out of confusing interactions, to see everywhere in the cases at hand yet more examples of well-known types, to reveal behind the scenes some dark powers pulling the strings” (Latour 22). That is exactly what I was trying to do with those oranges. I read the first couple of pages of the Yates essay a few times searching for some clue I missed about these oranges that I did not receive until the end of the essay—what a relief that was. Yates did a good job of “let[ting] the actors deploy the full range of controversies in which they are immersed” (Latour 23) before saying exactly why the oranges were so important at the end. It felt like a test of sorts.
I could also relate to the cartographer that Latour writes about (23-4) who struggles in figuring out how she will include all of these different aspects of reports while still making sense. I feel that way when writing a term paper, and find that if I attempt to stick to the conventional paper writing method—just like the cartographer will struggle with conventional cartography—of outline first, then introduction, body, and conclusion I have a really difficult time. Why? Because I am trying to force those abstractions into concepts without letting them fully form yet which happens in the process of actually writing the essay. How can I introduce what I have not even started writing yet?
One last thing: Near the end of the introduction Latour writes, “Be prepared to cast off agency, structure, psyche, time, and space along with every other philosophical and anthropological category, no matter how deeply rooted in common sense they may appear to be” (24-5). That reminded me of when Jane Bennett writes that “[f]or this task, demystification, that most popular of practices in critical theory, should be used with caution and sparingly, because demystification presumes that at the heart of any event or process lies a human agency that has illicitly been projected into things. This hermeneutics of suspicion calls for theorists to be on high alert for signs of the secret truth (a human will to power) below the false appearance of nonhuman agency” (xiv).
I am interested in one part of food that I do not know that Bennett actually spends much (if any) time on: the taste of food. She writes a lot about digesting food and the effects that that has on our bodies, but what about the taste of food? For animals, I know some prey (animals who are preyed on for food) have a defense mechanism of bad taste so that their predators will not want to eat them. Taste, to the predators, is a warning suggesting that the animal may be poisonous. For humans, certain tastes have different effects on different people. Some people can eat extremely spicy food while sugary sweet desserts repel others. This would lead individuals to either include an abundance of these kinds of items in their diet, or have a lack thereof. Meaning, for some people, taste determines what food they will eat and thus introduce into their assemblages; nourishment is not the only determining factor. For others, taste does not even matter. They would be happy eating cardboard hamburgers as long as their stomach stops screaming at them. Food has an even bigger agency when bringing taste into the picture.
There is also other potential (or vibrancy?) of food that composes its agency. Some food is poisonous and can actually kill the eater of it. I am thinking, though, that this would make this thing not “food” because “if the eaten is to become food, it must be digestible to the out-side it enters. Likewise, if the eater is to be nourished, it must accommodate itself to the internalized out-side” (Bennett 29). Dying as a result of eating something poisonous is not nourishment, and the food is not digested because the digestive system has stopped operating.
Another agentic (I made this word up for the purpose of this blog. I declare it the adjective form of “agency.”) quality or potential of food is perhaps appearance. Bright foods are visually appealing to some and perhaps may be eaten more and may have a wider reaching agency (as a whole). Adversely, some foods may be difficult to prepare to eat and may not be eaten quite as often—like having to carve a pineapple or pick out pomegranate seeds (of course, we have innovations now that do these things for us).
What I am suggesting, is that food has an agency that exists prior to even being digested that invites or repels some.
After reading Dr. Seaman’s Preview of Week 6 I contemplated comparing the generous figures of Cleges and Lanval, but while actually reading Lanval I thought that I would like to discuss another actant of the story: the horses. You may be laughing now, but Lanval’s horse is mentioned several times and if you think about it, what is a knight without his horse? Essentially, this horse is as much a part of Lanval’s identity as a knight as his armor is, but I want to talk about this horse as its own, separate actant.
The reader is first introduced to Lanval’s horse in line 41 when Lanval has decided to go “amuse himself” (42). Consider how this story would have changed if the horse failed to move. Would Lanval have ever met his love? Let me put it another way, what if your car fails to start the morning of one of the most important days of your life? What I am suggesting through the studies that we have been doing these previous weeks is that the horse’s movement forward is an exhibition of its agency. It could have remained immobile as some stubborn horses often do, and just like your car it would no longer be just a horse, but now a lousy horse who has not performed the duties that humans have assigned to it.
Continuing, once Lanval arrives at his destination the horse “tremble[s] badly” (46) yet remains “around the meadow” (48). Here again this horse could have very well raced away because it senses some trouble, but stays. Once more, how would this story have been different if Lanval’s loyal steed evacuated the premises? In fact, Lanval even deserts his horse “giving no thought to” it (77-8) until it was time to leave (190-1). [Note: I realize that using "it" objectifies the horse even further, but without a name or gender I am limited in my representation.] Perhaps I am reaching here, but by bringing all matter in this story to that horizontal plane, the horse plays a pivotal role in this story when viewed as having more agency than one would normally assign to it.