I LOVED the presentations this week. I think that it is so awesome that we all came into the class with little or no knowledge about object oriented approaches and now we can all successfully apply the theories and ideas to things outside of the classroom and academic world. The creative project was a daunting task looming in the future when we first started talking about it but I’m really happy that we did it. Not only do I think it was a great way to prove to ourselves that we really have understood and learned a lot about object oriented approaches but it was also great to see all the different ways that a critical approach could be presented. I know that I’m so use to writing essays that it was really hard for me to think outside of that box. After seeing other projects this week though I realized just how far you can step outside of the box. I was completely wowed by Viktor’s interpretation of the pop culture figure, Lady Gaga. This approach was totally unexpected and outside the normal confines of an English class but he definitely illustrated the “thingness” of Lady Gaga and her action within an assemblage. I also loved Autumn’s idea of rewriting the lais with an emphasis on the objects.
The first couple weeks in this class people would ask me what it was about and I really didn’t know how to explain it because sometimes I wasn’t even that sure what the class was really about. Now I’m intrigued with the idea of an object oriented approach not just within literature but allowing it to be applied to all areas of life. I’m also excited that now when someone asks me about the class and I can explain it in a way that they understand. I have to say that this class was really challenging and I’m certainly not looking forward to the final exam but so far it is definitely the best English class I’ve taken.
Marie de France seems to praise the grandness of love in most of her lais by depicting love as something that brings great happiness as well as great suffering. This is a characterisitic seen in most tales about courtly love. Love’s intensity exists in romantic relationships as well as platonic relationships. We see intense love between Sir Cleges and his King even after he has fallen from grace. Cleges’ love for his King demands that he still defend the right and justice in the name of his King in order for the kingdom to represent these moral rights. In class we discussed how the love seen in Laustic is somewhat bland because the lovers have no real barrier between them and their love is orientated towards the physical rather than the abstract idea of love as something beyond the physical. While we discussed the lack of love between the lovers there also seems to be a lack of love between two men of the same court as well as a lack of love for the beautiful. The absence of the love between noble neighbors and of beauty is unusual when compared to other lais.
These two noblemen live as neighbors and are favored by the same king but little is said of their relationship and it could probably assumed that their relationship hardly exists since one of the neighbors is so content to have an affair with his fellow nobleman’s wife. Although, throughout the lais we see several affairs of married individuals we see fee in which a knight or nobleman of one kingdom has a relationship with a fellow knight or nobleman’s wife. Most of the affairs occur far from their home kingdom. In other lais their have been great love between neighbors and fellow individuals with noble blood. For example in Le Fresne by Marie de France the two neighbors have such a close bond that when one of them has twin sons he basically names his neighbor as his son’s godfather. There is no such strong bond of friendship and love seen in Laustic.
Love between romantic lovers and friends is clearly diminished of status in this text but there is also a lack of appreciation and love for beauty. Beauty is embraced and revered in many of the lais. In Milun this beauty is seen in the swan that the lovers use to exchange letters. The beauty of the nightingale is destroyed in this text when the wife uses it as a way to fulfill her need for an explanation. This in itself is crime against the beauty of the nightingale.
Latour wants us to do some major changing as humans when it comes to looking at innate things and for that matter so does Jane Bennett. The idea of granting power to where it seems to be coming from was exceptionally foreign to me before this class. While Jane Bennett’s motives for granting power are ethically driven, the motives of this class seem to focus more on creating a novel way of reading literature. It amazes me that we have the ability to take a fairly new and steadily emerging theory and apply it to texts that are 100s of years old.
Latour and Bennett both point out the heterogeneous nature of assemblages and the necessity of disentangling them in order to be able to see the agency of everything involved. I feel like this is one of the most important concepts in the entire class because without it I felt somewhat lost. The agency of things seems so much more comprehensible when you take into account the array of actants affecting the final outcome. It seems impossible to look at one particular thing and give it all the agency and power but people tend to do this all the time by giving all the power to humanity.
The rocks in The Franklin’s Tale were revisited during Monday’s class and I think they are a perfect example of the power of assemblages. The rocks never actually hurt anyone but the assemblage that they possibly unknowingly participated in caused a great deal of turmoil. The wife in this tale did not recognize the assemblage and placed all the power on the rocks claiming that they killed people and brought her great troubles. The rocks alone did not do these things. They worked within an assemblage of things such as the ocean, the boats, the men, and even the wife’s blame that caused them to be a burden. It’s interesting to think that if the wife had of never involved them in the relationship between her and her immoral suitor she may have never been faced with the obligation to betray her husband.
The power that the wife gave the rocks seem to be very much like the power that both Latour and Bennett are encouraging society not to give humans. The recognition of assemblages seems to be vastly important to successful thing theory readings of texts, social matters, and ethical matters.
Considering God to be a part of the assemblage that makes everything work in Sir Cleges seems completely natural to me and I’m actually quite happy with it. Whether I believe in God or not does not affect my belief that God acted as a part of the assemblage because the characters in Sir Cleges obviously believed in a spiritual God making him a part of the assemblage. Although I do understand that many people had problems accepting this approach, I really think that if one can accept the idea that unseen chemicals are the reason that one is encouraged to eat certain foods then you should be open to accepting the idea of God being an active part of the assemblage. Maybe if God can’t be accepted as part of the assemblage then chemicals in foods shouldn’t be as easily accepted.
While their are a lot of differences between the idea of God and chemicals it seems like chemicals can be just as flighty and unreliable as an unseen God. Yes, we can test that chemicals are present but they have the ability to react and change in different environments making it very hard to predict the result of their presence in the body. Some chemicals make the majority of people happy while in a few people they react badly and cause depression or unhappiness. Chemists are constantly changing their word about certain chemicals. Years ago no one had a problem with BPA ( a chemical found in plastic bottles and in canned foods) but now many studies suggest that these chemicals may lead to cancer or harm developing fetuses.
I guess my point is that we are willing to believe anything that has science behind it when a lot of times that science cannot be a 100% accurate. During the time of courtly love and Marie de France most people would have believed in the presence of God and they may have considered the idea of invisible chemicals affecting their eating habits to be completely crazy. I think if I am going to be skeptical of God acting as a part of an assemblage then I must also be skeptical of modern scientific discoveries such as the chemicals in many food products being.
My favorite part of last class was actually at the very beginning when we all went around the room and talked about things that surprised us or that we found interesting. I was amazed by all the different answers and the way that Jeffrey Cohen responded to each question. It was like a 5 second lecture on everything we have talked about the whole semester. The questions given to us in that short amount of were very thought provoking. I was particularly interested in Miranda’s feelings about spirituality conflicting with the theories and ideas that we have discussed in class. I can definitely see where she is coming from with the flattening of hierarchy, but this isn’t something I’ve thought about much at all until yesterday. I’m actually pretty surprised that it hadn’t crossed my mind until Miranda brought it up. When I think about it now I don’t really see it interfering with spirituality because in the texts we’ve read things have been at work while hierarchy has clearly still existed. I really appreciated Jeffrey Cohen’s answer and how he pointed out that the people of the Middle Ages were deeply spiritual yet we can easily find thing power at work in the lais of Marie de France. People of the middle ages gave power to things through spirituality. Although it is possible to find many examples of vibrant materialism, assemblages, and actants in the lais that we have read in class, we also see hierarchy in every text. The kings rule the people and have the loyalty and generosity of their knights. The knights reign above their wives and the magical or fairy world is above the real world of knights and kings. This shows that although their is clearly hierarchical systems thing theory and vibrant materialism can coexist.
For this week’s blog post I thought it would be interesting to explore the meanings of affective bodies and assemblage before class and then compare my previous understanding to my understanding of these two important concepts after class.
In chapter 2 of Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett introduces and begins to emphasize the importance of understanding that “an actant never really acts alone” (21). Because Bennett insists that an actant’s agency and ability depends on collaboration, she is bringing to the light the idea that everything works in an extensive network. To illustrate this idea she uses the concept of affective bodies and assemblage.
Spinoza developed the notions behind affective bodies based on the idea that conative bodies have the ability to affect other bodies and in turn they are always being affected. Classifying any specific thing into a mode, Spinoza argues that all modes are comprised of many simple bodies or a complex system of parts. The very definition of a mode is to “form alliances and enter assemblages” (22). Modes are modified by one another and a source of modification. No hierarchal pyramid exists between modes meaning that they are all equal in the ability to modify and there susceptibly to be modified. So from this section of the reading I’ve gathered that affective bodies are bodies affected by other bodies with the ability to affect and that the power a body possesses is increased when they work in a heterogeneous assemblage.
A heterogeneous assemblage seems to be a diverse mixture of elements or bodies working together to achieve their functioning or independent state. Once again we see that no hierarchy exists in assemblages emphasizing that human parts are no more important than the nonhuman parts. The ability for these assemblages to make things happen are emergent.
So in conclusion, affective bodies band together to create heterogeneous assemblages? Trying to think of some examples of this in the past reading is hard for me because it’s something I’m thinking about after the fact. I guess I’ll find out how much I actually understood Bennett after class.
After the class discussion about the gift society seen in both Lanval and Launfal I became very interested in understanding why exactly both of this protagonists were so distraught because they did not receive gifts from the crown (or in the case of Launfal the Queen). According to Wikipedia a “gift economy” is one in which people regularly receive gifts and the giver of the gifts does not expect immediate or future rewards. This system is coordinated without any specific contracts or agreements. This whole system is a contrast to the market and bartering systems which is somewhat hard to imagine.
Reading a little more about the history of the system and the belief that it is probable that it existed before any type of bartering system helped me to understand the actions of Lanval in particular. Ironically, after Lanval is given great wealth by his fairy-like lover he distributes that wea lth to others through this gift economy. The process seems quite normal because in this economy one cannot expect retribution for their gift giving and in turn it seems that Lanval while upset that he had been forgotten did not blame anyone for his apparent removal from the gift exchange society.
It’s also interesting to imagine a society where everything so heavily relies on the exchange of things, but it’s certainly not any different from our society today where we use objects known as money to buy more objects. At times these objects retrace their steps and become things once again acting in a way to change the course of events. In Lanval and Launfal the absence of gifts which are things leads to a series of events including love, betrayal, and reunited friends and lovers.
After reading both of these tales it seems impossible to deny thing power. The status of both of the main characters depended so strongly upon things that the absence of them turned everything upside down. The status of these characters depends almost wholly on the gifts that they receive. The story is a bit more dramatic in Launfal as the protagonists grapples with poverty but it can be seen in Lanval also as he mourns his lose of status away from everyone.
The gifts exist in a network with Lanval and Launfal maintaining order and peace. The gifts cannot exist without the characters and the characters cannot exist as themselves without the gifts.
The state of something being natural depends on it being organic and unrefined, but society seems to deem what is actually natural and what it not. For me this was one of the most interesting parts of Wednesday’s class discussion. The concept that what society considers natural is actually synthetic. This made me start thinking about how society encourage the “natural,” and I found myself turning to the toys that children play with. These objects have the power to illustrate what society deems as natural. Although people may not accept that things have an agency of their own, we use these objects to illustrate and support popular ideas.
An example of this concept is baby dolls. Little girls are more often given dolls to play with. These objects encourage future mommies to be loving and caring which eventually produces mothers that play the expressive role in families. Now, little boys are hardly ever give baby dolls to play with. If you take five or ten minutes to look at the toys on a website like Toy R Us the difference between the toys under the girls section and the boys section is very distinct. Toys that encourage adventure and creative thought are typically found under the boys section and these toys help mold little boys to play the instructive role in families. Obviously, these objects have some sort of independence and agency if they can lead to affects so profound. They support and lobby for what it “natural.” Barbie dream houses always come with a mom and a dad barbie, but never with a same sex couple because the majority of society refuses to see this type of lifestyle as normal.
Sociologists around the world study the affects that toys have on children which further supports the argument that these things play an undeniable role in their current development and future personalities. After reading chapter 1 of Vibrant Matter I can’t cease thinking about all the things around me that have a dramatic affect on my life. Small things like the ethernet cord that stopped working mid way through writing this blog for the first time have the ability to alter daily life dramatically. Then there are bigger things like computers and the internet which has created a huge new field of jobs. Honestly, this whole concept of the power and agency of thing is blowing my mind because it seems obvious to me now but before reading Bennett it’s something I would have never even considered!
Marie de France’s Le Fresne was definitely my favorite reading this week. The story flowed very well and was beautiful to read but I did have several problems with it as a whole.
My first problem was with the punishment of the mother who had foolishly misjudged her neighbor and had to pay for her spiteful slander when she gave birth to her own set of twins. The mother was not a likeable character to me and I wish she had been more appropriately punished. Marie de France really never revealed whether or not the mother grieved over the child she abandoned. She slandered her neighbor, contemplated murdering her child, and then abandoned it, instead, yet she walks off into the sunrise with a happy ending and a forgiving husband. All of this seems a bit too unrealistic to me.
I also battled with the hefty importance that was placed on being born of a noble blood line. I realize that this was an accepted notion of the time period but it is still hard for me to grasp. Fresne was depicted as a beautiful woman with a kind heart but her marriage to Gurun still couldn’t be accepted simply because she couldn’t prove noble birth. I absolutely hated this idea as well as the idea that Fresne was born with “noble” blood that allowed her to conduct herself in the manner in which she did. Noble blood obviously did not help her mother when it came to being cruel to her neighbors.
Another problem I encountered was with the nuns whom we hear very little out of. I wondered why exactly they allowed Fresne to run off with a man she wasn’t married to. Gurun was generous enough to donate them money, but they shouldn’t allow their morals to simply be bought. I thought that maybe they had no say so in what Fresne did but how can that be true when women weren’t allowed to make any decisions without the permission of their father, brother, or the next male of closest kin in their family?
The final problem I will harp on is the character of Fresne’s father. He just seems entirely too good to be true. He allows his wife to slander the wife of his dear friend and then he forgives her for casting his daughter out as an infant. Really? He reminds me of the clueless dad from a sitcom.
The power of a “thing” is an unusual concept to wrap your head around. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since class this past Monday when someone brought up the idea that a thing tends to have power over us when it is not functioning properly. Looking back at how an uncooperative printer or a misguided stapler has altered my daily plans, it becomes evident to me that to a certain extent these inanimate objects do assert themselves. This assertion of the object almost always directly affects me. Take for example a couple of days ago I had a paper due in a class and I needed two physical copies to hand in. I woke up early the morning it was due and went to the library to print it off. My first copy printed just fine, but my second copy was lost in space (or something like that). Of course, this incident made me late for class and was the start to a somewhat yucky day.
Reading the preface to Vibrant Matter I was particularly struck with the short explanation of chapter one. In this chapter, Jane Bennett, will explore the idea of “thing-power.” From this very preliminary reading I gathered that thing-power is when an ordinary, inorganic object asserts itself and displays traces of independence. Before having the conversation Monday I probably would have responded to this idea a bit differently because it’s hard to imagine without proper examples. Honestly, I would have thought to myself, “Well obviously this Bennett lady is a nut because objects can’t have power or independence.”
Things definitely don’t have the kind of power seen in Disney movies where cars talk and Buzz, the toy astronaut saves the day, but they certainly have some type of power and independence and it seems to be their power and independence paired with our own personal abilities that allow successful maneuvers. This brings me to the actor-network theory. I’m not positive if I have fully grasped the concept or not so someone please help me out if you feel like it means something else. From the several small definitions of the actor-network theory it seems that this theory is stating that with every task their is a web of interactions and these interactions exists between both non human and human actors.
Humans are almost always aware of the interactions they have with each other, but they are mostly oblivious to the interactions they have with the non-human entities. Maybe not quite “oblivious,” but instead I mean that most people wouldn’t recognize that they have an interaction with a computer. I believe that Bennett and many other people that investigate the thing theory are trying to illustrate that while “things” or objects need humans, humans also need the interaction with these things. What I’m trying to say is that everything is linked together and sometimes humans are not as in control as we believe ourselves to be. Technology probably wouldn’t exist without humans but humans might also not exist without technology.