We talked in class yesterday about Laustic and the way in which the nightingale was simply used. First, it was used as an excuse to stand at her bedroom window, and then as a vehicle to “relate the adventure” (Line 134) to her love. More care was shown toward the samite and embroidery and casket than to the actual life of the bird. After it is killed and its dead body thrown upon her, the wife is upset, but only because her excuse is gone.
Though we talked about the way in which the nightingale misrepresented the couple because it was much more beautiful than their “convenient” love, I couldn’t help but think there must be something more to the nightingale than simply being a harbinger of symbolism. Is there significance beyond that placed upon it by the humans?
I keeping thinking there must be, firstly because of the title which literally means “the nightingale.” Is this simply in homage to the nightingale for its sacrifice as a result of their love? Even if this is the case, doesn’t that imply an inherent significance simply by its presence? Although the nightingale didn’t have a choice in the matter, it had an effect on the humans like the rocks Dorigen was so frightened of, or the deer in Guigemar. In this case, the birds (seemingly nightingales) inspire happiness (instead of fear) when they sing in the trees: “He listened to them intently / and to the lady on the other side” (Lines 66-67). He listens to the birds first, and his love second. It seems as though the nightingale is in between them, somehow connecting them. Was their love borne out of inspiration from the nightingale’s song? Once the nightingale is dead, it seems as though their love is also dead. As we pointed out in class, it doesn’t mean they can’t still see each other at least sometimes. So, why does the death of this beautiful bird mean the death of their less than beautiful love? Is it because without the bird’s song to spur them to feel love, they are not really in love?
Exposing subject and object’s “mutual dependency,” Jane Bennett levels the subject-object hierarchy (23). Similarly, Bruno Latour “dislocate[es]” cause-effect authority (58). Traditionally, “the second term is predicted by the first,” locating authority in the cause (58). Actor Network Theory, though, resists assigning a central cause and instead enumerates multiple actors. Bruno Latour explains that “[w]hen a force manipulates another, it does not mean that it is a cause generating effects,” for this kind of central causation implies a certain authority (someone/thing “giving” agency, to borrow from class). Instead, Latour considers a cause “an occasion for other things to start acting,” exercising the agency they already have (60). The cause as an “occasion” may inspire action, but it does not directly determine it.
Looking at three lays with an identical “cause” (or occasion) – the werewolf transformation – but different “effects” (or subsequent actions) attests to Latour’s rejection of singularity and determinacy and his support of multiplicity and variability. Circumstances certainly vary across Bisclavret, Melion, and Biclarel’s situations; their transformations, recuperations, and all that transpires in between. But what of the similarities? Doesn’t the werewolf consistently cause fear? Doesn’t betrayal consistently cause revenge? Though generalities, these actions/reactions re-occur in all three lays. Even if these are simply literary tropes, they stem from somewhere. Even an “occasion” to act is not an open invitation, it is an inspiration, which includes certain guiding implications.
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).
I was recently watching a stand-up comedy special featuring comedian, Louis C.K. He has this bit about getting fat and regarding Bennett’s properties of Edible Matter, he first agrees with her and then later contradicts himself.
He begins with his jealousy over his skinny friends and his inability to eat “just one doughnut”. He claims he cannot do it, as if the doughnuts hold some type of agency over him. This statement, I thought, was the same as Bennett’s theory that food holds its own agency (as we saw in the potato chip example). This thought is not one experienced only by Louis C.K. and Jane Bennett. I can not even count the endless times I’ve heard someone say “I can not have just one” or “If I start I won’t be able to stop”. This thought of the food having a stronger agency than our own is very common.
However, my question arises because later in his skit, C.K. tells a story in which he goes to a child’s birthday party begrudgingly, but once he sees the tray of cookies, decides that will be his activity for the afternoon. He goes on to explain that when people see him scarfing down cookies he makes a remark like “there’s just something about the cookies” when really it’s the fact that he has no will power to control himself around the sweet treats. He recognizes that he willfully makes a decision to eat the cookies, but then remarks that he has no control or will power to stop after just one. Is it he who is the actor, or the cookies? I get a little confused because his actions to eat the cookies are deliberate, however he claims that his lack of action or control is the reason why he finishes the platter, but he does not attribute any agency to the cookies the way he did earlier in the skit regarding doughnuts. So, I guess my question is in terms of edible matter, is it the food’s agency? or our lack of agency? Is it a mixture of both?
I’ll post a link to the video below. There is a lot of profanity, so be prepared, and I apologize if this offends anyone.
(The views expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the author.)
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).
As we’ve been talking about assemblages in class, the whole concept seems a little vague to me. I think I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong here, that an assemblage is all the actants that combine one way or another to make something happen, to put it loosely. We looked at Guigemar and the events and actants that led up to his injury: his desire to hunt, his huntsmen, his arrow, his horse, the fact that the deer ran out at that precise moment, the strange female yet male quality of the deer, the deer’s curse etc. I understand this but it seems as though infinite things combine to produce one action or event. The list could go on infinitely to sum up the parts that got Guigemar wounded: that specific day, the strength he used to shoot the arrow, the horse’s speed, the deers speed, etc etc.
It would seem that then everything existing is part of an assemblage or the effect of an assemblage and it would be impossible to try to pinpoint all the parts of an assemblage because there are really infinite. I mean no offense to Jane Bennett but I just really don’t understand how realizing that each action, event etc is made up of many causes is beneficial except for simply recognizing that everything is made up of so many other parts so appreciation, blame, confusion, etc can be dispersed instead of centered on one, not entirely at fault being.
I guess what I am getting at is how looking at assemblages will helpful in studying pre-1700 texts besides what I just mentioned?
The way we talked about food in class today was completely different that I have ever talked about it before. Food is the fuel that runs are bodies, sure, and I even knew it could change your mood, but it is astonishing how important food is to our everyday functioning. If we eat fish or drink beer we can become like different people and that is a kind of power that I had never really thought something so seemingly mundane can have on us. One thought I did have though, is how would prescription drugs fall into the assemblage idea that Bennett has in the Edible Matter section. If something like Omega-3 Fatty Acids can make you more focused, where how about Prozac, the birth control pill, or even Viagra? These seem to be a kind of edible matter, but with an assemblage function that is strictly based on the physical effects it can have on our body. Each of these can affect the way we view the world around us and we are hormonally different when we take them, so it seems to me that these are the kind of super-edible matter, at least when it comes the way they are able to make us less static and more vibrant people. Doctors proscribe these because of the assemblages they form with a patent’s biochemical make up and can be of help to the patient because of this. But what about side-effects like the low sex drive experienced by many of those people on anti-depressants or the stain that Viagra can have on the hearts of older men? By this token what about chemotherapy or dialysis? Side-effects also come from eating hydrogenated fats or other unhealthy food, yet many people are willing to accept them in order to enter into an assemblage with the drug that is both positive and negative. The question I guess, is what are you willing to let into your body that can fundamentally change the nature of your lifestyle….
Today I re-read Le Fresne, and tried to pick out an object and analyze it using thing theory and also actor-network theory. However, after trying to do so, I became very confused about what exactly the difference is between the two theories.
For this example, I chose to look at the garments and the ring that Fresne’s mother gives her before her servant takes her to the abbey and leaves her in the ash tree. To me, these objects most obviously play a role in the story, so much that they are arguably just as important as the characters themselves. These objects represent more than just physical items. They, like we discussed in class, almost represent Fresne’s identity. They are also symbols of nobility and wealth, allowing those who know nothing about Fresne to at least know that she comes from a good family. Therefore, these objects clearly work as actors, considering without them, Fresne’s mother would most likely have never known that this was her daughter and the entire story would unraveled in a completely different way and consequently had a whole new set of morals, if any, in the end. I think it is fair to say that these objects “bend space around” themselves, but how is this different than thing theory? I’ve had the thought that the difference is that thing theory incorporates ideas and unpredictable actions as well as objects, but couldn’t an idea or an action not be an actor too? When trying to project these theories onto the garments in Le Fresne, I had a great deal of trouble differentiating the two, and, because they seem to have so many similarities to me, they sort of just combined themselves into one theory. I’m probably missing some very important and blatant point that would solve all of my problems, but for now I’m having trouble distinguishing the theories.
What I found most interesting about the readings and discussion we had this time round, was the idea of nobility being some intrinsic aspect of the blood of those that possessed it. The idea that being a virtuous and kind person is a genetic inheritance seems to my modern ears to be a very strange idea. I can understand that the time frame which this is taking place in is very much in favor of a sort of predestined sense of self and a divine right based on royalty or the noble connection, but I’m having a hard time not trying to read the text with these sensibilities in mind.
For example, the idea that the mother in the story could abandon her child undercuts this whole idea of intrinsic nobility in my eyes. If nobility is something that is gifted to a person based on the purity of their birth, how could a woman from this class do a thing that is so unquestionably callous and frankly-at least to my eyes- evil? True she does eventually repent and try to make up for what she did in the end but does that remove the lingering doubt that the act cast on her in first place? While I think the story meant for this to be a return to grace for the mother, I personally can get out of my own modern interpretation long enough to really understand this. Redemption seems to be a very tricky thing and I think that to believe that it is based on some intrinsic nature puts too much stock in the royal stock.
After musing on the problematic “specific unspecificity that ‘thing’ denotes,” Bill Brown in fact applies Thing Theory to a specific “thing,” Claes Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser, and reveals its underlying unspecificity in the process (3). Taking what was once “iconic” and is now “anachronistic,”Oldenburg showcases a “thing” that is simultaneously an “objective” and “material” presence (14-5). Harking back to subjectivity, we recall that an object exists only in relation to its subject. A material, it stands to reason, constitutes its own existence. Are the two not mutually exclusive? Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser seems to suggest that a true “thing” can transcend the binary and exist as both.
Those spectators who have themselves been the subject to a typewriter eraser identify Oldenburg’s statue as an iconic representation. From this perspective,Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser is hardly any different from his other “oversized and understuffed everyday objects” (except for maybe the understuffed part) (14). With these works of pop art, Oldenburg appropriates a form and assigns it iconic, symbolic (and, though it sounds contradictory, objective) value. Value that the form certainly never intended (as if it had intentions – anthropomorphizing, I know).
Those unfamiliar with the typewriter eraser, though, cannot so easily identify Oldenburg’s statue in relation to themselves. This “material presence” exists in and of itself (Because does anyone really know where they stand in relation to granite, cement, or plastic until it’s been made into something functional and recognizable?). Brown explains that “Released from the bond of being equipment…the object becomes something else” (15). Stripped of its subject-specified function, the form momentarily breaks from the subject-object relationship. It now exists not as the object, but as the “other.”
Are these the only conditions under which a “thing” can exist, object or “other?” For even this binary still defines the “thing” in relation to the subject. I salute you, Jane Bennett, because I can’t even pretend not to be anthropocentric.