I read and reread the preface to Vibrant Matter and felt as though Dr. Seaman predicted my thoughts exactly. I felt as though I had a sense of things, but not a full understanding. This week’s theories have left me feeling quite perplexed. Our in class discussion helped a bit, but I still feel foggy as I try to wrap my head around anthropocentric thinking and how we can avoid such thoughts. I’m left wondering if it is even possible to think in a non-anthropocentric way? As human beings, I wonder if it is possible for us to completely remove ourselves from the equation. If we have difficulty, does it mean we are just selfish? Since our thoughts about, and perceptions of, the world and “things” around us originate in our human minds, how can we remove the human aspect from the process altogether?
In the instance one thinks about the environment and how pesticides negatively impact the environment and then chooses to no longer use pesticides for the sake of the environment, has this person achieved thinking non-anthropocentrically? Or, is the human interest in the environment’s well being and subsequent actions still anthropocentric because it satisfies a human’s need to “take care of” the environment? Does a human need to be completely neutral to an issue to think about it in a removed way, or is it possible to also reap some sort of satisfaction (i.e. the pesticide free way of living) but not be anthropocentric?
Because so much of this still seems abstract to me, I look forward to employing our new approach to texts so I can get a better understanding of what exactly we mean when we talk about non-anthropocentric thinking. I think once we actually put these new approaches into practice, I may be able to wrap my head around these new concepts a bit more and get a greater sense of “things.”
For this blog post, I feel that it is appropriate to reflect on my last post, considering in the past week we have gone over a lot of material that will be very important and effective for the rest of the semester, such as the importance of things and objects, and how they, if perceived in the right way, are not merely inanimate but actually play a very active role. We also, in our last two Middle English exercises, made a lot of progress in understanding the language, and especially understanding why the changes in grammar occurred and what differences have resulted.
Thing theory and the importance of objects in certain contexts was very difficult for me to understand, probably because I had never thought about it before and it was so foreign to me. I’m not saying that I currently have a complete grasp on it, but I’m in much better shape than I was before class on Monday. I think Jane Bennett’s depiction of how trash, which we usually apply no meaning to and once it leaves our homes becomes non existent to us, remains an active force despite our unawareness by polluting our planet and affecting us in a negative way, really helped me develop a better understanding as to how we will “make matter matter” this semester. Also, our last Middle English exercise, which we did in class on Wednesday, was very helpful in terms of understanding the specific changes that our language went through. Actually pronouncing the letters and trying to figure out how to pronounce the words seemed to be very helpful to me. Therefore, in response to my last blog post, as I predicted, I feel that I am already on track to developing a sort of reference point that should be very helpful in understanding what we read and discuss for the rest of the semester.
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.
The notion of subjectivity presents the challenge of simultaneously recognizing the self, “an inwardly generated phenomenon” determined by “particular (yet strangely abstract) qualities,” as a subject, “an outwardly generated concept” determined by “social laws or codes” (37). The challenge, it seems, is conceding control. Which is determinant, the substantial qualities from within or the social laws from without? Western ethnocentricity (or egotism) tends to privilege inward qualities and characteristics. French theorist Louis Althusser, though, concedes to outward social laws and context. The self, he proposes, is “interpellated” into a subject “by the institutions of modern life” (44). Characteristics, then, are secondary to their context. Perhaps Marie de France anticipated Althusser’s political philosophy, for characteristics’ dependence on context is prevalent in Guigemar.
Marie employs easily recognizable plot and character devices from various narrative genres, providing the most basic context for interpreting her tale: the literary (or oral) tradition. Simply depending on the genre, stock characters act accordingly. Context continues to play a role within the world of Guigemar (which actually blends genres), particularly the placing of characters in specific social contexts. Regardless of genre, social context dictates decorum. Overwhelmingly, personal characteristics are mere functions of class. Marie describes Guigemar as “intelligent and brave” only after he is sent to “serve the king” in a chivalric sphere (42-3). Similarly, the maiden’s “noble, courteous, beautiful, intelligent” persona is merely a consequence of her being “a woman of high lineage” (211-2). Marie hardly shows Guigemar and the maiden building character, but instead “responding to things [and titles] that are already there” (39). They tend to do this quite literally in their actions as well. Guigemar acquires his reputation inFlanders, where “there was always a war, or battle raging” just waiting for him to claim his fame (52). The maiden’s return to her lover depends largely on a conveniently placed boat “taking her with it” (688). The characters’ commendable actions, like their traits, seem reactionary. These short-cuts to characterizations seem to be cheats. Poetic license excuses it in Marie’s case, but what of Althusser’s political philosophy? Is character merely a reaction?
Reflecting on the stories we have read so far, one challenge that I have had is grasping some sort of reference point, or knowing where to look for meaning in the text and exactly what about the text is important to analyze. This is most likely due to the fact that almost all of the literature I have read has come from after Premodern England, and the only medieval literature I have read are segments of The Canterbury Tales and a few others in English 201.
It seems that there are a number of reasons this is challenging, all of which stem from the fact that there are major differences between modern and medieval literature. First and most obviously, Old English is difficult to understand at times, and although this wasn’t the case for Guigemar, Sir Cleges proved to be much more difficult to translate and the Old English exercises we have been doing prove that it can at times be almost impossible to comprehend. More subtly, the framework of both stories is different than anything I’ve ever read. Both have a similar authorial introduction, and quite abrupt endings where everything is tied together quickly. Characters are also developed in more blatant ways than most modern literature, not meaning that they lack depth, but that their qualities are a bit more obvious. My lack of knowledge of medieval culture and values also creates a challenge, and it is hard to know where to look for morals and the author’s intent when you know little about the culture that the stories took place in.
As I noted earlier, it is difficult to analyze a text when you feel like you don’t have a reference point, but it seems that I am currently developing one and as the semester progresses I’m sure that I, as well as everyone else, will become much more comfortable with the literature we are reading.
So during this first week of class I had a bit of challenge. Every semester at the beginning of classes all your friends want to know what you’re taking and most of the time you just tell them. With this class I’ve had a hard time trying to tell people in less than say 30 minutes. I tell them about the middle-english, it makes sense to them. I tell them about fairy tales and romance stories, it makes sense. Then, when I try and make sense of the title it becomes a little fuzzy because I don’t know if I understand it fully myself. I’ve got the books, I’ve done the reading, but as of yet I don’t know if I can explain what it is I’m “doing” in this class.
I know it’s very early in the semester, but normally on the first day of class a fairly clear overview of what is going to be taught in the course is given. Here, I was left intrigued but still fairly confused. What exactly are we “doing”? I read the first chapter or so of Vibrant Matters and have some handle on the basic idea of objects being able to exert a kind of agency, but I don’t yet have enough of a grasp to explain it. I’m interested, but I feel like I need a little more. This class is getting to be like an episode of Lost, more questions than answers. I know there was a brief summary on the first day, but I was wondering if anyone had a way to explain it that could help me get out from under all the weird looks people give me when I try and explain this course.
I know that this post isn’t really related to the reading or discussion exactly, but the simple act of trying to explain this course to an outsider is kind of difficult….can anyone help me get a handle on what this course might be all about?
One of the things that I have been having trouble with while reading Guigemar and Sir Cleges is the multiple occurrences of events, relationship, or story details that are completely unbelievable, and I’m not talking about the talking hermaphroditic deer.
In Guigemar, besides the talking deer and the self-sailing ship, there are basic parts of the story that are completely unbelievable. Firstly, the fact that the Lady’s husband does not come to see her for 18 months makes no sense given that he is supposed to be an overprotective, jealous husband. One would think that he would visit frequently to make sure she was still completely his property and locked up just the way he left her. Also, the fact that the Priest who supposedly keeps watch over her chamber and leads her in services never notices that there is another man living with her for 18 months.
In Sire Cleges, he is not recognized by the servants who know him well but he has only changed in attire, not in age, or some deformity. This does not seem realistic at all. When the king is doling out lashes, everyone is laughing even though one man appears to be seriously injured. This is not only hard to believe but just quite strange.
These are just a few examples in the text that puzzled me and made me ask, did the people who first heard these stories really just accept everything that was told to them? The stories seem more like a children’s story, with details left out in unfitting places, and things not really making complete sense, something that a child would believe without thinking twice but something that an adult should recognize. I am wondering how over the course of literature how complex, realistic narratives evolved and if the medieval readers/listeners ever questioned a story’s credibility.