Review of Week 11: October 31st and November 2nd (by Thomas Burnette)
We began on Monday with a discussion of Latour’s “Second Source of Uncertainty: Action Is Overtaken,” with a focus on assemblages. We determined that Latour’s project is to reassemble the social, and to provide a new working definition of the social. The very title of his work, Reassembling the Social, is derived with his focus on assemblages, as Latour strives to turn the reader’s attention to the heterogeneous nature of the ingredients in a network.
Latour is against the methods of social scientists who look for problems and explain away all of our actions with “some social force took over” (Latour 45). Latour’s looking for different explanations that allow objects to have agency. He encourages us to “look at things without expectations,” so that we will always be surprised by the power of things, reminiscent of Bennett’s sense of wonders (46). We concluded our discussion by discussing Latour’s example of the pilgrim, who claims to drop everything he’s doing and put himself through the difficulties of pilgrimage for the sake of the Virgin Mary. While a sociologist would smugly claim that the pilgrim is deluding himself and is acting based off of his childhood conditioning etc. (which gives agency only to humans,) Latour points out that the Virgin Mary has agency regardless of holiness, which should be recognized. No matter the case, the Virgin Mary had the power to make the pilgrim act despite a slew of inconveniences, which is a miracle in and of itself. Latour wants us to look for agency that’s meaningful and diverse, and not simply an explanation that meets our expectations.
On Wednesday we went over the annotated bibliography assignment, and decided to make it due at 11/11/11/11pm. We began discussion by discussing “agentic drift,” with a focus on the nature of the cherries’ agency in Sir Cleges. We decided that agency is not given, but “gifted” within an assemblage. As Dr. Seaman explained, “at certain times different amount of agencies are exerted by parts of an assemblage more than others,” which Samuel clarified by equating the shifting of agency with the law of conservation of energy.
We then shifted to a discussion of werewolf stories, and attempted to distinguish the three through key moments in the texts.
Clothes focus (beginning and end)
Wife’s response to reveal (afraid)
The bowing to the king
Attacking his wife/her new lover
The King’s great love for Bisclavret
His vow only to love virgins
Letting his wife control the transformation
Spending years with his wife before transforming
Waging war with his 10 wolves, focus on justice like Cleges
A lot of time spent from wolf’s perspective
Retaining knowledge (recognizes Arthur)
Wife is banshed/damned
Moral- don’t listen to your wife
Both love and his wife are against the knight
The transformation is less important
Entire passages of wife nagging
Moral- women shouldn’t be trusted/married
We concluded by discussing Jeffrey Cohen’s post on werewolves. It seems that none of these knights had a bad time as wolves, and retain their nobility to an extent that they’re recognized by the king. In fact, Melion seems to become even more knightly after his transformation, and Biclarel gets a reward from Arthur for no particular reason after trapping his wife between walls. These knights escape their wives and are elevated by the homosocial worlds they move to.
“We need to see action as a conglomerate of surprising sets of agencies that we have to slowly disentangle” (Latour 44).
“Action should remain a surprise, a mediation, an event” (45).
“Even more difficult is when a pilgrim said, “I came to this monastery because of the Virgin Mary” (48).
“Different things have different power in different assemblages”- Dr. Seaman
“Agency is inherent. . . but can be gifted”- Samuel
“But a lack of agency can be agency. Le Fresne’s helplessness is a very powerful agency”- Dr. Seaman
On Bisclarel: “The problem isn’t marriage; it’s marrying a girl you’ve never seen before that claims to love you!”- Josh. “But if you read Lanval that’d be the perfect thing to do”- Dr. Seaman. “But that was a fairy!!!”- Josh
Heterogeneity- a mix of different things (the quality or state of being heterogenous; composition from dissimilar parts; disparateness).
Agentic Drift- the shifting of agency within an assemblage
Preview of Week 12 (by Dr. Seaman)
Monday, we will finish our reading of theoretical texts, with Latour’s chapter “Third Source of Uncertainty: Objects Too Have Agency.” As you read, work to find areas where he’s heading somewhere we’ve not already been. It might be tempting to emphasize, in your reading, what’s familiar, how this is “like” what we’ve read from Bennett, Latour, Harman, Brown, and so on. But keep in mind Latour’s orientation here specifically toward the question of the social, and consider how he’s putting ANT to that task in particular. I’d like you to keep track of those moments in the chapter where you see him doing something “new.” And before class on Monday, select the 1 paragraph you found the most useful, from the whole chapter.
With that, we will discuss the Middle English poem Emare. I worked on this poem with my dissertation, which was concerned with questions of agency, speech, and gender in Middle English romance. I’ve found that reading it through its objects, including the nonhuman participants that I’d neglected in my dissertation, doesn’t so much challenge as extend and enrich the readings I’d done of it previously.
Wednesday we return to Marie, where we will reconsider Laustic and add Milun and Eliduc to our repertoire. With Milun we will be in the world of unintended pregnancies, tokens, meeting of father and son in battle, and the like. Consider how the assemblages you encounter here, which seem to consist of such similar items, might be distinct from those. With Eliduc, while there are some familiar sites along the way, we are in rather different territory than elsewhere in Marie: the poem is much longer, which allows for different kinds of complications than can be handled in the shorter poems. Do work to keep track of the different significant assemblages you encounter along the way, and the different dynamics of each.
By Friday at 11pm, you’ll submit your Annotated Bibliography in OAKS. I will read and comment on those as quickly as I can (though I see now that I will be in Philadelphia that weekend, for a college visit with my daughter), so that you can include that in your thinking about your paper proposal, which will be due exactly a week later. Do remember my office hours (MW 1-2 and 4:40-5:10, and by appointment).