I’m glad I presented first, because every presentation from our class was a tough act to follow. The amount of thought, time, and effort each group put into their work was clearly evident, as was the importance of things in each presentation. Again and again we return to the idea that we open our eyes to objects as things when they fail to perform their expected functions. In class, those objects were the projector, speakers, and computers used in the electronic presentations. When the class computer failed to perform its expected role, the chain of events and order of presentations were disrupted, and only when its function was restored could some groups complete their goals. The very functionality of the equipment affected our perspective of the presentations, such as the low audio of John’s video. The speaker’s inability to provide us our desired audio level forced us to react, as our entire class shifted forward, bringing our desks with us in order to get closer to the sound. The video was influenced not only by the computer’s ability to translate to the projector, but the projector’s ability to replicate that image. Once translated, the projector sent out light that was influenced by dust particles in the air, and this sheet of light blended with the impure white screen in order to create the actual image which our eyes interpreted into what we saw. Before taking this class, I would have likely never considered the importance of something as seemingly insignificant as dust particles in the air in crafting a visual presentation. But in class they seemed impossible to ignore, as group after group blatantly stated the importance of even the smallest of things in our lives. To me, beyond the apparent skilled rhetoric and creativity of the projects, my awareness of the dust in the air signified the success of these presentations.
I’d forgotten about Dr. Seaman’s request for our paper proposals, which seem so far back now that my paper’s all done with and only three finals separate me and home. But here it is, as requested. I took Marie de France’s lai, “Equitan,” and performed both an object-oriented reading (ANT) and a psychoanalytical (Freudian) reading of the text. I chose a Freudian analysis as my second contemporary critical reading approach as I couldn’t think of any reading less concerned with objects than Freud’s, especially when examining the id, ego, and superego. By reading characters in a work as representatives of the psyche and focusing on the importance of an individual’s mind, objects lose their importance. For example, a bath is no longer a bath, but a representation for a man’s desire to return to his mother’s womb which reflects his immaturity. The bath is a product of the mind that isn’t really there and has no agency whatsoever. Even when an object is important to the tale, its power is merely a reflection of the subconscious. So reduced are things in a Freudian reading that they no longer can be called objects- they’re visible but aren’t really there.
I argue that a Freudian reading of a text diminishes the power of things to a level below even that of objects, and as such, analyzing a text via an object-oriented approach adds new depth and meaning to a work. The relevance of ANT and other object-oriented approaches can be verified through this comparison.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind invites us to speculate on memory’s permanence and importance. It also invites us to practice an object oriented reading (or viewing, I suppose). For those of you unfamiliar with it, the film tracks Joel and Clementine’s romantic history as it is actively erased from Joel’s mind. Midway through Dr. Mierzwiak’s “Lacuna” operation, Joel regrets his decision to erase Clementine and must navigate through his memories to preserve as much of her as he can.
Much of Dr. Mierzwiak’s success in eradicating Joel’s memories draws from his manipulation of the objects associated with those memories. Rather than having Joel simply recount his soon to be forsaken memories of Clementine, Dr. Mierzwiak presents him with the physical objects that Joel identifies with her. In the presence of these things (a hodge-podge of souvenirs) Joel’s recollections of Clementine are much more vivid and extensive, and easier for Dr. Mierzwiak to map. Dr. Mierzwiak tells Joel, “We’ll dispose of these mementos when we’re done here – that way you won’t be confused by their unexplainable presence in your home.” Dr. Mierzwiak’s reason, though, is likely two-fold. Yes, unexplainable pictures and purchases may cause confusion, but altogether they may work to provide answers. The objects that littered Joel’s house throughout his relationship with Clementine created the context in which he learned to love her, the assemblage that brought them together. Outside of this assemblage, Joel may never have fallen in love with Clementine. To return to this assemblage, though, would make a flood of loving memories, and possibilities, readily accessible to him.
As the assemblage is stripped down, Joel nearly falls out of love. His resistance, though, attests that true love can never truly be relinquished. I think Marie would approve.
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.
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.
Championing “The Force of Things” as she did in chapter one, I felt that Jane Bennett underrated the force of objects. She congratulated those “things” which had “exceed[ed] their status as objects,” reviving the “liveliness intrinsic to the materiality of the thing formerly known as an object” (xvi). She characterized the object/thing distinction (or transformation) as some kind of reclamation or retribution. Furthermore, by encouraging an object’s “independence from the words, images, and feelings they provoke in us,” she seemed to discourage even symbolism (xvi)! Her description of symbolism as an act of human agency, an infliction only a passive object could endure, neglected the agency that symbolism infuses in the symbol (for sentimental symbols move us in ways that foreign things can’t). If the object/thing distinction entails stripping symbolic significance, I thought, does it really have a place in literature, a fictional (and therefore entirely symbolic) framework?
In her chapter two discussion of “The Agency of Assemblages,” however, Bennett acknowledges that “the power of a body to affect other bodies includes a ‘corresponding and inseparable’ capacity to be affected” (21). With this principle in mind, there is no need to sever subject-object ties, for subject and object share an equal and indistinguishable agency. The subject-object hierarchy pertains only to speech and grammar; actual matter (subject, object, or “thing”) interacts with an equal and indiscriminate “conatus” (22). Who is subject and who is object is all but irrelevant, for the overarching relationship between the two is more of a “coexistence of mutual dependency with friction and violence between parts”: an assemblage (23). An autonomous thing is perhaps a more fictional notion than a host of symbols. Symbols and their subjects exhibit this “mutual dependency.” “Friction and violence” between them precipitates plot twists the way assemblages precipitate natural/technological phenomenon like black-outs. “Things” must exist in a non-existent vacuum, stranger than fiction.
As discussed in class, I feel that chapter three of Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter was much more concrete, understandable and straight forward than the preface, chapter one, and chapter two. It seems to me that using the example of food to reveal the agency of non-human objects and assemblages is much more relatable than electrical blackouts, dead rats, and the theories of Foucault and Deleuze, which is most likely because they are, or were, very unfamiliar. Her arguments also feel much more relative, at least to my life, because I do a lot more eating than studying the theories of philosophers and sociologists on most days. I think that her most interesting argument in chapter three is the way in which fats have “the ability to make a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference” (Bennett, 41). We usually think of fats as only changing a person physically, but not mentally or emotionally. The fact that omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to calm down prisoners, cause significant improvement in children’s learning and behavior, and even help to improve both positive and negative effects of schizophrenia clearly says that humans have an often unacknowledged and intimate relationship with food that can make us very much different people socially. I also thought that the process of digestion was a great way to explain assemblages, considering the human has to digest the food, just as the food has to be digestible. It seems strange to me that Bennett waits until chapter three to make such concrete and relatable arguments. Why does she begin by analyzing Odradek’s Nonorganic life and then in chapter three analyze eating a bag of potato chips? I know that when Bennett wrote Vibrant Matter I was in no way her target audience, but I feel like using very relatable concepts to begin with would have helped me ease into such complex theories.
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?
Thinking of food or “edible matter” in terms of assemblages encourages us to go beyond treating food as something we consume on the basis free will. Without conscious acknowledgement, we all enter into a rather intimate relationship with food every day that isn’t entirely dependent on what we, as consumers, want to eat. The food has just as much of an effect on us as we have on it.
We eat to survive, but our survival isn’t the only part of the equation—we, like edible matter, are only one part of a larger network or assemblage. And while the act of eating is usually conceptualized as a reciprocal relationship, the implications of this reciprocity are rarely contemplated.
The act of eating a potato chip, for instance, can be thought of in terms of an “assemblage.” Bennett is not asserting that our actions are devoid of intention, but that intentionality is beset by other factors that lessen its importance. The hand reaching for the chip is “…only quasi- or semiintentional, for the chips themselves seem to call forth, or provoke and stoke, the manual labor” (Bennett 40). This scenario calls into question how much an action is dependent on the subject and how much is dependent on that which is considered an object. In contrast to how we view ourselves as the sole “actants” in an event, the potato chip is active in its influence over our actions.
As far as the debate over what influences our collective eating habits is concerned, we usually look to the media in ascribing blame. Asserting that the food itself is an active influence is something entirely unique. However, that doesn’t mean we should turn around and blame food for the “obesity crisis” in the absence of another more appropriate entity to blame. Bennett is trying to get away from this human tendency in emphasizing the fact that “matter” (whether intentionally or not) works within networks too complex to attribute individual culpability.
Everything (even food in this case) works together to create a “living” world. Vibrancy cannot be measured in weight, height, or value—all things are equally vibrant for the simple fact that they “persist in existing.” Things have a tendency to fade into the background, but they enrich our lives in numerous (often incomprehensible) ways. Jane Bennett’s notion that objects occupy the roles of “context, tool, and constraint” is an undeniably accurate description of how most of us perceive objects in relation to us. As part of an all-encompassing “background,” objects (including edible matter) blend into the world in a way that deemphasizes their agency.
I am still not very comfortable with assemblages. After discussing The Hunt as an assemblage in Guigemar, I got a better sense of an assemblage, but I’m I guess what I want is a more firm understanding of it. So I’m going to try and look at “The Midterm” as an assemblage, and I hope I’m right, but if I’m completely off then at least I have time to clarify before the midterm. I think I can make an assemblage out of this, but then again I stated before I’m still not comfortable with the term. Also this is a way for me to get myself to begin reviewing what we’ve cover so far this semester. Win-win.
Here it goes, The Midterm as an assemblage. Some of the parts that make up the assemblage: The need for a class to have a midterm exam (whether it’s an institutional requirement, or a way for a teacher to see where the class stands), the desire of students to do well on the exam (or lack there of), lots of studying, all of the subjects we’ve studied so far (critical texts: Preface and 3 Chapters of Bennett, Brown’s “Thing Theory,” Latour’s Intro, Harman’s “We Have Never Been Modern,” ANT; literary texts: Marie de France’s Lanval, Guigemar, Le Fresne, The middle English lais: Sir Degare, Launfal, Lay Le Freine), the actual prompts/questions of the exam itself, the “Seeing Things” video, OAKs and the computer.
I’m sure there are more parts to this, but right now I think this assemblages also should have all the students in our class and Dr. Seaman as parts.
Each of these parts can be seen as something vibrant, for example I think OAKs is vibrant because it seems to rely on the IT network to make sure it’s working and that thing seems to have a mind of its own. Assemblages do not have a central head that governs, but I think you could make the argument that Dr. Seaman comes close to being a central head.
Anyway, hope I know what I’m talking about.