Studying Bill Brown’s essay “Thing Theory” and Bennett’s preface to Vibrant Matter, I couldn’t help but think of the many Disney cartoons (or just cartoons in general) that give life to inanimate objects. Animals, because they are animate and we tend to attach meaning to them more readily, are used often in animation as substitutes for human experience. We have more or less come to accept this as a normal practice. What is fascinating to me, in light of the readings, was how we also do not find it unusual to see inanimate objects in action.
In Beauty and the Beast, for instance, Lumiere and Cogsworth are two humans that have been transformed into a candelabra and a clock respectively. Their roles, regardless of their temporary existence as objects, are central in advancing the mostly human-driven plot of the movie. Furthermore, there are talking gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and equally animate household appliances in The Brave Little Toaster. When things are given human characteristics, we inevitably begin to think of them differently. Objects suddenly become not only useful, but vital because they fit more easily into our anthropocentric way of viewing the world. Why do we enjoy seeing objects and/or things act like humans anyway? Is that the only way we can identify with objects? We cannot seem to comprehend that an object, in and of itself, is worthy of consideration beyond its inherent function or purpose.
It’s undeniably strange that we discard objects in real life, but experience (in some cases) an emotional attachment to them in animated form. It’s as if we really do want to think of objects in that way but cannot bring ourselves to in a real-world setting. The interest in seeing talking animals I can understand well enough, considering we have acknowledged higher-class animals as possessing value. However, we have not even begun, as human beings, to reach the same point when it comes to inanimate objects. Objects seem to only have meaning in various animated fantasy worlds, but perhaps we might grow to think of them in the future as not merely things (with no conscious thought, and therefore no right of being thought of as “agents”), but entities worthy of being considered beyond how they relate to human beings.