This week while reading “Yonec” I was reminded a lot of “Guigemar” because of the same wife locked away in a room scenario. However, I liked that in “Yonec” the wife has more of a voice. In “Guigemar” we are given a description of the king that is very much like the description of the king in “Yonec.” he is “a very aged man who ha[s] a wife” (Guigemar 210). In “Yonec”, the king is “rich, old and ancient” (Yonec 12). So in “Guigemar” the king is characterized in terms of having a wife, and in “Yonec” the king is identified by his money. I don’t really see anything out of the ordinary here, but in “Yonec” we are provided with the wife’s perspective of her husband which I thought was just great. She calls him a “jealous old man” (71), and says that “when he should have been baptized / he was plunged instead in the river of hell; / his senews are hard, his veins are hard, / filled with living blood” (87-90). Whoa! I didn’t realize how much of a woman’s voice was lacking in the lais until this one finally spoke. I know women do speak occasionally in the lais, but this is the first time I really felt like I heard one with a voice.
Another exclamation of the wife’s that made me think is when she cries that she should have never been born, her fate is terrible, and that she is imprisoned until death (67-70). Most intriguingly she thinks, “What is this jealous old man afraid of / that he keeps me so imprisoned?” (71-2). If we place everything on a horizontal plane like Bennett suggests, I wonder how many other “things” like the wife are screaming inside to be allowed to be the director of their own agency instead of being forced to serve the agendas of others (humans). Going back to the wife’s earlier opinion of her husband: what if things could talk? What would they say about their “owners”?
Latour wants us to do some major changing as humans when it comes to looking at innate things and for that matter so does Jane Bennett. The idea of granting power to where it seems to be coming from was exceptionally foreign to me before this class. While Jane Bennett’s motives for granting power are ethically driven, the motives of this class seem to focus more on creating a novel way of reading literature. It amazes me that we have the ability to take a fairly new and steadily emerging theory and apply it to texts that are 100s of years old.
Latour and Bennett both point out the heterogeneous nature of assemblages and the necessity of disentangling them in order to be able to see the agency of everything involved. I feel like this is one of the most important concepts in the entire class because without it I felt somewhat lost. The agency of things seems so much more comprehensible when you take into account the array of actants affecting the final outcome. It seems impossible to look at one particular thing and give it all the agency and power but people tend to do this all the time by giving all the power to humanity.
The rocks in The Franklin’s Tale were revisited during Monday’s class and I think they are a perfect example of the power of assemblages. The rocks never actually hurt anyone but the assemblage that they possibly unknowingly participated in caused a great deal of turmoil. The wife in this tale did not recognize the assemblage and placed all the power on the rocks claiming that they killed people and brought her great troubles. The rocks alone did not do these things. They worked within an assemblage of things such as the ocean, the boats, the men, and even the wife’s blame that caused them to be a burden. It’s interesting to think that if the wife had of never involved them in the relationship between her and her immoral suitor she may have never been faced with the obligation to betray her husband.
The power that the wife gave the rocks seem to be very much like the power that both Latour and Bennett are encouraging society not to give humans. The recognition of assemblages seems to be vastly important to successful thing theory readings of texts, social matters, and ethical matters.
The topic of distributed agency that Victor brought up in his blog post last week evoked some very interesting discussion in class on Wednesday. We agreed upon the idea that all agency is not created equal, meaning that within some assemblages certain things obtain more agency than others, most likely due to the fact that it has a stronger effect on its surroundings. This statement led us to the idea that the level of agency a thing has is largely based on the way it affects surrounding people or things that are involved in the same assemblage. I could not help but think of the question, If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still have agency?
I think Bennett would argue that yes, it still does have agency because it is affecting some assemblage that affects another and so on and so forth. But how can we confirm something’s agency if we cannot see its effect on other people or objects? As I said in class, I was under the impression that everything had agency, period. Whether or not it has a visible affect on its assemblage does not matter because even a perceived lack of agency is equally as important as an obvious effect. Needless to say, Wednesday’s class left me quite baffled and I will continue to search for explanations in our text.
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).
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….
Bennett espouses the view that everyone’s mental and bodily reactions to food changes with time, as with Thoreau’s aversion to meat, which developed over the course of time: ““With every year”, fish-flesh became more and more viscerally unappealing. Eventually, he stops consuming “animal food””. We try to universally define food by forcing products into narrow pigeon-holes, as shown by Cornaro’s prescriptive text and others like it which speak of the perfect diet. However, it is ultimately impossible to fully predict how any one person will react when placed in an assemblage with anything they consume, even accounting for prior experience. We therefore must view things we consume as not just affecting our bodies, but also our behaviour, in ways unique to each of us. By doing this, humans can function better, because they will be able to understand their own behaviour, and moderate it more effectively.
These reactions that humans have to things they put into their bodies emphasises the power which things have in relation to us. Food is a necessity for survival, but it has also come to mean so much more, both culturally, and to the individual’s psyche. Bennett speaks about the impressive chemical capabilities of certain foods, specifically “a 35 percent reduction of offences amongst British prisoners given omega-3 fatty acids”. On a personal note, coffee sometimes give me a much-needed burst of energy, but sometimes make me super-hyper, so that reading or writing anything becomes near-impossible. However, individuals’ psychological interaction with food is also crucial to analysing the complex assemblage which humans and what they consume entails. Chocolate cake, for instance, can make a person enormously happy, because of its sweet taste, or make the same person on a different day feel greedy.
We must accept that we cannot always control the agency of things we put in our bodies, let alone the agency which our bodies display. If we do so, we can make reasoned allowances for the behaviour of ourselves and others, thus enabling us to work better as a social assemblage.
This post is definitely a “Musing” tag. I couldn’t help but think about entropy when I was reading the first chapter of Vibrant Matter. Entropy is a term used to describe the Chemical law that energy is constantly lost and everything moves toward disorder. It is important in Chemistry when during an experiment energy is lost and this explains why that happens.
I kept thinking about it because when thinking about objects and their power and affect they have on those around them it’s crazy that this other power is having an affect on everything at the same time. The universe, according to entropy, is in constant disorder. The sun will eventually go out and the objects like the rat, rubber gloves, and stick will all decompose into smaller parts. Humans too will die and decompose, and while that is something that people try not to focus on, it still is the truth.
I think I was thinking about entropy and the rest of this because it makes sense why humans have a human centered approach. That doesn’t mean its ok, but I think it takes a lot of effort to look at things from another perspective and I think it is going to be a challenging aspect of this class. I liked how Bennet didn’t dismiss the dead rat, or the litter, or the stick and I think thats something to strive for because it can’t hurt to think about those objects and the power they have.
Entropy makes it more difficult because if all these objects and things will become dust, why pay attention to them? I think I would respond to that question with another one, why pay attention to humans if all we do is turn to dust?
I think Jane Bennet is on to something really interesting because what are we missing when we ignore the thing? I hope to find out more about it with further reading.
When I first began to read Bennett’s Vibrant Matter I found myself underlining things like, “the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption. It does so by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of the nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies. These material powers, which can aid or destroy, enrich or disable, ennoble or degrade us, in any case call for our attentiveness, or even “respect”(ix).
This struck me because the concept that Bennett was explaining seemed almost religious-like and it was hard for me to picture how anyone who truly took this message to heart and incorporated it into their every day life could live normally. By taking into account every “thing”‘s presence, reaction, and effect on yourself could drive a person crazy. For example, this machine that I am typing on is somehow allowing me to submit my homework barely on time. Thank goodness it isn’t breaking, in fact if I didn’t have this machine my life would be completely different. I would spend a lot of my time in the library to keep up with online assignments, printing, and social networking, in fact I probably wouldn’t want to be in the library that much so I would just cut out social networking, and sadly that is a large part of modern social interaction, so then what would my friend circle be like? Would I be living with the friends I am living with? Would I be in this house? This school? All of these questions can arise by thinking too much into the fact that I am typing on this machine that has been deemed “a laptop”.
I find the idea of considering every “thing” and objects presence in our lives and in the world interesting, but the thought of doing so is incredibly overwhelming for no exact purpose except to baffle and overwhelm people, which I guess is a point worth making. I guess I am just wondering what the benefits of considering the role of vibrant matter is and how the theory ties into literature, especially medieval literature.
When Dr. Seaman asked whether Brown and Bennett were in the “same room” with their respective ideas I immediately said no. (Being in the same room as in talking about similar subjects). I thought they had some similarities, but on the whole I thought they were having different discussions and were in different “rooms.” However, we talked about it some in class and I could see that yeah, maybe they are in the same room and I shouldn’t have been so quick to say no.
I have continued to think about the two readings and although I am not comfortable with the readings and their contents I do feel as though I see more similarities then I did at first. At the beginning of class we said that Brown is the theoretical and Bennett is the applicable. Both Brown’s “Thing Theory” and Bennett’s Vibrant Matter touch on the fact that we as humans look at the world in terms of humans and everything else. Bennett’s first paragraph is pretty much saying that and she uses the term “anthropocentric” multiple times in the Preface. Brown does not use anthropocentric, but he does state that we (humans) have always used things in theory, but we have never acknowledged them. So here they are definitely in the same room and even within a couple of feet of each other. Brown says we never consider a thing an object until that thing stops working as it should and he gives the example of a drill tip, or the window example. So if Brown is saying that we don’t acknowledge the thing, Bennett is agreeing and stressing that there is a vibrancy to matter and to things humans ignore. When humans ignore something or do not acknowledge it we miss out on the opportunity to see how it affects other parts of life. So in this instance Bennett takes what Brown says a step further, not only do we not acknowledge things, but also we completely miss out on another perspective.
The two are definitely in the same room, but I still don’t think they are talking to each other. I think they are standing next to each other have conversations with other people… but in the same room.