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.
Typically, objectification is a demeaning and disempowering practice. Object-oriented ontology, though, elevates and empowers objects, inverting the typical implications of objectification (perhaps even encouraging it). An object-oriented reading of Marie de France’s Yonec objectifies bodies in a peculiar way. It distinguishes them from the minds or souls that reside within them, while insisting that there should still be parallels (if not union) between the two.
The young lady uses this technique herself to deny her old husband a soul, referring to him as “this jealous man, / who married me to his body” (83-4). Demonizing and objectifying him, the lady rejects any spiritual tie to her husband, making their marriage a mere marriage of bodies. Her own body tainted by his, she lets its beauty go “as one does who cares nothing for it” (48). Divorcing herself from her body takes quite a toll on it, but hopefully preserves her soul.
She later learns, though, the value of the body (and beauty, for only beautiful bodies have value, it seems). Her newfound lover reminds her that the soul and body are ideally one, using his body (though her appearance) “to receive the body of our lord God” (162). The lord’s very body is sacred, and can be accessed through the body. Given this reminder that the body is meant to house the soul, “[h]er body had now become precious to her” (215). Re-embracing her body as her own, her home for Christ and romantic love, “she completely recovered her beauty” (216). The body cannot house the soul if they do not reflect each other. By this mutual dependency, the soul cannot be preserved by abandoning the body (as she tried with her marriage of bodies), any more than the body bloom without a soul.
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.
Throughout Sir Degaré, the protagonist is rewarded, either for his familial ties or his noble behaviour as a knight, with gifts. Time and again, these and other objects protect Degaré and his loved ones from bodily harm and great dishonour, and in this way assert their agency on the tale.
The woman who the main character falls in love with gives him “Gold and silver an god armur”, which is seen as generous and affectionate. However, the way in which the armour saves Sir Degaré from injury is completely ignored, thus denying it any impact on the text. Similarly, the women’s actions, namely to “Drauwe the bregge and sschet the gate” to spare themselves from “oure enemi”, take precedence, while the objects’ vibrant nature is dismissed. This pattern is present because the things in this text are often perceived as extensions of the characters personas, such as that of Degaré’s grandfather: “The King hath the gretter schaft”.
However, the effect which objects have on Degaré’s life cannot be underestimated, for the gloves and sword bestowed on him protect the protagonist from terrible, oedipal consequences. The mother only discovers Degaré’s identity through the gloves, and though she exclaims “God, mercy, mercie!” for their incestuous marriage, the things prevent the consummation of such a union. The joust between Degaré and his father is also halted by the discovery of an object, namely the sword, which puts an end to a potentially deadly dual. The protagonist’s father rightly classes the appearance of the distinctive weapon as the most important factor in recognising his son, more so than Degaré’s words: “bi thi swerd I knowe hit here”. Again, pleas of “merci” are voiced, but the sword’s assertion of its existence prevents the scene, and thus the entire tale from quite possibly ending in death and tragedy.
Our discussion of object-oriented approaches so far has led me to examine the use of objects in Marie de France’s Le Fresne.
First of all, Fresne cannot create an identity through her actions alone. Although her behavior might be considered noble, she does not have the necessary proof that would enable her to become the king’s wife. The ring and the cloth allow her to truly act out the “noble lady” role she was born to play. It’s ironic that her mother’s attempts to name her (in giving her the ring for instance) backfire and she is named after another object instead.
Her being named after the ash tree is crucially problematic, as it is the catalyst for her rejection in favor of her sister Codre. She is not seen as fit for the wife of a king, even though she exhibits all the “noble” qualities inherent to that station. Her identity, in this case, is wrapped up with the wrong object. However, it is through objects that she gains her rightful place in society.
Because they name her after the ash tree, Fresne does not initially get a chance to claim her identity. The name “ash” becomes the thing by which people judge her. It’s interesting to note that Gurun still loves her, even though he has no way of marrying her at that point. He’s the only one who seems to look beyond both the objects and the name, loving her despite her social status.
Her private actions were not sufficient enough to create a public identity. For that, she would need evidence more substantial than mere actions. Fresne’s mother accepts her only after she has seen the ring and the silk cloth. Fresne “…brought her the ring/she examined it carefully/She recognized it very well/and the silk cloth too” (443-446). This scene shows that even her mother (who gave her the objects in the first place) cannot simply acknowledge her nobility outright.
Furthermore, when she was a child at the abbey, they “…discovered the ring/and they saw her costly, beautiful clothes/from these they were certain that she was born of noble lineage” (207-210). While her refined speech and beauty would have marked her for nobility, it was ultimately the objects that convinced people of the truth.
Looking back on our discussions from Monday’s class, one object that continually popped up in my mind was money. Whether in the form of land, jewelry, or fine cloth, these objects can only be attained with money. We see this through the actions of Fresne’s mother, Gurun, and his people.
Upon deciding to send her to the abbey, Fresne’s mother leaves her with two specific objects; both of which signify wealth. The mother hopes that the fine cloth swaddling her baby and the golden ring around her arm will indicate her noble heritage and prove that she is special and deserving of good care.
After falling in love with Fresne, Gurun plans on hatching a scheme to court her. The only way that he can see her on a more frequent basis without raising suspicion is by donating land and money to the abbey where she lives. Money is the foundation of their relationship because it is the object that essentially brings these two lovers together. Oddly enough, money is also the object that seemingly ends their relationship as well. When Gurun’s people convince him to marry a woman of nobility, he decides to marry Hazel as opposed to his true love.
The story ends, as we all know, with the mother’s acknowledgment of the fine cloth on the bed. They discover that Fresne is in fact a wealthy noble and all is well. As we discussed in class, Fresne held on to these objects she was found with as an infant because she recognized their significance even as a young girl. Objects of wealth and the representation of nobility seem to be some of the key driving things of this story.
After musing on the problematic “specific unspecificity that ‘thing’ denotes,” Bill Brown in fact applies Thing Theory to a specific “thing,” Claes Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser, and reveals its underlying unspecificity in the process (3). Taking what was once “iconic” and is now “anachronistic,”Oldenburg showcases a “thing” that is simultaneously an “objective” and “material” presence (14-5). Harking back to subjectivity, we recall that an object exists only in relation to its subject. A material, it stands to reason, constitutes its own existence. Are the two not mutually exclusive? Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser seems to suggest that a true “thing” can transcend the binary and exist as both.
Those spectators who have themselves been the subject to a typewriter eraser identify Oldenburg’s statue as an iconic representation. From this perspective,Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser is hardly any different from his other “oversized and understuffed everyday objects” (except for maybe the understuffed part) (14). With these works of pop art, Oldenburg appropriates a form and assigns it iconic, symbolic (and, though it sounds contradictory, objective) value. Value that the form certainly never intended (as if it had intentions – anthropomorphizing, I know).
Those unfamiliar with the typewriter eraser, though, cannot so easily identify Oldenburg’s statue in relation to themselves. This “material presence” exists in and of itself (Because does anyone really know where they stand in relation to granite, cement, or plastic until it’s been made into something functional and recognizable?). Brown explains that “Released from the bond of being equipment…the object becomes something else” (15). Stripped of its subject-specified function, the form momentarily breaks from the subject-object relationship. It now exists not as the object, but as the “other.”
Are these the only conditions under which a “thing” can exist, object or “other?” For even this binary still defines the “thing” in relation to the subject. I salute you, Jane Bennett, because I can’t even pretend not to be anthropocentric.
The topic of objects asserting themselves as things has stuck with me since our class on Monday. Although I think I grasped the idea, I wanted to recall something that I could relate the idea to, or something that represented that idea. I thought of references from movies and TV, and while it is fairly easy to argue for any object asserting itself, one movie stood out to me over than the rest because the object in this film is the central character and drives the plot more so than its human counterparts.
Vittorio De Sica’s “Ladri di biciclette” (The Bicycle Thief), takes place in poverty stricken post-World War II Rome. The human protagonist, Antonio Ricci, is unemployed with a wife and two children to support. The only job that he can find requires that he have a bike. After his wife sells their only set of sheets, Antonio acquires a bike and proudly begins his period of employment. We can already see that this bike is more than a mode of transportation, it is his source of pride and his only means of supporting his family. The plot twists on his first day of the job when his bicycle is stolen. What follows is a repetition of disappointing moments. First, the police don’t take the stolen bike seriously and deem it a petty theft. After discovering that the thief has already sold his bike, Antonio hits rock bottom. One of the last scenes of the film shows a hopeless Antonio sitting outside of a crowded football stadium. He cannot take his eyes off of the hundreds of bicycles parked out front, and out of desperation, he decides his only option is to steal one for himself. His pathetic attempt fails almost immediately, though no charges are pressed against him out of pity. The movie ends with a teary eyed Antonio and his son walking away from the scene hand in hand.
We see Antonio begin as a proud employed man, intent on providing for his family, who eventually turns into a miserable character who, out of desperation, acts out against his moral code. This bicycle, a simple object, asserts itself as a thing from the beginning of the movie when it changes Antonio’s life for the better, until the end when he tells his son they will simply starve. The first time I saw this film, the characters’ plight and emotions resonated with me. Now that I am beginning to look at it from a different perspective, I can understand the bike’s important role and how it affects its surroundings.