I have to be honest, currently my life is a series of tasks–things I must get done in order to accomplish life-long goals. Of course, I don’t mind this at all and I know it’s only temporary. However, situations can get a little taxing at times (as I write this I see the clock spurting towards 8 pm and I’ve only just begun after completing a different project for another class). It is when the going gets tough that I rely on my own assemblage the most. Disclaimer: I know there are elements of this assemblage that I am probably entirely unaware of, so let’s keep with what I deliberately put together in my knapsack of magic:
-My iPhone, my iPad, and my MacBook Air. Yes, I have and need all three. I am a big supporter of Apple Inc because I think that they have the best products, and Steve Jobs is a personal hero of mine. When I’m in a tight spot I easily have access to all of my email addresses’ inboxes and my calendars on my iPhone. If I were a knight, my iPhone would my dagger. It is small, but when wielded correctly it can be very powerful. (Siri is my magical fairy that goes and retrieves things for me).
-My red book bag. I hate this bag and I would rather not talk about it–I am so tired of carrying around hundreds of pounds of books in it. But, like an ugly pilgrimage coat, it is pretty vital to my survival. This bag carries everything for me and even keeps my technology gadgets dry in times like that torrential downpour I walked several blocks in on Monday night.
-My loafers. I have walked hundreds of miles in those. They didn’t quite fit at first, but you can believe they have molded to my feet by now.
-Coffee. This is pretty self-explanatory. You know that magic potion that all fairy tales require? It’s probably really just coffee.
I am almost to a Gold Card! (Also, another reason why I love my iPhone...I can pay for coffee with it on the Starbucks app!)
-And, finally, in my assemblage I have my values that guide all my actions (including why I have chosen the above items in particular).
In studying object-oriented theory over the course of the semester, I feel like I have undergone a fundamental transformation in how I relate to the world around me. I pay attention to things more than I ever have before. Putting things or objects into separate categories has become something I question on a daily basis, which is remarkable considering how normalized a practice it was before these ideas were introduced to me.
In reference to an example from the beginning of class: a window is not simply a window, an opaque object which one looks through in order to view something on the other side. Now, I look at a window and I notice it for what it is, not what it is (or how it is supposed to function) in relation to me. As a human being, there will always be limitations to how I am going to perceive the world, especially in relation to myself, but this class has shown me how all things, human and nonhuman, actually work together.
No longer can I consciously and/or casually dismiss an object as insignificant, knowing that it has its place in a larger network or assemblage that might also, potentially, count me as one of its participants. Humans are neither the lowest nor the highest, nor can we consider ourselves in terms of inferiority or superiority. In this way, the “natural” order of things might not be so natural after all.
As much as I have struggled to wrap my brain around these concepts, I have also gradually integrated them into the most mundane corners of my life. For instance, simply walking down the street is a completely new experience. The street I’m walking on, the small animals in the trees, the grass that covers the ground, the door I eventually open—all of these are actants with equal agency and, perhaps even, equal vibrancy. Ultimately, the sights, sounds, and smells of everyday life take on new meaning when viewed through the lens of an object-oriented ontology.
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”?
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.
- Pictured here: Lanval and the horse
After reading Dr. Seaman’s Preview of Week 6 I contemplated comparing the generous figures of Cleges and Lanval, but while actually reading Lanval I thought that I would like to discuss another actant of the story: the horses. You may be laughing now, but Lanval’s horse is mentioned several times and if you think about it, what is a knight without his horse? Essentially, this horse is as much a part of Lanval’s identity as a knight as his armor is, but I want to talk about this horse as its own, separate actant.
The reader is first introduced to Lanval’s horse in line 41 when Lanval has decided to go “amuse himself” (42). Consider how this story would have changed if the horse failed to move. Would Lanval have ever met his love? Let me put it another way, what if your car fails to start the morning of one of the most important days of your life? What I am suggesting through the studies that we have been doing these previous weeks is that the horse’s movement forward is an exhibition of its agency. It could have remained immobile as some stubborn horses often do, and just like your car it would no longer be just a horse, but now a lousy horse who has not performed the duties that humans have assigned to it.
Continuing, once Lanval arrives at his destination the horse “tremble[s] badly” (46) yet remains “around the meadow” (48). Here again this horse could have very well raced away because it senses some trouble, but stays. Once more, how would this story have been different if Lanval’s loyal steed evacuated the premises? In fact, Lanval even deserts his horse “giving no thought to” it (77-8) until it was time to leave (190-1). [Note: I realize that using "it" objectifies the horse even further, but without a name or gender I am limited in my representation.] Perhaps I am reaching here, but by bringing all matter in this story to that horizontal plane, the horse plays a pivotal role in this story when viewed as having more agency than one would normally assign to it.
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.
I read and reread the preface to Vibrant Matter and felt as though Dr. Seaman predicted my thoughts exactly. I felt as though I had a sense of things, but not a full understanding. This week’s theories have left me feeling quite perplexed. Our in class discussion helped a bit, but I still feel foggy as I try to wrap my head around anthropocentric thinking and how we can avoid such thoughts. I’m left wondering if it is even possible to think in a non-anthropocentric way? As human beings, I wonder if it is possible for us to completely remove ourselves from the equation. If we have difficulty, does it mean we are just selfish? Since our thoughts about, and perceptions of, the world and “things” around us originate in our human minds, how can we remove the human aspect from the process altogether?
In the instance one thinks about the environment and how pesticides negatively impact the environment and then chooses to no longer use pesticides for the sake of the environment, has this person achieved thinking non-anthropocentrically? Or, is the human interest in the environment’s well being and subsequent actions still anthropocentric because it satisfies a human’s need to “take care of” the environment? Does a human need to be completely neutral to an issue to think about it in a removed way, or is it possible to also reap some sort of satisfaction (i.e. the pesticide free way of living) but not be anthropocentric?
Because so much of this still seems abstract to me, I look forward to employing our new approach to texts so I can get a better understanding of what exactly we mean when we talk about non-anthropocentric thinking. I think once we actually put these new approaches into practice, I may be able to wrap my head around these new concepts a bit more and get a greater sense of “things.”
I hope I wasn’t the only one who was puzzled by the first assignment for this class. To “bring to class an object” for discussion seemed easy enough, but I hadn’t brought many objects that I thought were worth discussing. New books, pens, and toiletries seemed so mundane, and I had no interest in discussing such “things” in class. I finally decided to bring an empty box, the most mundane object I could find, and explain that I had nothing quirky in my suite.
When Dr. Seaman explained that we were the objects that would aid in the day’s discussion, I was initially confused. Me? An object? Sure, narcissists may view others as tools or lumps of meat, but I’d never viewed my own body as such. Before this class began I would have said “I lost a part of myself” if I’d lost an arm rather than “I lost a part of my body.” But after last class’s discussion and our readings for this week, I’m starting to side with that philosophy. Someone mentioned a quote from C.S. Lewis that I believe may be instrumental in Bennett’s view of things: “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” To Bennett, the body can be a thing that can “make a difference, produce effects, alter the course of events” (vii). So can a book or pen or empty box for that matter, yet (correct me if I’m wrong- I may be delirious from my fever) she seems to draw a distinct line between things and humans.
My question is why? Does she believe that human beings are innately special? Does her theory rely on a theory of intelligent design which places humans above all things, and on the existence of a greater power? Is the difference between objects (such as the body) and humans a Soul? I may be taking things too far here, but I’d like to hear what you all think.
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.