The idea that objects have an agenda upon which they act and influence humans is a provocation to me and to most people to whom I talk about this. After an initial expression of “No, that’s not true; that’s crazy!” my dialogue partners are intrigued and want to know more. But here is the issue: I don’t know more, I can only pose questions, I do not have answers. I can only continue to wonder “what if?”. What if I only believe to be in charge of the objects around me? What if I am blind towards an active world of things? How can I ever know? Where could be the entry points into this world?
I find an entry point provided by George Bataille in his text “The Notion of Expenditure”. He describes a way we interact with objects, give and take. His example is a sacrifice of money in return for “sexual love” when buying a diamond necklace (p.170). He points out that the beauty of the stones is not sufficient to want them. It’s the sacrifice of a big amount of money that provides the right thrill. But one could also say that the stones actively give the excitement to the buyer. What then, does the object gain? Attention and energy. Something key is happening in this transaction. People have died to fulfil a transaction as mentioned in the example. Could an object be an author of such a compulsion? Looking at this from a different angle, I can state that the all-encompassing element in these scenarios is space. What if the objects were not to have an agenda and a will of their own but the space around them instead? Objects, animals and humans constantly change their position to each other and thus change their space. What if it is in fact space that exercises influence over us? What are the consequences of this scenario? What happens to the hierarchies between objects, humans and space?
Let’s go back to the example by Bataille and add some cheesy details to it: A man buys a diamond necklace for one million euros and gives it to his woman as a present. In return, he receives the thankful reassurance of his manliness as a strong provider as well as sexual attention for a month. She might never actually wear the necklace because it is too expensive, and instead store it in her safe. If the necklace had willpower of its own would it not want to be a bit cheaper, so that it will be admired in public often or be bought by a museum to be on permanent display? I am imposing a human value system on the necklace, when I think that if I were a diamond necklace, I would not want to live in a safe, neither would I want to be part of a transaction of this sort. If on the other hand the space around the actors had willpower then this show makes more sense to me. Why would the space want this transaction? What would it gain from it? Why is it the best solution? I imagine the space cares more about general harmony and less about the destiny of a single object. The goal might be to keep a peaceful relationship between a man and a woman. It might not actually care but react on voids and flows of energy, filling voids and keeping balance between different flows. But then again, non-human entities must have their own value system that I cannot even begin to imagine.
At this moment my partner crashes into my room to tell me that scientists have found Einstein’s gravitational waves. A ripple of space-time matter passed earth, and it was measured! That sounds as scientific as it sounds mysterious and I wonder if this is a crucial underlying part of my undertaking: Logic and mystery go nicely together if allowed to be. Which leads me to the following temporary conclusion: The change in perspective of who or what acts is an insightful but difficult thought construct. Logic and mystery together can lead the way towards interesting questions and answers, which might not present themselves in words but come along in unexpected forms.
(Georges Bataille, ’The Gift of Rivalry: ‘Potlatch’ ‘, in Fred Botting and Scott Wilson eds. The Bataille Reader, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.)