Today, my roommate asked if the glass on our shelf was rusting. I thought that glass was unable to rust, but he assured me that glass contains iron and so it can. I inspected the bottles, and did not see signs of corrosion, but did begin to reflect on my ancestry. I come from a line of factory workers. My paternal grandfather worked at a Campbell’s soup factory company, my parents met working at a glass factory, and now my brother works maintenance in a factory that creates cardboard cans. Before my father left, he always used to check beneath glass surfaces to see if they were made in the factory where he used to work. Based on my parents’ line of work, glass was predestined to exert thing power over my life.
The first fact I ever learned about glass is that it is not really a solid. I was younger than seven, standing in front of my kitchen window, and my brother informed me that the window was actually a liquid and over the span of hundreds of years it would melt down. My brother was correct to an extent, glass is an amorphous solid-a hybrid of solid and liquid, a chimera of states of matter (Woodford, 2016). Jane Bennett describes, “…’the excruciating complexity and intractability’ of nonhuman bodies” and glass replicates the same complexity (Bennett, 2010). Reflecting on this complexity reminds me of our own bodies. As humans we are never completely one state of matter; we are built of solid bones, liquid blood, and gaseous air. As we age, we lose our original forms and slowly fold in on ourselves similar to how glass will eventually melt away from the mold it once was. Both human and glass bodies share complexity in their unique forms of matter.
The natural birth of glass itself is as lively as any expected of humans or animals. If conditions are right, a lightning strike on a beach can create complex turbulent webs of glass (Hill, 2013). According to Bennett, “If matter itself is lively, then not only is the difference between subjects and objects minimized, but the status of the shared materiality of all things is elevated” (Bennett, 2010). There are few things as lively as when a being is born, and a thing born of lightning is especially alive. Humans share the same electric dependence that glass does. Our hearts rely on electric currents to beat, and glass relies on electricity to be born. The rare, dramatic natural birth of glass elevates its’ status and worth to create something that is more than just an object, but rather a thing. Bennett claims that in order for an object to be a thing it must “produce effects” (Bennett, 2010). The concept, that glass can be born from sand and lightning, does produce an effect. It reminds me of home. Residing in Florida, titled the ‘Lightning Capital of the United States’, as well as on the coast near the sandy beaches I am all too familiar with glasses’ parents (Johnston, 2012). Both lightning and sand are tiles in the mosaic of Florida life, and so glass and I are once again entangled based off our parental history.
Bennett observed that America’s obsession with materials results in antimateriality in which we constantly replace our belongings thus concealing thing power (Bennett, 2010). This should arguably be the same for glass as it can be found in plates, mirrors, windows, and many other materials. It seems unlikely that such a versatile material would so heavily project thing power due to the ease of replacement, but for me that is not true. I carefully selected the white plates in my kitchen because I think that they make cheap food look like it came from a high quality restaurant. I save all the glass jelly, pasta, and pickle jars I go through because they are too important to discard- I will use them for something else eventually. I even take special care cleaning my mirrors because I want them to be completely free of dust once I finish. Bennett described how things retain their power even after being discarded because “vital materiality can never really be thrown ‘away’” (Bennett, 2010). The glass that I previously refer to sitting on my book shelf was actually recycled bottles. The discarded vessels still projected power even after they were left as trash, and so I took them to display their liveliness inside my home.
I realize now that glass has been a ‘thing’ to me long before I learned what thing power was. I was always fascinated by its’ complexity, familiar with its’ ancestry, and unknowingly responded to its’ powers. Whether glass is naturally made or forged in factories it still carries the remnants of its’ sandy roots and reminds us that we are never really separated from nature.
Also, glass cannot rust (Glass Worldwide, n.d.)
– Nicole Alder
Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter. London: Duke University Press.
Glass Worldwide. (n.d.). Does glass rust? Retrieved from Glass Worldwide: http://www.chemetall.com/Documents/News/2015/2015_Glass-Worldwide_issue61_Does-glass-rust.pdf
Hill, K. (2013, July 2). What Really Happens When Lightning Strikes Sand: The Science Behind a Viral Photo. Retrieved from Scientific America: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/but-not-simpler/what-really-happens-when-lightning-strikes-sand-the-science-behind-a-viral-photo/
Johnston, C. (2012, June 30). Data disprove Tampa’s lightning capital claim. Retrieved from Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/bizarre/data-disprove-tampas-lightning-capital-claim/1238171
Woodford, C. (2016, September 17). Glass. Retrieved from Explain That Stuff: http://www.explainthatstuff.com/glass.html