The other day, I was driving through Lakeshore Rd when a large flashing yellow arrow construction sign caught my attention. There were cones along the road that progressively squished the road until there was only one lane open. My first thought lies in the fact that there is probably some sort of construction, and I was right. However, there was an added, unexpected road block on top of the construction site. A tree. A fallen tree. Fallen TREES, to be exact. There hasn’t been any storms severe enough to knock down such a big tree, let alone multiple of them, so I figured that the tree must have fallen manually by some intentional physical trauma. Nonetheless, the fallen trees resulted in one lane being closed off for nearly a quarter mile, and as one can imagine, a two way street with only two lanes is bound to have a very long traffic jam if only one of those lanes were open and there are cars trying to pass from both sides. After roughly 15 minutes of periodic touching my brakes whenever the cars in front of me comes to a brief stop, I had finally escape from the mess, being 15 minutes behind schedule for my arrival to campus, meaning that I will be at least 15 minutes late to a class that centers quite heavily around attendance through the use of clicker points.
As I continue my drive to campus, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that fallen trees, a passive, inanimate, non-living object had somehow halted me longer than any active, animate and living subject would ever be able to, especially when it comes to academics. As I was thinking this, I can’t help but reminisced to Jane Bennett’s “Power of Things”. Jane Bennett puts forth the idea that have all things have the capacity to “animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” In other words, objects are brought to life by their capacity to have effects and be a part of the processes that shape its existence. In accordance to Bennett’s point of view, the fallen trees as well as the cones that surrounds it, are in fact, alive, and its effects are nothing subtle. The appearance and imposing nature of the cones affected its surroundings first in the form of becoming noticed, and then in the way that it caused the people who noticed it to steer clear of the object, making it, according to Bennett, no longer an object, but a living being. The imposing power of the cone and its ability close off an entire lane for a certain length resulted in the need for employing traffic officers to direct traffic and ensure that smooth transitions between the two occurs, which gives further life to the cones due to their participation in our capitalistic society.
The fallen trees surrounded by the cones was perhaps the most significant piece of vibrant matter in the surroundings. Bennett said that “we are… an array of bodies, many different kinds of them in a nested set of microbiomes”. The size of the trees were indeed attributed to many of organic and inorganic compounds that it is composed of. The presence of mycorrhizal fungi in its roots prior to its detachment from the ground resulted in the possible attainment of its size, which are attributed to the increased presence of nutrients that the fungi brought to the tree, which in turn is also made up of molecules that interacts with each other to ensure that characteristics of said nutrients remains. In this way, the trees are vibrant, but its vibrancy also resonates in other ways and other effects that it brings to its surroundings. The trees, prior to its detachment, were a host ecosystem to an array of species. The trees, after its detachment, resulted in the appearance of the cones and the traffic jam that resulted from it, which alters many events and plans of the people that it affected, however minor or major.
The trees also interacted with non-human beings in its environment. Their fallen state resulted in a setback to the construction site as it damages the newly cemented road, which resulted in rocks of all shapes and sizes that exits the boundary between damaged and non-damaged roads created by the cone. Jeffrey Cohen stated in his book, “The Life of Stone” that rocks are very much alive, and that it produces an effect that is very significant to everything that it interacted with. In this particular anecdote, the rocks that spills over to the undamaged road gives the appearance and feeling of damage, which produces a very dramatic effect that further slows the movement of traffic from both direction, making it alive in the same way the fallen trees are alive. A particularly large piece of rock, managed to launch itself (from the pressure of a car tire) to the bumper of the car behind it, further delaying the progress of traffic as the owner of the car stops to investigate the sickening cracking noise that it makes as the rock interacted with the bumper. The commutation of everything that imposed an effect to its surroundings in this particular anecdote is infinite, which suggests that we are not separate from the environment, but rather a part of it. The fact that the environment and “objects” regarded by mankind as passive and inanimate are able to alter the path of multiple living and nonliving things at once only serves as a metaphor that indicates the porosity of the human body in relations to its surroundings. As much as society tries to separate certain things through the use of binaries, the porosity of such borders is evident in everyday life to those who pay enough attention.
Alaimo, S. (2010). Bodily natures: science, environment, and the material self. Bloomington (Ind.): Indiana university press.
Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press.
Cohen, J. J. (2010). Stories of stone. Postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies , 1, 56-63. doi:doi:10.1057/pmed.2009.1