Saturday, January 28, 2012

Le Morte; or, a withdrawn temporal part of objects.

Since having read this recent post by Levi Bryant about the 4-dimensionality of things, I’ve been thinking about death as a temporal part of objects. The notion of the withdrawal of objects from other objects and from themselves is still perplexing to me, but thinking about temporal parts of objects makes such an idea more palatable and comprehensible. If moments past, memories, changes, shifts, and actions that have already occurred are literally parts of objects and not just processes, then those parts are always withdrawn from the objects themselves. Object-ontology proposes that time is a property of objects, but the events of objects, though they have influenced the present status of an object, and, though they may be recalled by objects with memories, are forever inaccessible to the object because they have always already occurred. Here I am merely rephrasing most of what has already been said by Bryant.

What Bryant's post does not touch on, however, is the future of objects, everything that eventually will happen to an object, and, should we talk about living objects (to keep things simple, by ‘living’ I only refer to things that fit a rigid biological conception of a carbon-based life-form), death is almost always an inevitable moment in the future and, thus, a temporal part of living objects. However, death is always withdrawn from the object, because, although it may be inevitable, it is impossible to predict or foresee the circumstances and details that describe, manifest, surround, influence, and color an object's death. In the case of an anthro-object (my neologism for ‘human’), it cannot know whether it will be hit by a car, die in its sleep, or, as it most likely for any anthro-object born in the 20th century, die from some form of cancer (a spatial/temporal part of an anthro-object or a distinct object itself? Or both?). The anthro-object also cannot know what will occur to it post-mortem; will it be incinerated and cast to the winds, pumped full of chemicals and buried, or mixed with cement and dropped to the bottom of a gulf to build an artificial reef? That moment, although expected, is forever withdrawn from the object until its moment arrives, and even then it remains inaccessible because the object is, well, dead.

In Le Morte Darthur, the titular protagonist is forewarned by Merlin of the conditions of his death, is given details about his murderer*, and tries yet to subvert his fate, in similar fashion of King Herod (at least according to the Gospel of Matthew) by infanticide, by setting to sea all children born on May Day. He tries to preclude a future that is withdrawn even if it is foreseeable. Like all anthro-objects, Arthur knows his death is an inevitable part of his being, a temporal part that will manifest itself at some unknowable moment, but also like all anthro-objects, he struggles to obviate the inevitable. Death is always just out of arms reach.

Thus, the text reminds us that death cannot be averted and we learn that Arthur’s son Mordred survives the calamitous trip to sea and eventually becomes a traitorous, weapon-wielding warrior. After Arthur is struck a seemingly mortal blow “upon the syde of the hede” (686:9) with Mordred’s sword, his dying body is put aboard a boat sailing towards the ephemeral isle of Avalon. Approaching the death itself, the event remains withdrawn, literally, from the figures upon the shore and the readers of the text, for the last image of Arthur is of his as-yet-living body sailing away upon its barge seen through the eyes of Sir Bedwere. Arthur himself speaks, just before sailing away, “For I [wyl] into the vale of Avylyon to hele me of my grevous wounde-and if thou here nevermore of me, pray for my soule” (688: 14-16). Even as his body makes its symbolic journey to its post-life, the death itself remains as withdrawn from Arthur as from the cast upon the shore, as he is unable to admit or acknowledge to moment of passing itself and that temporal part of his being is still withdrawn, still intangible and un-manifested. The reader is further distanced from the death event by the coyness and uncertainty of the narrator, and by the esoteric and ambiguous statement that, “here in thys worlde he chaunged hys lyff.” Arthur remains an anthro-object, still present as a being within the text, whether alive or not, but that temporal part of Arthur, his death, remains elusive and withdrawn.

*“for Merlyon tolde Kyng Arthure that he that sholde destroy hym and all the londe sholde be borne on May Day.” Sir Thomas Mallory , Le Morte Darthur, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: Norton, 2004), 39: 21-23.

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