RESPONSE #2, part 1 Mat Paskins
Prompted by the Hundred Hours sessions, I’ve been thinking about possession and how we give ourselves over to objects. Learning from UCL curators that my meteorite was well-known and had been prized by many researchers before me, I felt a destabilising wave of possessive jealousy. How had they known it when I’d been the one who plucked it from the catalogue, who was going to restore its history, fret over how it passed from hand to hand?
And so, caught up in this jealousy, I haven’t been to visit. (The image comes to mind as I write: the meteorite shrugs, blows a plume of smoke into my face. My meteorite as femme fatale, as beret-wearer, as too cool.) I can’t share this knowledge, I don’t want to. And therefore do not wish to go and see it at all. This rationalises the work and chaos of the last few weeks, but no more so than making the excuse that “I couldn’t make time to see it”, or “I was too busy”.
In the ritual process to which D. Graham Burnett introduced us, we gave our attention over to objects. The ten pound note at which I gazed disintegrated into a landscape of geometric waves, trilobite rigging, the centreless whorls of our monarch’s eyes. The problem for me was not that this process, which Burnett described as a form of “queer masonism” was too exposing or awkward – too hippyish or gauche – but that it was too familiar. The surrounding things give you and the object’s textures expand, become encompassing…for the purposes of that exercise, the group gave permission to transferences of longing and loathing to the objects, the pitter-patter play of destructive passions and the will to reorder usual categories. The narratives which I associate with these passions are the standard tropes of psychoanalysis: the fort-da game of presence and absence, Melanie Klein’s tale of the ‘bad breast’ which the infant wills should be destroyed. I have the sense that anyone who reads this will either nod along with these clichés, or regard them as precious and meretricious additions to what is already a rather absurd line of what thinks it is analysis.
In our History of Science reading group today, we read a chapter about the effects of the Justinian Plague in Ireland during the sixth century during the sixth century. Ann Dooley, the historian, quotes a passage from a saint’s life which claims that he wore his pack on his back with no strap was unable to raise his right hand against the advent of a foreign fleet because he was too busy caring for a hundred and fifty orphaned children. According to the tale, the saint gave the children milk by means of a cow’s udder which he had cut away from it. One of the members of the group suggested that the saint had become a cow – was on all fours (hence the pack which did not fall). I’m not sure if I agree with that, but certainly the idea of a male body transformed by the act of care was part of this – and my friend Tom O’Donnell, who is a specialist in this period, has taught me that we cannot read poetry or Saint’s Lives from this period without a sense of bodies and the materials around them as mutable, re-gendered, disordering. All the senses which we mean by ‘queer’. As the discussion continued, we thought about how conditions of pandemic might cause dismemberments of kinship structures and meanings in this way. It was something to talk about.
My objection to Burnett’s approach to objects (if I do object) is not that it is too intimate but that it is too free, too volitional, much too willing to leave the thing behind, without being much disturbed by it. This playing at ritual might have a place, a good place, in our practice: but it is the end of the week, and I am tired, and guilty – or embarrassed — that I have not seen my meteorite.