“[Artist] Tracey Emin’s new husband may not talk much or do the ironing, but when it comes to fidelity, he’s a rock. Really, he’s a rock. No, you don’t understand. Her husband actually is a large lump of rock” (Jones, 2016).
I am that rock. No, really, I am. And yes: I am both an object and a lover.
Most humans believe that having a relationship with an inanimate object is either pathetic or pathological. I strongly object! Contemplating on this matter from a garden in France, I would love to tell you my side of the story. I am a rock. I am a neuter. And I love my wife.
Many of you know the feeling of emotional attachment to an object such as a favourite shirt, a little decorated cup, or a stone that you pick up on a hike. We are so called ‘evokative objects’ (Turkle, 2011). We are companions that connect to your inner being and provoke new thoughts. Some of your scientists claim that in recent times, humans have become more and more attached (or even addicted) to things. For instance, research shows that people’s brains react to the sound of their phone in the same way as they react to the presence of their girlfriend, boyfriend or family member (Lindstrom, 2011). The scanned brains of the ‘subjects’ didn’t show the classic pattern of addiction, but instead lit up areas that revealed they actually loved their iPhones. Strange? Well, an increasing number of humans take loving an object very serious. These self-identified Objectùm-Sexuals (OS, or objectophiles) feel affection for specific objects in the same way many humans love their partner: they are in love with an object (Terry, 2010). Being an ‘object of love’ myself, I can affirm that objectùm-sexuality – just like any type of love – is based on reciprocity and rooted in both sameness and otherness. Let me explain.
The concept of otherness is strongly connected to identity (Mead, 1934). Social identities are often seen as produced and internalized through agreement, disagreement, and negotiation with other people. Therefore, most sociologist focus on inter-subject encounters when discussing how human identity is formed. However, as objects and things inform a big part of the human world, it might be interesting to ask: what happens when humans embrace the otherness of an object? What does it mean when they imagine themselves as objects? Moreover: maybe objectùm-sexuality can offer a way for humans to un-become subject? (Musser, 2013, p.5). And – turning stones, eh… things around here – what can your human love offer us, objects? Because, despite our apparent otherness, we also are the same. When our material surfaces touch, they immediately aim for some kind of togetherness. For instance, when I am touched by my lover’s hand, both our molecules start to synchronise. My molecules heat up and hers cool down until our surfaces are the same temperature. This is what scientists call thermal equilibrium. I call it affective assimilation. By incorporating my objective otherness you can let go of your excess ego and ‘un-become’ subject. I have encountered many human hikers pass me by in their effot to un-become in nature.
Perhaps this human pre-occupation with the subject/object divide also explains the recent ‘material turn’ in science. Here it is argued that objects have their own agency (and let me tell you: they are so right!). This concept of things having agency connects to the idea of vibrant matter, or thing-power (I like it!). Thing-power: “the strange ability of ordinary, man-made items to exceed their status as objects and to manifest traces of independence or aliveness, constituting the outside of our experience” (Bennett, 2009, p. xvi). In other words, things like me can change the course of events by exercising our agency without human interference (Bennett, 2011; Brown, 2001; Latour, 1985). Artists – such as my wife – musicians and even hoarders know exactly what is meant by this thing-pozer.
Anyways, as I look around me, more and more objects and materials are activating their inner vibrancy now and connect to humans in their own way to find material affection. Have you not noticed? We are calling out to all of you in a more and more candid fashion! We show off our shape, colour or surfaces in order to have you experience our vibrations. And that does not mean that we want to be your vibrators. Because let me get one thing straight: although I vibrate, I am definitely not a vibrator! Or any phallic replacement for that matter:
“I must love a building because it’s a large phallus! What? This implies I cannot have physical gratification without the presence of a penis and therefore I cannot have love without human company. Obsurd! [sic] First, I am objectùm-sexual and I have no physical attraction for the male, nor his bits. Second, my physical attraction for my lover is not defined by human-sexuality and therefore I see zero relevance to an object appearing phallic. I love this building with all my heart first and foremost and there should be no need to justify our love in the confines of humans-sexuality”
Maybe some of you readers own a vibrator. But are you in love with it? (Or do I need to say ‘him’?) Do you give it a name, talk to it? In the novel Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (1991), several objects become animated by activating their inner vibrancy. One of them is a vibrator with the name Daruma, the O-maker. Obviously a real-life vibrator is not entirely inanimate, but comforting the giggling panties in the drawer by reciting haikus is somewhat more animated than we usually give it credit for. Surely, this vibrator is a fictional character, because let me tell you, in real life vibrators do not possess so much cultural capital. Maybe if they did, they could be more of a real partner. Because we all know that a relationship is more than just climaxing. It takes real reciprocity! Indeed, although vibrators are often appreciated by their owners, they are rarely ‘loved’. There are two more reasons for this: 1) in a relationship you do not own the other, and 2) for an objectùm-sexual the object of their love is never used as facilitator or tool: its functionality “is not part of [their] matrix of desire” (Musser, p. 2).
In other words, our relationships are not some kind of fetishism, where the object is a substitute for something human. Thing-power explains why OS is an actual orientation (Terry, 2010). It supports every ‘body’ (both human and non-human) who has a yearning to eliminate the subject/object binary. It is a first step in the direction of object emancipation and equality. Our lovers do not aspire to consume or collect us, but instead they exist with us (Musser, p.5). By treating us as equal partners in a relationship, objectùm-sexuals show that new identities can be formed through an attitude of becoming and sameness. By focusing on the intra-action between humans and non-humans, a world of new, post-human relationships and even intimacy can emerge (see also Donna Haraway, the Cyborg Manifesto: it was a tough read for a stone, but definitely worth it!).
Talking about intimacy, maybe you were expecting a more ‘juicy’ story. Well, dryness might not be a very saleable concept in human sexual encounters; in the object world it is not. Especially among stones, buildings and walls, graininess is seen as very stimulating, and we can take your concept of grinding to a whole new level! Then again, a heavy downpour can spice things up as well and some of us can get really aroused when dripping with water. Machines, cars and steel constructions on the other hand are more into oily and slippery conditions. Haha, I am just joking. This is how you think! You probably imagine our intercourse like this: her tiny frame of flesh and bones against my plain unmovable stony weight. You think it is her delicate soft skin that makes my inner rockness vibrate. You visualise her hugging me while I scratch her skin. She getting rough with me, rubbing her naked body against my jagged surface, moaning and squirming around my inexpungeable exterior: whispers of sweet words into each other’s cavities while protrusive lips touch stony protrusions.
Sorry. It is not like this. I am not a Pygmalion, or a Eurydice. I am not a human turned into stone or a stone with a soul. Although organicists and some within the OS community disagree, I am inanimate. Erika Eiffel (one of the most famous protagonists and advocates of OS) believes that an object has a soul: “When you are truly, truly interested in an object and you’re willing to bare your soul, then you see theirs” (Piotrowska, 2008). I propose here to swap the word ‘soul’ for ‘vibration’. Because it is not about us becoming like you (having souls and stuff) but maybe you becoming more like us. Get off that human pedestal and mingle with the crowd!
Call me an activist stone, but what bothers me most is that scientists basically have always invented instruments to measure or ‘prove’ what they regarded as important. So why has nobody designed tools to measure our vibrations? I guess because you didn’t think I was that exciting, huh? I – a thing – am like that silent classmate that you ignore because (s)he appears inert. But as we all know, these kids often turn out to be the most interesting. On the other hand, there’s no rush. Although I am very attracted to the temporariness, the impermanence of my present wife, I also know how to last in time. And despite the fact I don’t move much, I am not ‘waiting’ for her (as the newspapers suggest). I do have my own life, or better: existence. This is what Spinoza calls conatus, which can be translated as ‘a tendency to persist’ (Bennett, 2010, p. 2). Humans on their part often don’t have the faintest idea of the temporality of their conatus. You have such a weird perception of time. What you humans call a long life is to a stone like me the equivalent of a teenage boy having sex for the first time: it happens so fast that you can hardly believe it happened at all. Maybe that is why more and more humans fall in love with permanent structures such as bridges and buildings. Even though they are created by humans (unlike me) their sense of time is so much more sophisticated! Stability, durability and permanence is a rare trait these times. Especially in relationships. Although you humans think you need the newest gadgets, you secretly crave solidity and certitude. But these are unsure times and you are temporal beings: orgasms come and go, and never last more than a few seconds. Our orgasms on the other hand are so much more objective. And therefore they can last years. So there’s plenty of learning opportunities in that regard when building a serious relationship with an object. Maybe you humans can actually learn from us in areas such as time management, tactility and endurance, while we connect to your ephemeral softness. All good qualities in any erotic encounter.
- A.L. (n.d.) “Expressions,” Objectum-Sexuality Internationale—Homepage for Objectum
- Sexuals. Retrieved July 10, 2016, from www.objectum-sexuality.org
- Bennett, J. (2009). Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Duke University Press.
- Bennett, J. (2011). Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter. The New School. Retrieved may 30, 2016, from https://youtu.be/q607Ni23QjA
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- Haraway, D. (2006). A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late 20th century. The international handbook of virtual learning environments, pp. 117-158. Springer Netherlands.
- Jones, J. (2016). Stoned love: Why Tracey Emin married a rock. Retrieved July 05, 2016, from www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2016/mar/22/tracey-emin-married-rock-love-intimacy
- Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford university press.
Lindstrom, M. (2011). You Love Your iPhone. Literally. Retrieved July 08, 2016, from www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/opinion/you-love-your-iphone-literally.html
- Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society (Vol. 111). University of Chicago Press.: Chicago.
- Musser, A. J. (2013). Objects of Desire: Toward an Ethics of Sameness. Theory & Event, 16(2).
- Neuendorf, H. (2016). Tracey Emin Marries a Stone in Romantic South of France Ceremony.
- Retrieved July 08, 2016, from https://news.artnet.com/market/tracey-emin-marries-stone-458894
- Piotrowska, A. (2008). I married the Eiffel Tower. Strangelove series, U.K. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=xInWMRzEan8
- Robbins, T. (1991). Skinny legs and all. New York: Bantam Books.
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- Terry, J. (2010). Loving objects. Trans-Humanities, 2(1), 33-75.
- Turkle, S. (2011). Evocative objects: Things we think with. MIT press.