Today I’ve had one of those days when things seem to be just being naughty.
I dropped my money in Costa Coffee, my bag kept falling off my shoulder as I walked around Waitrose looking for six Cornish pasties, six Cornish pasties fell out of the oven and dribbled pastry all over the floor, I bumped into a lamppost while scooting home with pasties in my bag, I tripped over a kerb and Excel crashed causing me to lose an hour’s work. I’ve felt cross and upset at things. I’ve been close to tears (the pasty disaster was pretty bad). I’ve been grumpy and sulky. I’ve withdrawn into my introspective world of negative thoughts. Why? Because six pasties fell on the floor, and the rest.
Now the day is ending and thinking back to my annoying day with the benefit of hindsight, I like the idea that inanimate objects can have such a strong influence on my emotional state. They don’t mean to upset me. They are just stuff. They aren’t really conspiring against me. There isn’t ‘something in the air’. I didn’t ‘get out of bed the wrong side’ (I got out of bed the same side as I always do). It is just what it is. It is what it is. It’s all a big coincidence. But it feels as if there is a purpose to the stubbornness of things. It really does feel as if they have been conspiring and laughing in a Mutley hissy toothy way.
A couple of years ago I came across the Object Oriented Ontology school of thought. This is the idea that things aren’t just things and we are superior to things; things have agency. They have just as much right as we, organic beings, to existence. They deserve our respect. This idea was influenced by the mighty Heidegger who was big on ‘things’, their interconnectedness and what they mean to us.
Heidegger described this ‘annoyance’ I describe at objects, or the feeling we get when an object causes us distress, as: ‘the being just present at hand, and no more something present to hand’ (Bakewell, 2016, p. 69). In simpler words ‘the way we focus our troubles on the object that has let us down’. We focus on the object that has caused us annoyance rather than the action we were trying to perform with the object. It is the object’s fault in our eyes. And that failure is symbolic.
When an object fails us, the world is no longer running smoothly. Rather, it is in a state of flux and chaos. We see this failure and flux as a metaphor for our personal failures and negative issues with our life’s path. Imagine the day, a ‘bad hair’ day, when things just keep betraying you. Suddenly, your life is awful, your job is awful, your marriage is a sham! Of course it isn’t really. It’s just normal. The empty stapler and the jamming photocopier didn’t cause your life to crumble. They just happened. Your life is ok.
I like this idea because to me it proves that objects have agency in our minds even if we don’t think about this very often and even if in reality they are just objects. They influence our emotional state even if that sounds nuts. Don’t look at this logically; you won’t like what you see. If you look at it from the perspective of experience, it isn’t at all weird. It happens all the time.