Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

"Things Forever Speaking" and "Objects of All Thought"

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

"Things Forever Speaking" and "Objects of All Thought"

Article excerpt

"Things forever speaking" and "Objects of all thought": the phrases are from Wordsworth, the first, a Matthew poem, the second "Tintern Abbey," but variations of them appear throughout his verse. To contemporary readers, in the vernacular, they seem interchangeable (although not always--such as when I tell you to pack up your "things" and never to pack up your "objects" or if I affectionately said that you are a "sweet thing" but not, at least to your face, a "sweet object"). To Wordsworth, they were antonyms, contradictions, opposites. And, technically, they are still: the changes in meaning originate in massive cultural, philosophical, sociological, economic changes during his life time.. In serious intellectual discourse, every major thinker, Marx, Darwin, Fraser, Freud, John Stuart Mill, even Kierkegaard, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, and Foucault defined them, in cases other than the vernacular, as different, not even opposites, as different as "Thing Theory" and "Object Theory ": "Thing theory," an aesthetic growing out of anthropology, and "Object theory," a psychological concept explaining family dynamics and human emotional development. Thing-ing, is what we are doing here at the ICR conference, taking a word, concept, object, even person out of its natural or material setting and projecting human values, meanings, or explanations on it.

The word and concept "Thing" that Wordsworth inherited and used with such subtlety and variety originated in ancient Scandinavian language and practices, part of the linguistic heritage of the north country. It survived in the oral tradition as a "generic" word, a word that acquires new meanings through usage and history without losing the old ones, a cumulative word, or, like the living things it often represents, organic and evolutionary. "Object." as Wordsworth and his contemporaries used the word, refers to a class of things which are made, manufactured, acquired, inanimate, something static, or a commodity, property, or a form, known by its structure or place rather than by its behavior or function. The word "object" originates in Latin and, unlike the word "thing," survived and was transmitted in the written tradition through Old French to English in the 13th century. The word "object" referred to an obstacle or to the recipient of an action such as the object of a verb, the not-me, as opposed to the subject. Or, used as a verb, to object means to resist or contradict--in terms of history and usage then, "object" had no relation to "thing," and in Wordsworth's lifetime, would not have been confused.

While Things are often living, as Wordsworth said, Objects usually are not, although metaphorically they become things when they enter a human relationship, which they like everything else began to do in the post-Kantian world of Romanticism. The reciprocity of poets: Wordsworth described these exchanges, the mind "half-creating" and "half-perceiving" and Coleridge their failure, "we receive but what we give," so accurately that it took two hundred years of scientific thinking for cognitive scientists to actually study and explain it. For example, in the introduction to The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz describes human beings as animals who are "suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun," (p.5), his definition of culture, the web/object, turning into a thing as metaphor. Endowing objects with human value, significance, is brilliantly explored in Judith Pascoe's The Hummingbird Cabinet: A Rare and Curious History of Romantic Collections (2006). Though she raises a more challenging issue in "Collect Me Nots," her Op Ed piece for the New York Times, May 17, 2007, in which she conveys how body parts such as Napoleon's penis become relics, how things become objects when they are owned. In the anatomized, fragmented, synecdochic world of Romanticism, Wordsworth, for example, can talk about "the Mighty World of Eye and Ear," or Keats, "this living hand," lovers cut and exchange locks of hair- and write poems about them, or a heart, as Pascoe notes, such as Shelley's, was saved in Mary's desk drawer until it turned to dust. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.