Of Wonder and Encounter: Textures of Human and Nonhuman Relationality

By Hetu, Dominique | Mosaic (Winnipeg), September 2015 | Go to article overview

Of Wonder and Encounter: Textures of Human and Nonhuman Relationality


Hetu, Dominique, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


A comparative analysis of the 2011 novel Sous Beton, by Quebecois multidisciplinary artist Karoline Georges, and the 2010 novel Room, by Irish-born Canadian writer Emma Donoghue, shows how certain bodies, especially children's bodies, physically and emotionally develop through affective, material, and embodied encounters with objects, in reaction to different expressions of violence, and to the incapacity of language to adequately represent their reality. These encounters with nonhuman objects participate in these children's processes of identity formation and challenge the conventional logic of identity that characterizes their respective worlds, shedding light on the constitutive vulnerability of the relational field in which the two young characters and the perceived objects surrounding them are interdependently transformed. In addition, these encounters between the protagonists and surrounding things cause moments of wonder that create both a discomfort and a certain amazement at the new perspective on the world that emerges from that meeting with a particular thing or nonhuman figure. In the two novels, not only do these moments of wonder allow the negated lives of the children, their lifeless existences, to find a new trajectory and to "find a different form of sociability" (Ahmed, Queer 105), but they also provide alternatives for these bodies to extend themselves in narrow, constraining spaces in which they are somehow invisible (106).

This essay is thus a reflection on the presence of wonder and on its impact on the negotiations between life and death. The novels Sous Beton and Room participate in this reflection as they appeal to the relationality between human and nonhuman objects as a way of exploring new forms of life and of illuminating the importance of objects in how "bodily and social spaces leak into each other or inhabit each other" (Ahmed, Encounters 100). More precisely, drawing mostly on Sara Ahmed, Elizabeth Grosz, and Karen Barad, I argue that the protagonists in both novels experience life and death in a "more than human ethical praxis" (Whatmore 160), and that the texts can be read as attempts to surpass the traditional and conventional life/death dichotomy by telling stories of trauma and near-death experiences through moments of wonder in meaningful encounters that bring to attention the vitality of the dead.

The entry point is thus this fictionalized moment of wonder in several encounters between child characters, objects, and events. The two young protagonists struggle to make sense of their surroundings and, as they come up with strategies to escape and defy death, they find support and a sense of the possible in certain objects that surprise them by their capacity to be helpful and supportive. In these children's minds, and in contexts where friendship is practically inexistent, they behave with objects as if these objects were alive and could allow them to live differently. The protagonists, named Jack in Room and simply referred to as the Child in Sous Beton, are amazed and surprised by the capacity of lifeless things to expand their own life and to help them survive. These characters and objects serve not only to introduce alternatives to normative forms of existence, but also provide fictional engagements with trauma, with experiences of precarity interwoven, in Room, with the broader framework of male domination and, in Sous Beton, with a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, biopolitical system of power forces in which human value is reduced to mechanical action for the greater good.

The child characters struggle to make sense of and survive in toxic environments. They cope by developing caring and careful relationships with nonhuman others. These relationships stem from a wonder that impacts what Vicky Kirby calls a "relentless process of identity formation" and they interrogate "the very notion of circumscription, difference, the limit, the line" of "what secures the identity of one thing, or one self to the other" (110). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Of Wonder and Encounter: Textures of Human and Nonhuman Relationality
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.