"How did it come to this,
an era in which 'things' means ideas,
and stuff so seldom?"
Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology
When I moved into my current apartment, some time ago, I was struck by tactile pleasure I received from the plush wall to wall carpet and resolved to further the experience throughout my décor. The first major gathering at my studio was dubbed a “Pillow Party” and the result being the beginning of a collection. The project was furthered with the addition of bing-bags and a semi-spherical chair I call “the Womb”. Transformations continue—in the wake of some more reading by Object Oriented Philosophers such as Ian Bogost & Levi R Bryant, then while watching a Community (NBC) episode entitled “Pillows vs. Blankets” with the accompanying commentary and making-of featurettes on the Season 3 DVD, I was drawn to consider my fluffy friends with renewed playfulness and wonder.
Graham Harman in defending Object Oriented Ontology against the regular attack that it seeks to treat things without consciousness as though they had, invites us to observe and imagine the multitude of ways which objects relate to other objects with greater significance. Harman offers burning cotton as a useful example, wherein the fire relates to the cotton and consumes it, but does not ever fully integrate its “cotton-ness” into it. Here Pillows provide for me a clearer image.
I lay down in my bed, roll around, bend and twist—eventually fall asleep—then get up in the morning, all without giving much conscious attention to the pillows. Intellectually, I neither produced them nor found significant use for them. In terms of object relations, however, the pillows and my head were in constant conversation and conflict throughout the night. The evidence of this intercourse is imprinted on the pillow’s shape when I leave bed in the morning. The pillow has acquired an impression of me, but without fully touching or receiving the “essence” of what I am (the significance of my dreams or worries for the next day never occur to it). Likewise, I have not utterly changed the pillow from being a pillow.
This sort of withdrawal from affect, the pillows insistence on remaining itself, as well as our inability to make direct ontological exchanges brings is described by Harman as "vicarious causation" (we affect each other, our beings related, but not directly or completely). Bogost offers a similar concept, which harmonizes with my literary mind, when he calls such relationships as “metaphorisms.” In this case, the pillow has made a metaphor of me—a rough analogy of the shape and quality of what I am without really grasping me-myself completely or in all ways. The compounded distances between us, the air, the blanket, my pajamas, my folded arm, etc pass along these impressions, causations, and metaphors which are received by the pillows, but what it gets is a caricature of a caricature of my head. This system of relations from head to pillow, Bogost calls a “daisy chain,” for its fragility and its tenuous ability to convey any strong direct relationships. For all these reasons, for all our intimacy, my pillow and I hold on to a great deal of ourselves which the other does not receive.
And I am hardly the only thing that occupies or pass through my room. The invention of hypoallergenic pillows (which I am extremely grateful for) admits the relationship between my plush bed-mates and the air, the trees, their flowers and pollen, the bees, mold, and an ever widening ecology which passes through in macro and micro forms into my apartment. The fluffiness of pillows which frighten my immune system communicate to me the hint of many of my pillow’s object relations. The portion of its day and its existence which is shared with me is a fraction of its story—nearly all of which I will never know because I am only able to speak a few of the languages by which they are recorded.
Pillows vs. Blankets
In the Community episode, Pillows vs Blankets, Troy and Abed set to work at constructing a campus-wide pillow fort. When asked whether it would be like the blanket fort that they created the year before, Abed replies, “No, we are making a pillow fort, way more difficult, way more awesome.” Soon, however, news that they are near the Guiness World Record for largest blanket/pillow fort (the record keepers do not distinguish) and the slow-pace of the build sets Troy and Abed against one another.
Troy, while admitting to Abed, “would do anything you do” becomes enticed by the prospect of gaining the recognition of building the largest fort and presses Abed to change the fort to blankets for “rapid expansion.” This choice mirrors the studio’s decision the prior year to make their former fort out of blanket, despite the show-runners insistence on a pillow fort—it be much quicker and cheaper to use blankets they convinced him, and after all fort of either material serves the same purpose. Furthermore, Troy becomes motivated by the Vice-Dean of the college to stand up for himself against his controlling friend, so as to eventually motivate a split in their projects. What stands out in all these factors, is that they cluster around human-oriented goals: friendship, recognition, staff-hours, power-dynamics.
Abed, on the other side of the conflict, remains insistant that what he is interested is pillows, not people: “We are making a pillow fort, I don’t want to sacrifice quality for square footage. We don’t need a record to tell us we did something cool.” His interests are object oriented, at the expense, we will find, of human relations. Unable to sustain a simultaneous connection to the pillows and Troy, Abed tells his friend, “if you want to make a blanket fort, that’s fine with me, just don’t make it part of my pillow fort.” This demonstrates not only the equivelance, even primacy of certain object relations, but that bodies that relate in certain ways, also withdraw from relations. In order to be a pillow-fort, the build must remain separate from the blanket fort, so Abed and Troy are torn apart by their diverting interests.
The question of whether Abed is drawn by the thing-power of pillows is admittently difficult to conclude. As has been in demonstrated in a previous post on Articulating Aspergers, Abed is characteristically unable to relate with other humans on a variety of normative means; this includes the audience. “What makes Abed tick?” is a question asked throughout the series, and in this way, he becomes an object, an alienated thing, to others in a variety of ways. Often he is outright called a “robot,” a “computer,” or a “program”. His withdrawl from others makes it difficult to understand what he is or does—yet because he works the boundary between subject and object, he suggests that perhaps Androids do dream. Alone with his fort, about to destroy it, he whispers to the fort as a friend, “Good-bye Pillow Fort, you were a beautiful dream,” to which he is corrected by the Vice Dean who had over-heard him, “More than a dream; it’s here!” Indeed Abed is not wholly ‘in his head’—he assembles, he responds to other objects (humans & nonhumans) forming intimate, dramatic relationships.
This Means War
In the conclusion of Pillows & Blankets, the shows central protagonist, Jeff Winger, meditates on the recent campus wide pillow fight and from it generalizes on war. “I know now that I will do anything for my friends. I think that is how everyone feels—which perhaps makes me understand war a lot better.” We are encouraged, both by the art of the episode and also in our human-centric framing mechanisms, to consider only the bonds of friendship between the study group and the particular relationship between Troy and Abed that propelled the war. But, as demonstrated, the conflict was motivated by, fought in the shadow of, and with the Pillow Fort itself—and the love of it.
And the war comes to an end by the pillow forts abandonment. With the Dean’s announcement that the Guiness world record serveyers will not be visiting the campus, the troops of both the blanket and pillow fort disperse. The only combatants that remain are Troy and Abed, who admit that they continue to fight only because they have vowed to no longer do anything together again once the fight is over—and so in love for one another they will keep it going. This battle too comes to a close when both agree to abandon this vow and grounds of its enactment; that is, the Pillow Fort.
We are lead to feel that the war has concluded without significant loss, because it is not a human loss. The fading visuals of the episode however give us a sense of the non-human casualties: torn sheets, punctured pillows, strewn feathers, and the ruins of the fort collapsing on itself. Indeed, not only have we lost the Fort as it was, but the Fort as it was becoming; the significance of which is perhaps not evident without voices speaking for it; but if we look to Bruno Latour’s book, Aramis, for the Love of Technology, wherin we concludes by imagining the voice of Aramis, the French rail project which was abandoned before its fruition, we might hear echoed in it the Pillow Forts parting words to its abandoners:
“Silence is for me to bear, not you. You humans need to talk, argue, get mad, that’s your role in this imperfect world. A frightened conspiracy of silence is what imposed silence on me. I would exist, on the contrary, if you had spoken, you silent ones. And the funniest thing of all is that you really thought you’d said enough about me. You really had the impression that…discussion…plans…counter plans, were enough, that it was time to quit, time to move on at last to the serious things; you had the impression that I had to be finished. But that is precisely what finished me off… Does God abandon his creatures when they are still of unbaked clay? And even if you don’t believe in God, does nature abandon its lineages in the sketchy state in which fossils are found? Isn’t Darwin riught? Isn’t creation continuous?” (295).
It may be true that things that don’t come to be, lack a kind of existence. There is a way that we can mourn the loss of those that were with us and a way we mourn those that never were. In a flat ontology, however, thoughts have being, ideas have force, and the loss of potentials produce not a void but an absence which can be felt. If we say that things, pillows, have power to draw us in by the love we bear for them, to serve as their midwives, then such abandonment as is witnessed by Abed and Troy is indeed a kind of miscarriage, the child of which we can listen to only in its haunting whispers.