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Fall 2014

Agora Fall 2014 Martinson

The Phantom Thing Effect: “Time Passes” in To The Lighthouse

With the turn of the new millennium came a new perspective to the perennial brain-teaser “If a tree falls in a forest with no one around, does it makes a sound?” in the form of Thing Theory. While this depiction of Thing Theory is admittedly facetious, it does offer some illumination to the fundamental principles of this theory: The metaphysical shift that occurs when a thing takes on object-hood as well as the implications and changes this has on the subject-object relation (more often than not, a human-object relation). Plotz  offers a palatable axiom for understanding this: “Thing theory is at its best, therefore, when it focuses on this sense of failure, or partial failure, to name or to classify. Thing theory highlights, or ought to highlight, approaches to the margins—of language, of cognition, of material substance…these are limit cases at which our ordinary categories for classifying signs and substances, meaning and materiality, appear to break down” (110). Rejecting the implicitly human perspective that asks the question of the tree falling in the forest, the Thing Theorist would likely supply, rather than answer, additional questions: “Why did the tree fall to begin with?”

Thing theory is not as new-age as the ambiguous name may suggest. It could easily be argued that this theory has been gaining momentum since the early 1900’s, taking shape in the surrealist and avant garde portrayal of things transcending their thingness and taking on object-hood—Dali’s melting clocks and Duchamp’s “readymades” being excellent examples, T.S. Eliot’s concept of the objective correlative, and Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927) as well as his 1950 lecture on “thingness.” As Bill Brown, a forebear of contemporary Thing Theory, notes, “’Things’ seems like a topic of the nineties as it was of the twenties because the outmoded insights of the twenties…were reinvigorated” (13). Therefore, it would be no grand assertion to suggest that Virginia Woolf was conscious of a developing idea concerning subject-object relations and the effect this has on temporal understanding. Indeed, throughout Woolf’s oeuvre, temporality and the status of objects falls into her crosshairs. In Woolf’s fiction, particularly her short fiction, Woolf opens the narratological stage to objects; a stage in which the subjects are a presence alongside their objects of particular interest (Levy 146). But Woolf’s interest in the nonhuman world extends beyond her short fiction. In “Time Passes,” the middle section of To The Lighthouse (1927),this subject-object relationship is explored, as well as an uncanny look at the secret lives of things. The objects of her attention in “Time Passes” take on dimensions that surpass their simple thingness and project them far into object-hood. But the very same objects, through a lengthening period of disuse, threaten to revert into total thingness in the absence of their previous human context.

Virginia Woolf envisioned the structure of To the Lighthouse as most similar to the letter “H,” describing it as a “narrow ‘corridor’ joining ‘two blocks’” (Minogue 86). The two blocks are “The Window” and “The Lighthouse,” each occurring in the time span of a single day. What joins them is “Time Passes,” which covers a span of ten years in only ten-percent of the book’s length as a whole. It details the steady decline of the Ramsay’s vacation home in Scotland after they return to England. Upon Woolf’s completion of the first draft in 1926, several persons were involved in reading and making notes on the manuscript. The locus of her reader’s attention seemed to gravitate towards “Time Passes,” with mixed reviews. In a letter to a supportive Lady Ottoline Morrell, Woolf wrote, “I’m specially pleased that you like Time Passes—It gave me more trouble than all the rest of the book put together, and I was afraid it hadn’t succeeded.” Woolf was sensitive as to how this section was received, likely owing to Roger Fry, a large force in the impending revision. Fry wrote, “[Woolf] is so splendid as soon as character is involved…but when she tries to give her impression of inanimate objects, she exaggerates, she underlines, she poeticizes just a little bit” (Haule 268). Woolf, writing in hindsight in 1927, spoke of the original manuscript’s reception, “I may note that the first symptoms of Lighthouse are unfavorable. Roger, it is clear did not like Time Passes. Harpers and the Forum have refused serial rights…But these opinions refer to rough copy, unrevised” (Haule 268). The rough copy that Woolf wrote with wariness and Fry skeptically commented on was notably different than what was eventually published. The original manuscript was almost entirely devoid of the characters that Woolf developed with such thoroughness throughout “The Window” and “The Lighthouse.” Instead, these characters were supplanted by “’ghostly confidantes’…that accompany the visions and cries of the unidentified characters.” When Woolf revised the section, as urged by Fry, the most notable change to the manuscript of “Time Passes” was the inclusion of brief moments involving the characters of the novel. Fry’s suggestions were to combat, or at the very least, balance, the abstract with the concrete (Haule 271). Instead of focusing the entirety of the section on strangely animate, yet inanimate, objects, Woolf revised the section to include these objects’ correlates—the Ramsay family. The manner in which she does this does not compromise the integrity of the abstractions (the lives of the objects); rather, including their correlates deepens and enriches the understanding of these things as objects.

The reason for the Ramsay family’s ten year absence from their home in Scotland is likely owing to numerous deaths in the family and WWI raging through Europe. However, even with all of these dramatic happenings in the Ramsay family, the narrator remains in the home, detailing instead the life of the house in the family’s absence: “The house was left; the house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grains now that life had left it” (Woolf 137). The language of this passage juxtaposes life and decay. The image of a shell, something that has previously been closely attached to life, is now filling with inorganic matter, separated from its correlate. The narrator does not stop with the house-as-a-whole though. The contents of the home are also observed:

What people had shed and left—a pair of shoes, a shooting cap, some faded skirts and coats in wardrobes—those alone kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated; how once hands were busy with hooks and buttons; how once the looking-glass had held a face; had held a world hollowed out in which a figure turned, a hand flashed, the door opened, in came children rushing and tumbling; and went out again. (Woolf 129)

This description resembles  Heidegger’s definition of “thingness” in discussing what characteristics of a jug can make it more than an thing: “The vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it contains, but in the void that it holds” (Heidegger 408). Using Heidegger’s metaphysics (that would later serve for the foundation of multiple object-oriented philosophies, including Thing Theory), the narrator’s descriptions of these objects revolve heavily around their “thingness.” The empty shoes wait to be filled by feet, the cap for its head. The passage depicts the objects in terms of an anthropomorphic longing to be joined again with each object’s subject. This anthropomorphism makes the inanimate things objects by the supposed nostalgia of objects for their correlates. While it would seem intuitive that without the objects’ subjects to inscribe in them a projection of function and use, the things should immediately digress back into thing-hood. However, the objects do no such thing. With the absence of their subjects, the objects are haunted and animated by their subjects’ lingering presences. 

Bruno Latour, an object-oriented theorist, states, “things do not exist without being full of people” (327). This is a logical claim when discussing the ontological distinction between thing and object. But the Ramsays’ home, as it is presented in the narrative, is not without people. Of course, Mrs. McNab serves as a human presence on the narrative premise on occasion, but a large majority of “Time Passes” is told without Mrs. McNab as a focalizing character. There are two dimensions to the claim that the narrative is not absent of human presence: the narrative form of inserting remote occurrences into the discourse, and the narrator giving subject-agency to the reader. Regarding the latter, the narrator forces the reader into the position of the subject. Brown offers a helpful metaphor for understanding the importance of this agency: “we look through objects…we only catch a glimpse of things. A thing can hardly function as a window” (4). The narrator forces the reader to catch that discussed glimpse. On a more practical level, with the symbols of letters and words on the written page, all the reader has is what the narrator gives them—there can be no looking through the substrate; there can only be direct confrontation with what is given. Minogue, in “Was it a Vision? Structuring Emptiness in To the Lighthouse,” discusses this thought of the reader’s involvement in the novel’s conflict, following in the absence of the novel’s traditional subjects:

Bathos, after all, depends on a sense that some objects and events have greater significance than others, yet its intended effect is to elide that evaluative distinction. But the structures of the narrative…allow linear juxtapositions in which contradictions can be played against each other, perhaps even balanced; Woolf refines and sharpens the play of these structures so that as readers we are involved in the very conflicts and tensions which she sees as arising necessarily from the highly precarious balancing act of living a life while seeing that for what it is. (283)

Not only must the reader assign significance to (or decipher the agency of) objects, but he or she must become a part of the conflict that comes from this significance—the threat of objects digressing into total thingness. In the context of “Time Passes,” this takes the shape of the reader animating the objects of the Ramsay home, simply through reading—the glimpse of their inner lives and their degradation allows the reader to assign the conflict because they have become the subject. The reader then sees the objects as they exist on “the boundary between sign and substance” (Plotz 112). In an admittedly precarious nutshell, the reader takes the narrator’s signs and forms their own substance.

But there is another dimension by which the things become objects, even without the direct presence of characters or persons. Direct is the operative word in that sentence. Throughout “The Window,” there are instances in which the subject-object relation is thought of and internally explored by the characters. One particularly lucid example is when Lily Briscoe asks Andrew Ramsay what his father’s philosophical work is about. Andrew replies, “’Subject and object and the nature of reality’…’Think of a kitchen table then…when you’re not here’” (23). Mr. Ramsay, a metaphysician, is involved in the tree-falling-in-the-forest puzzler.  His philosophy extends into his personal anxieties of his temporality. He worries whether or not his work, his books, will outlast him. During a dinner party, the Ramsay’s and guests are engaged in a discussion about the Waverley novels and someone poses the question, “’Ah, but how long do you think it’ll last?’” Mrs. Ramsay knows of her husband’s anxiety at this question. She thinks, “A question like that would lead, almost certainly, to something being said which reminded him of his own failure. How long would he be read—he would think at once (107). Mr. Ramsay, in true fashion of a metaphysician, is troubled by the question of whether or not the object of which he has inscribed his life’s work will last beyond him. Will it continue when he is not there? The books (things) are made objects in the use Mr. Ramsay has given them—to contain all that he has worked for, to carry a portion of himself following his inevitable death. Levy notes, “the human world, which for Woolf seemed determined to destroy itself, the nonhuman world was worthy of worship because of its potential to survive post-history…” (142). In the case of Mr. Ramsay, his anxiety of his books’ ability to endure through time is a sort of quasi-worship, centered around the books’ materiality; their ability to potentially accomplish something that he cannot—to last.

Lily’s knowledge of Mr. Ramsay’s work resonates with her. In her affection for Mrs. Ramsay, she thinks, “What was the spirit in [Mrs. Ramsay], the essential thing, by which, had you found a crumpled glove in the corner of a sofa, you would have known it, from its twisted fingers, hers indisputably?” (49). Lily places the locus of her feelings and all she knows Mrs. Ramsay as into a glove, something that belongs to Mrs. Ramsay and something that she hopes could contain her. The question posed by Lily is one of the object’s ability to hold, similar to Heidegger’s jug. It exists as an object through the potential of its void, its potential to perform an action catalyzed by its subject (the simple act of filling a jug and pouring it into glasses). But what is being held in Mrs. Ramsay’s hypothetical glove is certainly not water; instead, it is her spirit. Similarly, Mrs. Ramsay, feeling burdened with the pressures of “being and doing,” thinks to herself, “...this self having its attachments was free for the strangest adventures….And to everybody there was always this sense of unlimited resources, she supposed; one after another…must feel, our apparitions, the things you know us by, are simply childish.” She insists that the self is much deeper than these attachments, but that “now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by” (62). Her idealization of the self is inseparable from the shallow signifiers of the self, such as Lily’s inscribing Mrs. Ramsay’s spirit into a single glove. The self is something of depth, something that is incapable of being represented in full through metonymical devices. However, these are things that persons are capable of being “seen” by, not fully represented by.

Mrs. Ramsay, while comparing her beauty to the light from the window, concedes to the uncanny correlation of the self and its inanimate signifiers, or, in this case, the subject and its objects: “It was odd…how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus…as for oneself (63-64). Alone, she possesses the ability or the insight to look into and acknowledge her correlation with objects. Left with the conceptual self, she projects her self onto things. To borrow from Brown’s terminology, she looks through these objects. She is not catching a glimpse of a thing. Rather, she is catching glimpses of herself by looking at her self-proposed correlates. The significance of these correlates as inanimate things is not negligible. Like Mr. Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay fears the motion of temporality, of growing old, and seeing others follow suit. Seeing herself imprinted onto something that will outlast her is a sincere source of comfort.

An example of her correlative thinking on objects due to fear of aging is when she is deciding what to wear to the dinner party with her children. She thinks of her children, particularly, of Rose. “[Rose] had some hidden reason of her own for attaching great importance to this choosing what her mother was to wear.” Mrs. Ramsay tries to understand, and is struck with the growing anxiety at the inevitability of her children growing up and of Rose’s inevitable suffering as a woman. With a tantalizing lack of explanation, Mrs. Ramsay chooses to wear a shawl because, “that would please Rose, who was bound to suffer so” (81). The characters pour themselves, and others, into the things of the home, thereby making the things objects. In a sense, they are compartmentalizing their sense of self, and of others selves, in a metonymical transfer—a glove to hold Mrs. Ramsay’s soul, Mr. Ramsay’s books representing his life’s work long after he is dead, and a shawl to please Rose and to symbolize her womanhood and the sufferings that will come from it. Their motives revolve around the problematic of encapsulating the self and the inevitability of the self’s decline into death. When the characters leave the home in “Time Passes,” these inscriptions of themselves in the objects continue, but their ability to remotely contain these inscriptions begins to fade. Their once-used, once-inscripted objects threaten to revert back into total thingness in their lengthening disuse.

 In Woolf’s final version of “Time Passes,” she included bracketed information, detailing events that are happening outside of the home, set off from the narrative itself:

[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.] (133)

The majority of these bracketed interruptions are obituary-like details of the deaths of several Ramsay family members. Minogue, speaking of these bracketed details says, “the clear implication of the square bracket in all its uses in ‘Time Passes’ is that what passes within them is less important than what happens outside them” (290). Minogue’s reading of the bracketed information would hold the internal events of the home to be of more importance to the narrative than the external events of the Ramsay family. But this reading overlooks the inseparable relation of the home and the Ramsay family. What happens to one seems to have an effect on the other. Plotz, in “A Look at Thing Theory,” discusses Geoffrey Batchen’s photographs, which depict persons, their actual hair included alongside the photograph. Of these, he states, “…like hair, the photograph is in some sense consubstantial with the person depicted—this ‘shadow’ is made by nature, in direct contact with the now-absent person. Yet it is this very consubstantiality that makes it into not an object…but rather a thing, since it is at once the essence of a person and yet at the same time utterly material, devoid of all the spiritual qualities that an actual person would have” (113). In a similar, yet markedly different, maneuver by Woolf, the happenings of the Ramsay family are tied directly into a narrative that concerns their absence. Like Batchen’s photographs, the family is represented alongside the objects they left behind. However, while Batchen’s photographs are without the “spiritual” qualities of their represented person, the Ramsay family’s objects continue to be remotely influenced by their subject’s happenings in something that could rightfully be called a spiritual transference. For example, immediately preceding the previous bracket of Andrew’s death by an exploding shell, the narrator says, “Now and again some glass tinkled in the cupboard as if a giant voice had shrieked so loud in its agony that the tumblers stood inside a cupboard vibrated too. Then again silence fell…light turned on the wall its shape clearly there seemed to drop into this silence, this indifference, this integrity, the thud of something falling” (133). The language used in this passage is an uncanny parallel between the death of Andrew (an explosion) and the strange inner-life of the Ramsay home and the objects therein (“the thud of something falling”). Another instance of this metaphysical parallel between absent person and object is before the narrator describes another death in the family:

Moreover, softened and acquiescent, the spring with her bees humming and gnats dancing threw her cloak about her…passing shadows and flights of small rain seemed to have taken upon her a knowledge of the sorrows of mankind.

[Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth, which was indeed a tragedy…] (132)

In both instances of Andrew and Prue’s deaths, what precedes or follows them is a reflection in either the house itself, or the world immediately outside of the house. The tumblers in the cupboard are shaken and a thud occurs, immediately followed in the narrative by an exploding shell that kills one of the persons who had encountered these objects. Springtime at the home suggests an anthropomorphic knowledge of temporal sorrow and reproduction, followed by Prue’s death that was prompted by the propagation of mankind (childbirth).The things remain objects by anticipating and experiencing the distant events of the family. They continue to be strangely animated by their subjects. The bracketed information is certainly not less important, as proposed by Minogue. Rather, there is a symbiotic relationship between the brackets and the rest of the narrative. The absent family and the inner life of their abandoned home are not nearly as separate as reason would suggest. 

To best understand this concept of subject-object remote correlation, it may prove helpful to compare this to the phantom limb effect. An arm is severed and lost, yet the person who lost the arm can still feel it as if it were still attached. The danger of this metaphor is that it needs to be reversed to understand the consubstantiation of subject-object—the objects of the home seem to feel, or reflect, the experiences of the remote subjects. Although there is no person present during these narratives of the home and its objects, the solitary objects are still “full of people,” to borrow Latour’s insistent phrase. The Ramsay’s and others have inscribed themselves, their characteristics, and their want of permanency into the objects of the home. The subject-object relationship is continued even when the subject is no longer around to animate the objects. But the objects still attain “thingness” because they continue to consubstantiate with the absent persons who once animated them. Even springtime at the abandoned home before Prue’s death, though not a traditional object, is anthropomorphized as a person that seems to mourn the loss of one of the persons who it consubstantiates. 

If we are to accept this close relationship between subject/object—the ability for the object to reflect the subject even at a distance—the representation of the home as a whole holds further significance. At the peak of its dilapidation, it is described as being overrun by the outside world: “Toads had nosed their way in…A thistle thrust itself between the tiles…The swallows nested in the drawing room; the floor was strewn with straw” (137). Mrs. McNab is consumed with a fatalistic view on the home; there is too much work and the Ramsays’ haven’t so much as called in the ten years. The deaths in the family and the war through Europe have kept the family from their home. In their absence, the objects begin to decay; where once the objects were used, they are now fraught with disuse. Brown notes, “We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy…” (4). The trajectory of the home into decay means that there is also a trajectory of the objects into things—broken, rusted, incapable of being used by their subjects. Mrs. Ramsay’s shawl, which she had left covering the boar’s skull in her children’s room, threatens to fall throughout “Time Passes” with sections such as, “another fold of the shawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed…repeated shocks still further loosened the shawl…” (133). The passing of time threatens to take away this residual use of the object. Mr. Ramsay’s books, the vessels in which he associates his legacy, are moldy and need to be “laid out on the grass in the sun” if they are to be salvaged (135). The shawl’s threat to fall and the books’ threat to dissolve is a threat that the objects will no longer reflect or contain any trace of their human subjects. The reader, and those few that remain in interaction with the home, confront the growing thingness of the objects. This phenomena of an object’s reversion into thingness is echoed by Plotz, still in discussion about Batchen’s consubstantiated photographs, “It is when such objects give up their objecthood…that there is glimpsed…the enduring thing that once was human, or part of a human being” (113). The language in this passage is crucial: “that once was.” The objects, through disuse, begin losing their objecthood. The temporal reflections that their subjects imprinted in them are waning and what is left is only the reflection of something that once was human.

The precipice of objects encountering total thingness is emphasized by the narrator, who describes a feather that, were it to fall on the house, the entire structure would collapse; that is all it would take at its level of decay. The narrator says, “If the feather had fallen, if it had tipped the scale downwards, the whole house would have plunged to the depths…But there was a force working; something not highly conscious; something that leered, something that lurched…” and Mrs. McNab begins working to restore the home (138). The objects are on the brink of being unable to reflect anything but themselves, their disuse, something that once (but no longer is) human. Mrs. McNab’s decision to restore the home and the objects therein seems a suddenly intuitive action, prompted by, as I will argue, the objects of the home. Just as the Ramsay family gathers themselves and prepares for their return to a privilege of vacation, Mrs. McNab restores the objects in order to be able to reflect the objects’ returning subjects. While it is unlikely that she is thinking under these metaphysical terms, she sees the product of the disuse. She sees the decay. She sees the thingness. She sees the haunting “once was human” of their disuse.

Brown, writing on “Solid Objects,” a short story by Woolf that also centers around the relation between subject and object, says that it is “a story not about solidity, but the fluidity of objects, about how they decompose and recompose themselves as the object of a new fascination” (3). Objects and things are never static. A thing is capable of object-hood and an object is capable of thingness. Their metaphysical and ontological states are entirely fluid when paired with the presence of a subject or the assertive autonomy of the thing. Brown’s statement, although written concerning a different story, applies perfectly to the final pages of “Time Passes.” The objects of the home and the home itself reaches a point of total decay prior to Mrs. McNab’s intervention. “The rain came in…Some of the locks had gone…The saucepan had rusted and the mat decayed…A thistle thrust itself between the tiles in the larder…Poppies sowed themselves among the dahlias” (137). The home and its contents decompose into chaos. But more than that, the language of this passage gives the objects autonomy of action. There is no more consubstantiation of subject-object as seen in the previous bracketed information that occurs early in “Time Passes.” The sheer longitude of time has broken this connection. They no longer reflect their human subjects as is; they reflect only themselves and what was. The thistle thrusts itself. The mat decayed. Poppies are able to sow themselves. Where an object is observed in its use (Heidegger’s jug is an object in its ability to hold water, to perform a subject-catalyzed task), these objects act on their own without a subject. The actions which they are performing are derivative of a reversion into thinghood. Without a subject to project, assign significance, or consubstantiate with these objects in their disuse, they threaten to lose their object-hood entirely.

Yet after they manifest to Mrs. McNab through their impending reversion back into dysfunctional things, she restores them. The restoration requires labor. This laboring to restore is implicit with human agency. Although the home was nearly destroyed, Mrs. McNab repairs the home with some help from others, Mrs. Bast among them. Together they “stayed the corruption and the rot; rescued from the pool of Time that was fast closing over them now a basin, now a cupboard…Flopped on chairs, they contemplated now the magnificent conquest over taps and baths…” (140). The “magnificent conquest” achieved by Mrs. McNab and Mrs. Bast is a conquest of the metaphysical, though they may see it in the pragmatic terms of polishing a faucet. The true conquest took place in the women’s labor to maintain the object-hood of the items of the house. The rot and rust of a faucet allows someone to at least catch a glimpse of a faucet’s thingness. With the glimpse of the object’s thingness comes an implicitly human desire to restore the object’s ability to reflect a human will: A flat tire must be repaired or replaced for the car to properly serve the driver. Instead of the Ramsays’ objects acting unto, and within, themselves, as they had begun to do, they are manipulated and animated by human hands. Upon finishing the restoration, Mrs. Bast, speaking of the Ramsay’s, says, “They’d find it changed” (141). The decomposed objects were recomposed—a process reflected in the phantom-thing effect—and now they are, at the very least, different. Just as the Ramsay’s left and would undoubtedly come back changed, so have the objects changed in their absence. Even though they were on the precipice of thinghood, the objects are restored, in tandem with the changed family.

This phantom thing effect of the transition from an object that is disused/decayed to once again being capable of reflecting the subject is echoed in Brown’s “The Secret Life of Things,” with, “For the life of things made manifest in the time of misuse is, should we look, a secret in plain sight—not a life behind or beneath the object but a life that is its fluctuating shape and substance and surface, a life that the subject must catalyze but cannot contain” (3). The Ramsays’ occupied their vacation home; they wore the slippers, used the saucepans, and slept in the beds. When they left, it may seem intuitive that the object-hood of the things the Ramsays’ used would immediately cease without human actants to reflect and to be animated by—the object’s thinghood would be immediately reasserted. But almost like a glow-stick that requires a subject to crack it, catalyzing the chemical reactions within it to glow, is the relationship between a subject and its newly catalyzed thing. But after that induction into object-hood, the subject loses control over the inner-life of that thing—the glow-stick and the chemicals therein are not only inaccessible to the subject in an ontological sense, but the glow-stick will continue shining without active propulsion on the part of the subject. During the Ramsay’s absence, the intimate relationship was severed, but the inscriptions they placed in the objects persisted. The things at the Ramsay home, having long been catalyzed by the family, continued their object-hood by reflecting the actions, the sorrows, and the wishes of their subjects. But this residual object-hood only lasts for so long before the thingness of the object reasserts itself.  To continue the metaphor of the glow-stick, the glow will begin to fade. The “time of misuse,” to borrow Brown’s phrasing, threatened the residual, waning human reflection within the objects of the Ramsays’ home. The objects began asserting their own agency, separate from their indoctrinated anthropomorphic use. Just as Heidegger’s metaphorical jug is not an object by its sheer materiality, but rather by its ability to perform a subject’s action, so is the Ramsays’ home and objects therein animated beyond total thingness due to the residual relationship with their subjects. 

 Through the phantom-thing effect, the inscriptions that the subjects placed into the objects continue through separation, until such a lengthening period of disuse threatens to sever the objects’ reflections of their human subjects. To further Heidegger’s metaphor, the water in the jug began to evaporate over time. A slow and steady decline into a total assertion of thingness. The implications of the objects reversion into total thingness would mean more than a rusted, unusable saucepan, or a book that is no longer capable of being read. The fact that these things take on object-hood disavows such a trivial conclusion. For the Ramsays’ objects to become solely things would mean that the parts of themselves that they leave behind, and the parts of themselves they hope will survive them, was failed—temporality cannot extend beyond the animated flesh and blood of the subject. Mr. Ramsay’s books of which he places his efforts, the glove that Lily places Mrs. Ramsay’s spirit, and Mrs. Ramsay’s shawl would be incapable of the desired effect to contain a lasting human presence. Though the presence lingered, it also waned, that is, until the objects were restored for their subjects. The human labor and agency allows the objects to continue to reflect and to be animated by the desires and fears of those few who return to use them once more. The Ramsay’s will continue to see themselves and to feel at one with these objects, inscribing their temporality into something that can outlast them, something into which they can compartmentalize their sense of self, something that can be restored when they, themselves, cannot.



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