Trigger’s Broom (revisited)

Judging from the private emailed response to my article in Speculations Vol.2, it seems that a few people are getting a lot out of the OOO / Trigger’s Broom metaphor. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but here it is in Speculations + the clip;

“There is a wonderful scene in the British television sitcom Only Fools and Horses that highlights the paradox of objects and relations almost perfectly. In the episode Heroes and Villains, the sitcom’s resident idiot, ‘Trigger,’ meets the central cast in a London greasy-spoon cafe. He proudly shows them a photo of himself, accepting the award from the Peckham Major, for services to the community as the council’s long-standing road sweeper. Reflecting on his career and his sweeping broom, he muses, “You know, this broom has had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles in its time.” The other characters looked bemused. One replies, “How the hell is it the same bloody broom then?” Quick as a flash, Trigger snaps back, “Well there’s a picture of it, what more proof do you need?”.


This is the bewildering point, separate to the comedy. Is the broom-thing the same object with the different number of handles or heads, or is it not? To say ‘no’ may seem like the common sense answer. However, consider the following example: Imagine a theoretical situation where someone is able to individually pick every last particle from your body, bit by bit, until you resemble nothing but a pile of atomic dust. The dust does not resemble the ‘livingness’ of your previous self, but nonetheless it has previously compiled all of you.

What is common here is that something extra is needed in order to ‘secure’ these parts into place, so that unity can emerge as a consistent entity. If we were considering just the human example and ignoring objects in general, one would presumably label this bolt-on ‘the subject’. But the paradox is the same for the broom which has an equivalent complexity, despite the deceptive phenomenal case that is a relatively simple object. The object has to be over and above all of its components, including its fundamental components.


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