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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

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Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Things & Rose

Posted by John Holbo on 11/28/07 at 10:28 AM

Luther was complaining about it a bit last week - the things thing, that is:

I have no right to be cranky, having not read the book, but I’ve been hearing rumbles from my friends who still attend lit conferences that “thing theory” is really taking off.  Bill Brown’s book was interesting, but Christ, do we really need a new theory?

And:

It’s modernism-ad-absurdum, where the Proustian elevation of the life-story to art meets the Pound-Williamsian attempt to make the poem a thing.  But where Pound and Williams tried to erase the self, and Proust dissolved the self into everything around it, now we have the self-on-display, the self as pure immanence, the self as widget.  Or the widget as self.  We are, proudly, the crap around us.  I think Marx said something about this.  But I remember he was sort of sad about it.  Thank god all that’s changed.

That’s sort of right. Then again, is it? The day after I posted about Taking Things Seriously, the library emailed to tell me a book I ordered had arrived: Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination [amazon]. (I’m department rep for philosophy stuff, which gives me the gratifying power of suggesting other things I think would go nice around the place. Isn’t Joseph Cornell philosophical? I find so.)

And a very nice book it proves to be. So many. Lovely. Things.

‘Thing theory’ has apparently come a long way from the days when people wanted to gussy ‘mere objects’ as something more. Cornell: “I never expected the so-called ‘objects’ (from Surrealist lingo) to become so typecast as sculpture.”

And another thing: “Many of the older films are seen to far better advantage in such quick glimpses as these, the fuller context often proving disappointing.” That’s Cornell talking about the joy of the mash-up, the remix. From the book:

Rose Hobart is an extended expression of trompe l’oeil curiosities and self-conscious, elliptical montage. Cornell rearranged and cropped segments from the campy East of Borneo, a black-and-white film with sound made in 1931 by his part-time employer Universal Pictures. His editing gives even greater presence to the film’s heroine, actress Rose Hobart. He also incorporated frames from an unidentified, most likely scientific, film; the intermittent appearance of images of water disturbed by a dropped object adds a dramatic counterpoint to East of Borneo‘s faked effects of a solar eclipse and volcano’s eruption. Eliminating the film’s sound track, Cornell projected his version of tropical misadventures silently but simultaneously played a recording of Nestor Amaral’s Holiday in Brazil. He also slowed the film’s playing time and projected it under a deep blue filter. The combination of these features suggests the atmosphere and characteristics of silent films, their drama or comedy regularly heightened by recorded or live music. What would readily strike the eye as accidents or inept editing was instead the product of deliberate and adventuresome manipulation. Like the early “primitive” films he admired, Rose Hobart is a “trick film” that demonstrates what Cornell so appreciated about the medium: the “defiance of the limitations of the physical world.” (p 72)

YouTube has got it: part I; part II. Lovely stuff.

I also checked out Bill Brown’s A Sense of Things. It’s ok. I don’t really think he’s got a theory.


Comments

But then, how many theory-mongers actually have one?

By Bill Benzon on 11/28/07 at 01:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I was a student of his. He doesn’t have one. But he senses that he’s onto something.

By on 11/28/07 at 05:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think Brown’s work is a perfect example of what we mean by “theory” in lit departments: one scholar’s work becomes theory once other scholars begin to repeat the first scholar’s fundamental conclusions by using different evidence.

By on 11/28/07 at 07:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought it was when other scholars started to cite the first scholar’s fundamental conclusions as evidence.  That seemed to me to be a lot of what the citationality of Theory was about.

By on 11/28/07 at 08:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think Rich is right, Luther. Maybe that’s what you meant to say.

By the by, what do you think of Cornell, Luther? He’s a good example of ironic-affectionate camp aesthetism; craphound nostalgism, even; thing fetishism - what you are sick of, apparently. But, of course, he was there at the start, before it was clear the stuff was going to grow into cultural kudzu.

By John Holbo on 11/28/07 at 08:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill Brown’s book was interesting, but Christ, do we really need a new theory?

For what it’s worth, Brown abhors the designations: theory, theorist, theorize. As is in, when a grad student begins a statement, “I want to theorize X” he will wince and correct them: e.g., “no, you want to investigate X” or “you want to rethink X.”

Meanwhile, the complaint seems an exemplary instance of reactionary, a priori appeal. I mean, Christ, do we really need new ideas? Christ, do we really want to consider various approaches? Christ, do we really want to consider and even sustain forms areas of study that don’t wholly conform to existing scholarship? Etc.

And the quip about fetishism… as if Brown has forgotten Lukács, whom he continues to assign and teach; as if subject-object relations were settled once and for all by 19th-century empiricism.

(sorry for snarky tone… posting on the fly--I would’ve written a nicer post but I didn’t have time, etc.)

By on 11/28/07 at 09:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, and I’m aware Brown has been willing to stand under the sign of “Thing Theory.” I think he’s more comfortable with a “theory” than he is “theorist,” “theorizing,” “Theory.”

By on 11/28/07 at 09:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Meanwhile, the complaint seems an exemplary instance of reactionary, a priori appeal. I mean, Christ, do we really need new ideas?”

I think, pretty clearly, the complaint is not an exemplary instance of reactionism. Rather, it is an expression of skepticism that the ‘new ideas’ are new, as opposed to being the old ideas wearing a new hat. That seems a serious concern.

By John Holbo on 11/28/07 at 10:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

We desperately need NEW ideas. We do not, however, need new variations on ideas from moribund intellectual traditions, especially traditions that thrive on proclaiming their newness.

Not having read Brown I have no opinion on his work.

By Bill Benzon on 11/29/07 at 07:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

No, I like Luther’s phrasing ... working out how one scholar’s “theories” map onto another time period or locale. There’s something to this. It may be because we don’t really use the term “methodology” or even talk about it much.

By Sisyphus on 11/29/07 at 11:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There’s a three-point thing theory somewhere in Joyce, probably the Portrait—it grounded Stephen Dedalus’s concept of the epiphany. (Per Hugh Kenner, “Dublin’s Joyce").

By John Emerson on 11/30/07 at 10:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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