Bill Brown Thing Theory Essay

As part of his consideration of thingness, he considers how we distinguish ourselves from those “other things” that are not persons, and how personhood depends on and grows to resemble these other things.For him, doing so involves maintaining the subject-object divide.More than that, though, the example shows us where Brown is willing to go and where he is not.

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The danger is that the dominant anti-realist strain of continental philosophy has not only reached a point of decreasing returns, but that it now actively limits the capacities of philosophy in our time.

For his part, trained as a literary scholar, Brown does not try to mount the attacks on language and discourse or even epistemology that are peppered throughout work of thinkers like Bryant and Harman, though he does take brief shots at structuralism and deconstruction.

Meanwhile, when Brian Jungen dissects Air Jordans and turns them into authentic-inauthentic Haida masks, he is revealing a certain thingness of both sorts of objects in their relation to various object cultures including primitivism, US commodity culture, the traditional art of the Haida and other indigenous people of the Northwest Coast.

¤ The arts in general, and literature in particular, play a crucial and welcome role in , shaping what we perceive as animate and inanimate, mattering and not mattering, like and unlike us.

Much of this work, too, is interested in climate change and the ways contemporary global capitalisms have challenged our understandings of mind/body, nature/society, human/nonhuman, animate/inanimate, and subject/object binaries.

In his latest book Bill Brown stakes a claim in just about all of these “new materialist” concerns.Brown’s longstanding interest in this “other thing” (or thingness as distinguished from objecthood) is the book’s driving force.Brown wants, as he puts it, to explore “the force of inanimate objects in human experience” by showing “what literature and the visual and plastic arts have been trying to teach us about our everyday object world: about the thingness that inheres as a potentiality within any object, about the object-event that precipitates the thing.” His work is a subtle challenge to versions of new materialism that deemphasize or even disparage questions that involve “the real” being given form by language and representation.He writes about capitalism, the Anthropocene, and globalization.He describes his work in terms of the ontical and draws heavily from the work of object-oriented ontologists, speculative realists, and the French science studies scholar Bruno Latour (a frequent new materialist interlocutor).For those grouped together as new materialists (for example, many writers in the collection ), the consensus seems to be that structuralism, deconstruction, theories of the subject, and an emphasis on discourse, social construction, image, and text, are all dead ends — whether under the name “critique,” “correlationism,” “anti-realism,” or anything else — along the path toward understanding “the real.” As Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, and Nick Srnicek put it in the context of continental philosophy in their edited collection on speculative realism: It has long been commonplace within continental philosophy to focus on discourse, text, culture, consciousness, power, or ideas as what constitutes reality.But despite the vaunted anti-humanism of many of the thinkers identified with these trends, […] humanity remains at the centre of these works, and reality appears in philosophy only as the correlate of human thought.Brown makes what is likely the most sophisticated and strongest case for literary and historical study within a new materialist framework by suggesting that thingness can best be explained “in the cultural field,” rather than through, say, metaphysics.In particular, Brown makes a persistent case for real imaginative and political might glimmer within the object world as though in a crystal ball.” His most favored terms — “misuse value” (the value that comes from using objects in an unexpected way) and “redemptive reification” (a kind of reification that reveals an object’s thingness) — are predicated on this possibility.He avoids taking the old binaries for granted, especially that particular binary relationship between a explored in Heidegger’s philosophical work, which elaborates the difference between something that exists “for us” and something that exists “for itself.” For decades now, Brown has been thinking and writing about “thing theory,” as he has called it.But in by approaching animate matter through the Shield of Achilles, “Western literature’s most magnificent object,” a metal-crafted thing on which two cities, the City of Peace and the City of War, “come to life.” He writes, “The poem repeatedly clarifies that Achilles’ Shield is at once a static object and a living thing.” This combination suggests an ambiguous ontology “in which the being of the object world cannot so readily be distinguished from the being of animals, say, or the being we call human being.” But in the hands of scholars interested above all in “rhetorical analysis” and especially in ekphrasis, Brown says, such ontological possibilities have been largely ignored, and the shield’s apparent animation has been rendered immobile.


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