Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Well, we survived the cold and the (intellectual) challenges at the round table discussion to put forward some ideas on our encounters with New Materialism. It would be great to see some of these responses make their way onto the blog really soon (hint hint). The TIR will be putting up a summary/list very shortly, so keep watching this space.

Friday, 14 June 2013


Having got distracted by Heidegger, I missed another interesting strand of 'thing theory'. This actually by the guy who coined the term, Bill Brown. A very good collection of writing on the topic can be found in a 2001 issue of Critical Inquiry, which those with the right affiliations can access in its entirety through university libraries as an e-journal. Brown subsequently edited a further collection of essays in a book: Brown, B, ed. 2004, Things, Chicago University Press, Chicago. The book has an added attraction as it includes a wonderful essay by Bruno Latour, 'Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern', which was originally published in a later issue of Critical Inquiry (30:2, 2004). The use of the word 'matter' in the title should signal that Latour has NM on his mind (and, indeed, was one of the first to mobilise the concept in relation to the visual arts as well as more -- perhaps -- everyday matters/things).

To get a picture of some of this stuff, it is worth having a look at the discussion at:
http://objectsandthings.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/bill-browns-thing-theory (This blog looks to have had potential but appears to have been neglected of late).

To read Brown's editorial in the Critical Inquiry 'thing' issue without accessing the journal, you can download a pdf at: http://faculty.virginia.edu/theorygroup/docs/brown.thing-theory.2001.pdf

Bruno Latour's article can be downloaded at: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/89-CRITICAL-INQUIRY-GB.pdf

Thursday, 13 June 2013


Having flown very small flags for a number of writings from 50BCE (Lucretius) to the present day, one final clog in the flag-waving wheel is required. Martin Heidegger. Yes, he has had a mention before, but it's worth delving into his essay, 'The thing', to see a negotiation between an object (which may be human but in Heidegger's figuring is a jug, which inevitably and in a more complicated way, is human-related) and its way of being-in-the-world:

The jug is a thing as a vessel -- it can hold something. To be sure, this container has to be made. But its being made by the potter in no way constitutes what is peculiar and proper to the jug insofar as it is qua jug. The jug is not a vessel because it was made; rather, the jug had to be made because it is this holding vessel.

The making, it is true, lets the jug come into its own. But that which in the jug's nature is its own is never brought about by its making. Now released from the making process, the self-supporting jug has to gather itself for the task of containing. In the process of its making, of course, the  jug must first show its outward appearance to the maker. But what shows itself here, the aspect (the eidos, the idea), characterises the jug solely in the respect in which the vessel stands over against the maker as something to be made.

(Heidegger, M 1975, 'The thing', in Poetry, language, thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter, Harper & Row, New York, 163-86)

A number of things are signalled here, that have come up in earlier posts: collaboration, idea/concept materialised, and so on. Compare Heidegger's jug with Wallace Stevens' jar: is a jug all outward appearance and interior potential?

And we haven't even touched the sides yet ...


Just can't stop the bibliographical urge, but sadly it seems to be taking me back into the (new) bookshelves for things I forgot I owned, or couldn't find, before the Great Shelving Week. But also some other things that create possible narrative contexts for the current New Materialism (henceforth NM --- I'm sick of typing the whole thing!)vibe:

It seems we should all be rethinking subjectivity which, of course, means resituating subjectivity in relation to the object/objectivity. Immediate deviation into "things" is therefore allowed and, it seems, is necessary to understand the non-Marxian development of all things now materialist. You could start with Lucretius, On the nature of things, written approx. 50 BCE. I am not pretending it is easy going, but do attempt some of Book 1, at least. You can view the entire shebang at: http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.html  It could be interesting to consider Lucretius's contention 'Substance is eternal alongside the NM idea of 'vibrant matter'. All of a sudden an odd temporality seems to emerge. And then he gives us the idea that things are not necessarily what might be seen:

And now, since I have taught that things cannot
Be born from nothing, nor the same, when born,
To nothing be recalled, doubt not my words,
Because our eyes no primal germs perceive;
For mark those bodies which, though known to be
In this our world, are yet invisible:
Lucretius goes on to illustrate the effects of, for example, wind on the shape and action of bodies, trees, and other 'visible' things. Yet wind itself is not visible. Again, an appeal to the NM idea that anything that can be conceptualised is matter/material.
Maybe more on that tomorrow.

Something of the same effect is that achieved in the old Wallace Stevens chestnut, Anecdote of the jar (1919):

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround the hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare,
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

I must sadly report that the short Google entry on the Anecdote of the jar is rather good on what it may (or may not) mean. Do not bother pursuing Stevens' other poetry unless a devotee of American romantics: it is decidedly disappointing (although he did write a very odd piece called, Someone puts a pineapple together, a topic which some may recognise as having a certain resonance for the TIR).

Also on 'things' there are currents of discourse through both anthropology and what is usually called 'material culture studies'. The former is endless, so perhaps flag something like Clifford's The predicament of culture and even, in a perverse way, Venturi and Scott Brown's Learning from Las Vegas. It doesn't have to be written by anthropologists!  Material culture studies has already been recognised as having an aesthetic side in an earlier post on Mick Carter's work. But it's hard to go past Steven Lubar and W David Kingery, eds (1993) History from things: essays on material culture, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. In particular, check out the essay by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 'Why we need things'. Something about the arrangment of the world as seen in this essay, foreshadows the model of collaboration set out by Paul Carter in Material thinking, where he talks about his 1990s work with Charles Anderson, dis /appearance: waiting room. Carter also calls up classical (read, Platonist) sources for an understanding of 'non-forms', things that we know to be there but cannot see:

In materialising the laughable offspring of dust, it was pleasurable to prove that things as we see them right here generate expectations of things elsewhere and out of sight, and that, in turn, when visitors migrated to the other gallery where the non-forms were displayed, those other things were inventions re-membering what had already happened. (2004, 58)

Probably worth noting that it does not seem necessary to have seen the exhibition or even to understand its layout to get the gist of the conceptual materiality at work; and also that Carter uses 're-membering' deliberately, playing on the different etymological roots of dis-member (pulling limb-from-limb) and remember, which deals with memory. Thus re-member, is closer to re-assemble, but of something so closely known as to be one's own body -- perhaps.

Off to do a bikkie bake; maybe get to Heidegger later!

Monday, 10 June 2013


Just a couple of new things to add to the New Materialism pile:

Firstly, Timothy Morton's blog is worth a visit. An English eccentric let loose in the USA so don't get distracted. Look at his past papers and talks. Morton wrote the absolutely engrossing Ecology without nature and provides great examples of how to discuss an inclusive nature rather than anthropomorphising to bring "nature" into a "human" fold. Check out at http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com.au/

On that New Materialism -- non-humanisation thing, there is a good interview with Jussi Parikka by Michael Dieter (Blowup - Speculative Realities) that opens up more on New Materialism from one of its "founders" and champions (what is it about Finland and New Materialism?):  http://v2.nl/archive/articles/new-materialism-and-non-200bhumanisation

Happy reading!

Saturday, 8 June 2013


The Thinker is Residence has resumed business after an enforced lay-off related to dealings with a Major Carrier of communication data. Summaries of even more New Materialist thought should be on the way shortly. In the meantime, invited participants in the upcoming New Materialism discussion at Sawtooth can get the discussion started right here ...!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Invitees to the New Materialsim small group discussion can contribute thoughts and questions here both before or after the event.

Please also consider responding to the earlier posts on the topic too.