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SCHEDULE OF MEETINGS

January 15.

INTRODUCTION: Nothing, Something, Anything, and Everything

Pablo Neruda, who received the Nobel Prize for Poetry 1971, and Charles & Ray Eames, who defined an era of American design, invite us into a sublime communion with the everyday object. But it was ‘Trane who put it best I an interview in Down Beat magazine: “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”

in class: Pablo Neruda, from Odes to Common Things (1954-59) Charles Eames, “Goods: The New Covetables” (lecture, 1970-71) John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things” (recorded October, 1960)

PART ONE: THE MEANING OF THINGS

January 22.

The Poetics of the Pragmatic

To a greater extent than any of us may care to admit, we are little more than custodians of our stuff, curators of a traveling exhibition called “ourselves.”

in class: Bring to class something that defines you and something that defies you.

January 29.

First Things First

Martin Heidegger developed an approach to philosophy grounded in what he called “fundamental ontology”—the investigation not of “beings” but of “Being.” In this famous lecture of 1950, Heidegger inquires into the essential “thingness” of the thing.

read:

Martin Heidegger, “The Thing”

(1950)

February 5.

Tools and Human Evolution

We all know that people make things, but in a grand inversion, primatolologist Sherwood Washburn proposed that tools actually predated homo sapiens and were a factor in his evolution—that things made people! Bruno Latour, the most provocative analyst of techno-science, further blurs the distinction between “human and non-human actants.”

read:

Sherwood Washburn, “Tools and Human Evolution” Bruno Latour, “Pragmatogonies: How Humans and Nonhumans Swap Properties”

February 12.

What Things Mean, How Things Mean

In a landmark study, a team of social psychologists investigated 82 Chicago households to discover the connection between what people own and what they value. Their findings shift our attention away from the object to the transactions between people and things.

read:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from The Meaning of Things (chs. 2, 7)

February 19.

The Thing as Social and Economic Fact

How, asks Marx, in his most daring analysis, does a thing turn into a commodity,

"abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties?"

Bill Brown, one of

the principal architects of “Thing Theory,” pursues this mystery into “the object matter

of American literature.”

read:

Karl Marx, "The Fetishism of Commodities," from Capital v. 1. (1867) Bill Brown, “The Death and Life of Things”

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels; Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles; Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings...

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