SO NI A H AZ ARD Franklin & Marshall College In his 2001 article “Thing Theory,” the literary critic Bill Brown posed a distinction between objects and things. Objects are prisoners in our familiar dialectic between subjects and objects. As the subordinate term, objects are pliant to the subject’s concerns and intentions. Subjects objectify objects. Things, according to Brown, are another matter. Unlike an object, a thing may surprise us, refusing to follow the subject’s script as it pursues its own agenda. Brown’s deﬁnition of things preﬁgured a theoretical development in the humanities today, one that poses a set of provocations for scholars of early American material texts. These ideas are variant and wide-ranging but, for our purposes, may be summarized as forms of “new materialism.” New materialists share with Brown the premise that material things wield an agency, of a kind, that shapes human practice and culture. This point is intuitive at some level. The present sequence of words, for instance, is altered by the substance of caffeine that my body metabolizes as it writes. Meanwhile, my eyes are lured toward the glowing screen, which affords forms of thinking and writing different from the imposed linearity of the
Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Nov 5, 2018
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