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Other Things

From the pencil to the puppet to the drone—the humanities and the social sciences continue to ride a wave of interest in material culture and the world of things. How should we understand the force and figure of that wave as it shapes different disciplines? Other Things explores this question by considering a wide assortment of objects—from beach glass to cell phones, sneakers to skyscrapers—that have fascinated a range of writers and artists, including Virginia Woolf, Man Ray, Spike Lee, and Don DeLillo.

The book ranges across the literary, visual, and plastic arts to depict the curious lives of things. Beginning with Achilles’s Shield, then tracking the object/thing distinction as it appears in the work of Martin Heidegger and Jacques Lacan, Bill Brown ultimately focuses on the thingness disclosed by specific literary and artistic works. Combining history and literature, criticism and theory, Other Things provides a new way of understanding the inanimate object world and the place of the human within it, encouraging us to think anew about what we mean by materiality itself.

448 pages | 32 color plates, 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Art: Art Criticism

Culture Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Aesthetics


“Brown is a pre-eminent scholar of the material world. . . . Other Things is rigorously conceptual but it is also good company, an enlightening contribution to our understanding of material culture across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Compelling. . . . The test of Brown’s book—which it surpasses and sustains—is that, like the paper clip or rubber band you almost certainly aren’t holding as you read this, Other Things will stick in your mind anyway.”


"For decades now, Brown has been thinking and writing about “thing theory,” as he has called it. But in Other Things, he attempts to make clear the connections between his work and the recent surge of critical work involving things, objects, and matter....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."

Los Angeles Review of Books

“In publishing, there is a difference between making a splash and actually making waves. Brown’s work has done both. He opens his lens this time to a wide array of aesthetic and cultural objects from indigenous ethnographic sculpture to the kitsch memorabilia of 9/11. Along the way, there are readings devoted to material objects in canonical literature and more popular contemporary writing. Holding all this together in the force field of Brown’s lucid prose are his steadily surprising insights into ‘things other’ than meet the eye in such object matter. This new book, too, will be not only applauded but also widely consulted.”

Garrett Stewart, author of Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept to Art

“In Brown’s supple mind, things are alive. Their theoretical twists and turns and stubborn materiality are not opposites, but interwoven dynamics—material objects in a field of thingness. For more than a decade, Brown has explored the various meanings and operations of things in, and as, literature and the visual arts. His grasp of the subject, control of interpretation, and willingness to take intellectual risks make this book a necessary read for anyone interested in the things that provoke our intellectual curiosity.”

James Cuno, The J. Paul Getty Trust

“Audacious and profound, Brown rereads the great theorists and philosophers of modernism to create new categories—redemptive reification, misuse value, the meta-object—to explore a counter-history of the elusive ‘other thing.’ The art and literature of American and European modernist culture, he brilliantly argues, yield up the incandescence of the other thing once it can be emancipated from the teleology of commodity and war.”

Isobel Armstrong, Birkbeck, University of London

"Other Things is a thorough and engaging work, and, as it is located at the intersection of several fields, I recommend it for a wide audience; those interested in Modernism, art (history), social criticism, thing studies, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, or museology will all find it a useful read."

Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Overture (The Shield of Achilles)

One Things—in Theory

I The Matter of Modernism

Two The Secret Life of Things (Virginia Woolf)

Three The Modernist Object and Another Thing (Man Ray)

Four Concepts and Objects, Words and Things (Philip K. Dick)

II Unhuman History

Five The Unhuman Condition (Hannah Arendt/Bruno Latour)

Six Object Relations in an Expanded Field (Myla Goldberg/Harold Searles)

Seven Objects, Others, and Us (Brian Jungen) 197

III Kitsch Kulchur

Eight How to Do Things with Things: A Toy Story
(Shawn Wong)

Nine Reification, Reanimation, and the American Uncanny
(Spike Lee)

Ten Commodity Nationalism and the Lost Object

Coda A Little History of Light (Dan Flavin/Gaston Bachelard)


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