A Few of Bill Brown’s Favorite Things

Bill Brown is Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor of English and the visual arts at the University of Chicago. His past research has focused on popular literary genres, recreational forms, and the ways that mass-cultural phenomena impress themselves on the literary imagination. He currently studies the intersection of literary, visual, and material cultures. His major theoretical work is in "thing theory," which borrows from Heidegger's object/thing distinction to look the role of objects that have become manifest in a way that sets them apart from the world in which they exist. He edited a special issue of Critical Inquiry on this subject, which won awards for best special issue of an academic journal in 2001. His books include "A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature" (2003).
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: What are a few of your favorite things? 

Bill Brown: Right, what are a few of my favorite things? This is an ongoing question that I have, it's an ongoing question that I pose to my therapist and my therapist poses to me, which really does have to do with whether or not I write about things because I, myself, care deeply about them, or whether I write about things because I see other people caring about them and I'm trying to figure it out. So is it, is my writing about things therapeutic or does it serve some other function? A few of my favorite things, you know, I would say that there certainly objects in which I take great pleasure, but mostly, I'm a failed collector, by which I mean, I really tried, so, stereoscopes, for instance, right, and stereoviews. Early 20th century, I've got three of those, somebody gave me one, I thought, "That's cool," bought another one, bought another one, bought some stereoviews, that's as far as I got, and, you know, if anybody wants to make it happen, because it just, and I thought, those would be great, you put them on a shelf and to me it just seemed like, they seemed like dust collectors, and I never find myself spending more time with them. And that's not the only instance, I mean, I have tried to be some sort of a collector and I'm just not. It's like one of those people who, you know, always gets a chess set because people think you love chess sets, but it turns out you never wanted chess sets, but you now have a big bunch of them. So it could be that my writing about things is my effort to figure out my absence of cathexis on objects, that could be, too. But it's not as though I don't, I mean, I do like, love the material world. I like beautiful furniture, I like beautiful houses, clothes, and things like that. But that's different from being possessed by possessions the way I think most people are who are in some sense normal, that is, I think that it's a normal relation to have to the object world.

Recorded on March 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


×