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Bill Brown

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[…]

A conversation with the professor of English and visual arts at the University of Chicago.

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Bill Brown: rnBill Brown and I’m a professor of English and visual arts at thernUniversity of Chicago.

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Question: When did you first know that you wanted to studyrnliterature professionally?

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Bill Brown: Irnthink I probably recognized that I was going to be something like a literaryrncritic when I started to be conscious of the fact that I read very slowly, yournknow?  Which is really to say thatrnif I'm reading narrative prose fiction, I tend to read it more like poetry, sornI read a sentence and think about a sentence.  And which is, I have to tell you, a huge handicap if you endrnup being a literary critic, because you have to read lots and lots.  But I think it was probably that, arncertain sense of being interested in the lines of prose that made me thinkrnthat, you know, there was really something to explore, whether it had to dornwith the rhythm, the symbolism, the tropology, something along thosernlines.  And I also have to say thatrnI imagine even when I was a kid I was pretty convinced I would be an Englishrnteacher.

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Question: On which areas of literature are you currentlyrnfocused?

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Bill Brown: rnMostly I work on 19th and 20th century American literature.  Sometimes I do English literature, Irnhave an essay on Virginia Woolf, for instance.  Sometimes a little bit of French literature andrnincreasingly, I also attend to the visual arts.

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Question: What does your everyday work as a critic consistrnof?

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Bill Brown: I think it's trying to explain how, both whatrnand how a given text, either discursive or visual, means and by the, what itrnmeans and the how it means, I could very well be asking questions that arerneventually going to be historically grounded, or with a historical context,rnwhich makes a given poem make sense, right?  Or geographical context, how is it that this should, yournknow, German artist in 1950 was using these materials, that, you know, happenedrnto be outside of Berlin, that kind of thing.

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And I would say, a lot of it would relate to the very idearnof slowing down.  That is, I thinkrnif you read something, something famous, say The Great Gatsby, well, it's notrnhard to understand, you know?  It'srnnot complicated, it's not like a tough poem, but I think in fact if you slowrndown and you start to see what it is that Fitzgerald is doing, constructingrncertain metaphors and deploying and redeploying certain themes as you gornthrough that book, that's how, I think, you realize that in, you know,rn100-and-some pages, a very, very short novel, you feel as though you've had arnvery, very big experience.

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Question: What is thing theory?

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Bill Brown: rnSure.  I think it, I'mrnwilling to define thing theory but only in the broadest terms.  That is, I would say that the workrnbeing done that I would constellate under the rubric thing theory is addressingrnhow it is that the inanimate object world helps to form and transform humanrnbeings alike.  So part of that isrnto say, how does our material environment shape us?  Part of that is also to talk about the production of value,rneconomic value, in Marxist terms, but also various kinds of symbolicrnvalue.  So that, I think, mostrngenerally.  And I think forrndifferent scholars working in different fields, and there are lots of differentrnfields in which one might say thing theorists are working, science studies,rnarcheology, anthropology, literary studies, art history, history, now, theyrneach particular concerns and I think particular ways of understanding thernpresence and power and meaning of objects, but I would say that certainly thatrnthe thing theorists I know are ultimately are interested in the subject/objectrnrelation or the human/un-human relation.

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Question: What separates an ordinary object from a “thing”rnworthy of critical study?

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Bill Brown: rnRight.  Well, and I wouldn'trnnecessarily want to say in literature, and maybe just in the world, right?  But I think it depends on how you or Irnwant to differentiate between an object and a thing.  And I do sort of strongly and adamantly, for me it's sort ofrnaxiomatic in my work, but not everyone does.  But in my work, I understand objects to be, in some sense,rnwhat we don't notice.  You know,rnyou pick up a glass of water, do you notice the glass?  And probably not.  Do you notice the water in thernglass?  Probably not, you're doingrnthis while you're doing something else. rnBut I would say that the thing-ness of objects becomes palpable orrnvisible or in some sense knowable, where there's an interruption within thatrncircuit, the sort of, the circuit whereby we, you know, float, as we do,rnthrough objects.

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And so it's when objects become excessive one way orrnanother, and I think one way is certainly that they break, right?  You go to pick up the glass and itrnbreaks in your hand, suddenly you notice it and you notice lots about it.  It's at that moment, I would say, thatrnthat object becomes a thing.  But Irnwould also want to say that if you're using a glass and you suddenly recognize,rnoh, this is a glass that your grandmother owned, and so it has a certain kindrnof value because of its, the genealogy of its use, that also to me would be arnkind of thing-ness, right?  So onrnthe one hand, something that's very physical, on the other hand, somethingrnthat's very metaphysical, but in both instances, a real retardation of ourrninteraction with the object.  We'rernstopping, right?  We're stoppingrnbecause we broke the glass or we're stopping because the glass has, in somernsense, broken our habits of use.

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Question: What are some notable examples of object fixationsrnin literature?

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Bill Brown: rnWell, I think there are lots of objects in lots of literary text,rnright?  And I think that one of thernreasons why thing theory or object studies, or whatever caption device onernmight want to use, has taken off in the world of literary history, and it has,rnand people working in the 18th century and the 19th century, certainly peoplernworking in Renaissance studies, as well as the 20th century, it's because forrnso long, people just didn't look at the objects, and if one can put it thatrnway.  You know, the objects all arernbackground.  You think about thernsubject, you think about psychology, you might be thinking about the languagernof the text, but the environment is pretty much merely the environment.

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And Roland Barthes wrote a very famous essay called The Reality Effect,rnin which his claim is that all the detail, in especially say, Balzac's fiction,rnis there just to convince us that it's all real, right?  It's insignificant.  And so part of the literary criticalrntask has been to actually try to add substance to all of that detail.  The substance can be actually trying tornfigure out what a given dresser might have looked like, what it might havernmeant symbolically within a certain cultural moment, so that's all still justrngeneral.  As far as a specificrninstance goes, different objects, you know, mean differently, right?  So, I think an obvious example, to getrnback to Gatsby, would be Daisy and Gatsby's shirts, right?  When she says, "These shirts, whatrnbeautiful, beautiful shirts," what's her fixation there, right?  And it really does seem to be arnfetishization of the objects, right? rnAnd it doesn't seem as though, this is about Gatsby, the human subject,rnit seems to be about shirts as an exquisite bits of fabrication.

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To work very much within the same time period, but at arndifferent country, Virginia Woolf has a very short story called Solid Objects,rnand it's about a guy who's on a beach and he finds a piece of sand glass, andrnhe goes kind of nuts.  I mean, itrndrives him to start trying to collect objects, but objects that correspondrnvaguely with the bit of sand glass, but not completely.  And so it would seem, and both of theserncases are cases where the novels obviously mean for us to be attending to thesernobjects.  But it's a very differentrnkind of cathexis and it's not really about that object so much, it's morernabout, at least finally as I read that story, it's more about getting in touchrnwith something like un-human history, with the history of the earth, ratherrnthan the history of humankind.

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So I would think of those as two ready-to-hand examples.

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Question: Does the literary use of “things” become especiallyrnrelevant or self-conscious during Modernism?

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Bill Brown: Irnthink maybe special self-consciousness, yes.  I mean, that is to say, if you're reading, if you go back tornthe beginning of the English novel, if you're in, say, Robinson Crusoe, objectsrnare, you know, hugely important. rnIn many respects, the objects from the ship that washed ashore savernCrusoe.  Right?  Without those objects, he wouldn't bernable to survive and he interacts with them in very powerful ways.  And there's a charming, I forget thernname of that film, with Tom Hanks in it, that is a Robinson Crusoe-like film,rnwith Wilson, the volleyball that ends up being, you know, personified?  But that story, that story of objectsrnactually saving human subjects who are stranded, is obviously powerful enoughrnto move from the 18th to the 20th century.

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So I think what does happen within the Modernist period isrnyes, lots of writers do become more self-conscious about objects, certainlyrnWilliam Carlos Williams famously writes, "No ideas but in things,"rnand writes that more than once. rnAnd I think that there are a couple of issues within Modernism.  One is a desire, and it's probably anrninsatiable desire, but a desire nonetheless, to actually somehow or another,rnapprehend the thing itself, something that's unmediated, something that is notrnclouded by metaphor or by language, is there some way of making contact with anrnobject to the degree that we might say, oh, that's the thing itself.  Probably not, but that's certainly arnwill expressed variously in modernism, Fernando Pessoa, Wallace Stevens, in hisrnway, William Carlos Williams.

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Another way is less to imagine that we need to get to thernthing itself or have immediate access to the object and more about, and this isrnvery much via William Carlos Williams, more being convinced that meaning doesrnreside in small things, right?  SornI'm thinking of, we have great miniaturists within American poetry, MariannernMoore, Elizabeth Bishop, at times, and these are over and over again, I thinkrnpoets who mean to talk about the magnitude of the world within the miniature.

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Question: What is “No ideas but in things” an argumentrnagainst?

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Bill Brown: rnRight, right.  Well, arncouple of things I would say.  “Nornideas but in things” means, to begin with, that Williams does not want poetryrnthat is just sort of mere ideas, mere philosophizing, mere romanticism, say,rnthat isn't grounded in the object world, right?  That's one thing.

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The other would be, no ideas but in things, allows thernthings to actually be grounding the ideas, versus having, you know, the ideasrnground the things, if you know what I mean.  So I think it's a sort of reversing priorities.

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Question: What is the relationship between objects ofrnfixation in literature and art?

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Bill Brown: rnRight.  Well, I would, letrnme answer that, maybe let me avoid that question, perhaps, right?  Because I think that what has becomernincreasingly clear at the end of the 20th century is how much 20th century artrnis trying to teach us about objects and about object culture, which is to sayrnabout how objects make meaning, how objects make meaning for us. And I thinkrnright now, certainly in the contemporary art world, there is so muchrninstallation work, largely I'm thinking of Tara Donovan's incredible styrofoamrncups which end up looking like clouds because they’re glued together, a lot ofrnrefabrication.  Or **** productionrnof these object ecology, so it's, you know, toothpicks, Q-tips, and scraps ofrnthis, and then the other thing, and they end up being this sort of cosmos.

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And artists like that, I think, and not just those artists,rnI think really mean to be alerting our attention to other ways that objectsrnmight be configured, or as I like to put it, or have put it in one essay orrnanother, the possibility that the material world might want to be organizedrnother than the way we've organized it, right?  So that the desire, the denim of your jeans or the cotton ofrnyour T-shirt, the object of its desire might be to be a different object,rnright?  Your T-shirt might actuallyrnwant to be part of a flag, you know, something along those lines.  And I think it's been a veryrncontemporary art, and a very powerful conduit, to those sorts of ideas.  And those sorts of ideas,rnphilosophically, are very much a part of say, vitalism, I'm thinking of HenrirnBergson and then Bergson as re-thought by Deleuze. But it's, I think it's onlyrnin the presence of such art that you really experience some of thesernalternatives, or what I'm calling something like the desire, an inanimaternobject world's desire to be reconfigured, to have a different shape,rnright?  And right now, around therncity, around your city, if you look at Orozsco’s work in the MoMA, withrnsomething like the yogurt tops on four different walls, or Urs Fischer at the NewrnMuseum, there's huge aluminum sculptures, I mean, these are all, this is allrnwork that is very powerfully, I think, dramatizing the presence of objects andrnthe importance of objects, as opposed to say, images.  And I think that, you know, if something happened in thern20th century, it's that image culture ended up trumping object culture.  And we have great theories of imagernculture, too, Debord's Society of the Spectacle, Baudrillard's Orders ofrnSimulacra, and we do, I think, also have powerful theories of the object.  But I think that it's really imagernculture that got the most attention toward the end of the last century.

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There's also, there's another artist, a Chicago artist,rnMarie Krane Bergman, who has for years been doing vast monochrome on canvasesrnmade up of very, very small sort of hillocks of paint.  And now one of the practices that she'srntaken up is to put paint, acrylic paint, on the floor and then to pick it uprnand hang the paint, after it's dried, hang the paint.  So she will do grids, for instance, and hang them up andrnthen the grid will sag a bit.  Andrnone of the obvious effects of that work is to make one recognize that, yournknow, paint is never still, you know, paint is always moving.  You know, a 15th century painting, thatrnpaint is still moving, it might be moving very slowly, but it's moving.  And it's also, you know, to my mind, arnfascinating way for painting to be attending to a different material ground,rnnot as Greenberg and others would say about flatness, about the shape of therncanvas, but rather to the paint itself, right?  So now it's just the paint unsupported, as it were supportedrnjust by a nail, that becomes the art object.  But there's another moment where, you know, you really dornexperience with those works, the vitality of paint, even if it's drooping.

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Question: Does thing theory fundamentally originate in thernvisual arts?

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Bill Brown: Irnthink it's, I think there are certainly arguments to be made that say thatrnvisual artists have been playing with it for a long time.  I think also philosophers have beenrnplaying with it for a long time, poets have been playing with it for a longrntime.  And I think one of thernpoints that I've tried to make and certainly tried to make in a little essayrncalled “Thing Theory,” is not that thing theory is something that is new, it'srnrather that newly we need to look back at now say the 20th century andrnrecognize that lots of different artists, different philosophers, differentrnwriters, were, in fact, trying to conceptualize objects themselves or objectsrnin relation to one another, and object's relations to humans.  Duchamp is a very good choice, anrninteresting choice because if you take the “Fountain,” the urinal, some artrnhistorians will say, you know, in some sense, the object is beside the point,rnthat it is really, because the real, the real chutzpah of that act is as anrnact, right?  And the point of it isrnreally about the power of the artist as auteur: I call this art, so it's art,rnright?

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But other people, and I'm thinking in particular of the artrnhistorian Wanda Corn, have spent a great deal of time talking about thernspecificity of the urinal and the French fascination with US porcelain at therntime and with modern bathrooms, so it sort of depends on how you look atrnthat.  But certainly whateverrnDuchamp is trying to do, if he takes a urinal or a bottle rack, or a bicyclernwheel that is an everyday object and declares it to be art, whatever he wantsrnpeople to do, people are going to be newly attending to the urinal, the bicyclernrack, the bicycle wheel, right? rnAnd I think, and that really returns to the temporality of all ofrnthis.  Because if you take the,rnOrozco’s yogurt tops, right?  Fourrnof them on four walls, what's he doing by doing that?  Well, one of the things he's doing is just getting us tornlook at the yogurt top, right? rnIt's no longer something we're peeling off, it's now sitting against arnwall hanging, against a wall.  Andrnit is that slow temporality, that retardation, which makes any -- can make, Irnthink, any everyday object into a work of art, right?  I'll grant you, it probably depends on something else, butrnit always depends on that.

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Question: If you understand both “thing theory” and stringrntheory, do you understand the whole universe?

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Bill Brown:  Oh,rnyeah, absolutely, I understand the universe as a whole.  I know, it's funny, some people willrnsay to me, thing theory, what a strange concept, and then I sometimes will say,rnwell, of course, thing theory is a kind of a joke.  And people will say, oh, yes, because it's a play on stringrntheory, and that's actually not the joke that I mean.  But it's interesting that a bunch of people do, and I'm surernthat with enough effort, I could actually make that joke really work for a fewrnpeople, and for myself.  The jokernas I understand is much more, oh, surely things are precisely not what isrntheory.  You know, like, oh, gee,rnone races to the concrete in order to avoid theories, so now, you know, now wernhave to actually have to have thing theory along with all these other theories,rnthat for me is more of a joke.

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Question: Has the Internet redefined what a text is forrncritics?

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Bill Brown: Well, I would say it may not be redefining whatrna text is, but it certainly is generating lots of different conduits to a text,rnright?  For the time being, I'mrngoing to make texts something that is more virtual than actual, so that any actualizationrnof it, even if the actualization is virtual, if you will, isn't quite the text,rnright?  So, by which I mean to say,rnthis is going to be long-winded, that the text, so if you take a Victorianrnnovel, Dickens' Great Expectations, it is true that that is a different readingrnexperience if you read it in a handy dandy Penguin paperback, versus if yournread it serialized when it originally appeared in England, or serialized whenrnit appeared in the US, when it was then illustrated, different also from thernexperience of somebody reading a Braille edition, different from somebodyrnreading it online, right?  Butrnwe're still, most of us, I think, not some of the book historians maybe, butrnmost of us are willing to say, that we're all reading Great Expectations,rnright?  And so that's the, and so Irnwant to say we're all reading that text, even though they're in these manyrndifferent manifestations of text. rnAnd that's my long-winded response.

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I think that it could be, I don't know, but it could be thatrnliterary critics will be the last constituency to recognize how vastly readingrnpractices have changed.  Justrnbecause I think many of us, when we're teaching literature, still do teachrnbooks in like book format, like a bunch of paperbacks, that doesn't mean thatrnwe don't recognize that our own research has changed considerably and that ourrnstudent's research has changed considerably, but I think that at least most ofrnmy friends in the profession still are very attracted to books as books, to thernphysicality of them, to the materiality of them.

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One of the recent sub-fields within not just literaryrnstudies, but also within history, has been the history of the book, arntremendous amount of work and fascinating work.  Certainly one can imagine that the impulse to be writing thernhistory of the book has everything to do with an inevitable disappearance ofrnthe book, or maybe not inevitable disappearance of the book, but with, yournknow, or experienced, or willed unconsciously, as it were, I mean, this is thernsort of thing just happens.  Irnwould say the same thing about thing theory more broadly speaking, that isrnsurely a bunch of scholars in lots of different fields who are newly interestedrnin the power of physical objects or interested in materiality, surely, in part,rnthat must be understood as it responds to the digitization of everything, asrnsome people would say.  And therernare, well, there is one, there is an archeologist, Colin Renfrew, in England,rnwho really demonizes digital technology and talks about the way it isrnvirtualizing the real world and there's a lovely sentence of his that ends,rn"all that is left is the smile on the Cheshire cat," right?  I think that's overdramatized and Irnkeep liking to believe, or liking to say, that we're experiencing a kind ofrnmelodrama of besieged materiality, that is everybody imagines that the materialrnworld is disappearing.  But yournknow, if you look around, there's still lots of objects to touch, it turns outrnthat whatever computers are doing, they're not quite making the worldrndisappear.  They are certainlyrnmediating the world very differently from the way it was mediated in thernpast.  And I do think that they'vernhad a powerful effect on scholarly interests, right?

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And I think right now, this is getting back to this broad,rnbig question of, why thing theory now? rnWhy an interest in materiality now?  Why object studies now?  I supposed the obvious thing to say would be to say that itrncould very well be the case that our most precious object, the earth, is dying,rnright?  And so that doesn't meanrnthat there is a green dimension to all of this scholarship, but rather that inrnsome cultural unconscious, it could be that it is in fact this recognition thatrnthis object that we're all sitting on may have a shorter lifespan than wernthought, might very well be part of the drive.

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Question: Is the democratization of criticism throughrnblogging a good or bad thing?

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Bill Brown:  Irnthink the democratization of criticism for the most part is a great thing, Irnmean, I think blogs are a great way of making a different kind of public spherernin which literature say, or art, is part of a bigger, longer, in some sense,rnmore complex, certainly much more rapid conversation.  There are certainly downsides to it and I think one of thernproblems with digital access to information in general, and lots of people havernsaid this, is it's difficult to know, especially it's difficult to know for thernpeople not in a given field, the validity of the information that they're inrnthe midst of sifting through.

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But that aside, I think, you know, somebody starting a blogrnon Great Gatsby and saying, okay, let's now have a conversation about, let'srntake and meditate a moment about the fact that Gatsby's father, when Gatsby isrndead, comes back to Gatsby's house, and rather than looking at the house, looksrnat the photograph of the house that his son gave him, right?  So let's see a sort of conversationrnabout that on a blog, that's wonderful. rnYou know, I mean, the fact that then lots of people inside and outsidernuniversities and high school might want to participate is wonderful.  And one can only hope that part ofrnwhat's happening is that that particular moment in that particular novel isrnbeing thought with a much greater degree of concentration than it typically is.

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You know, but I also do sometimes think, oh, well, isrneverybody's time going to be spent tweeting and blogging?  I mean, it's just, I mean, and whatrnwill happen to the book of literary criticism?  You know?  Irnmean, you were obviously talking about books such as, like a book of poetry orrna novel, but it's certainly increasingly difficult to believe that you willrnactually have books like the books that I've written appear in book form.  And I was, the last time I was in NewrnYork, I was up at the Bard Graduate Center for design in the study of materialrnculture and it was a symposium that was for a bunch of editors for a new bookrnseries that Harvard is doing, the University, at present, Harvard is doing,rnfascinating group of scholars, all of whom work on the material world inrnpowerful ways, one person on textiles, one person on climate change in the 11thrncentury.  But this is a book seriesrnthat is going to be exclusively digital and universal access, right?  So the irony of that, that this bookrnseries entitled, The Cultural Histories of the Material World, is going to haverna very, you know, different material manifestation than the sort ofrnmanifestations that are going to be part of the project.  It's powerful, I'm delighted thatrnHarvard is taking it on and it strikes me as a very, very important publishingrnambition that they have.  But itrndefinitely means that the academy as we know it, the academy as I've inhabited,rnis going to disappear, something else will happen, and it's very difficult tornknow what.  Very difficult to knowrnhow you assess blogs, you know?

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And in the world of art criticism, I mean, I don't know, Irnread probably more art criticism online than I do literary criticism, and it'srndifficult to know how to think about that in relation to reading your artrncriticism in art form as a magazine, right?  And I certainly miss some of the magazines that have leftrnthe world and miss some of the newspapers.  So it is a very strange moment, it's a very strange moment.

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Question: Who were your favorite authors in your early daysrnas a critic?

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Bill Brown: rnRight.  Well, as I saidrnbefore, I was originally much more interested in poetry than fiction, althoughrnnow I write almost exclusively, although not exclusively, on fiction.  I loved Wallace Stevens, I loved EzrarnPound, I loved Marianne Moore, so the modernist poets.  It took me a while to learn tornappreciate, indeed maybe even love some of the earlier poets, Coleridge, and inrnparticular, Wordsworth.

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And then I would say, like when I was in graduate school, orrnmaybe right before I was in graduate school, I became very interested inrndeconstruction.  So in some sense,rnwhat some people would call this as facile, but what some people might call thernantithesis of what I do now, to the degree that deconstruction is very interestedrnin the language of literature being interested in language, and in thernrhetoricity of the alt language and the impossibility of making meaning, thingsrnalong those lines.  Alsornpsychoanalysis, but I would say deconstruction and the best of the deconstructors,rnI mean, Derrida and Paul De Man, and I still read their work, I still teachrntheir work, and still find it quite moving, even though, I myself have moved arnvery, very different direction, although I just finished writing an essay inrnwhich, and it's a very short essay, called Textual Materialism, but it ends uprnbeing about, it wasn't meant to be, but it ends up being about something likernbook history on the one hand, all about objects, the materiality of the book,rnabout other things too, but certainly about that, and deconstruction, whichrnwould seem to be its antithesis, and yet, Derrida always deployed the masterrntropes of what one might call book history.  And he was interested in the fold, the margin, the, he wasrninterested in paper.  And in some ofrnthe later essays, he talks about deconstruction, about his own practice ofrndeconstruction, as of course, always having a great deal to do with the historyrnof paper, which he says at a certain point, one always knew it was going to berna short history, meaning that, you know, we're in the process right now ofrnmoving on from paper.

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Question: Which contemporary authors and works excite you?

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Bill Brown: rnWell, you know, I have to say that I continue to read, with enormousrnpleasure, Don DeLillo, and I keep re-reading old Don DeLillo, so, Underworld,rnfor instance, you know, I read it, and I keep -- and DeLillo is an object guy,rnyou know?  And as somebody whornalso, I think, has a great deal to say about waste, right?  About the different states of objects.  And in Falling Man, the very short 9/11rnnovel, there's a great moment in that, early on, about 20 pages in, when thernguy who's name I forget, is wandering through the dust, running away from thernTowers, and then there's description of buildings, of dust, and the dust on thernbuildings, and then there's a line that reads something like, "maybe thisrnis what things typically look like, maybe this is what things look like whenrnhuman beings aren't around," you know?  And I remember I had a student who said to me, "Do yournthink DeLillo's been reading your stuff?"  I said, "No, no, I don't think so, but I'm alwaysrnreading his stuff."  So, butrnin that instance, it was a very, very powerful way of trying to, with a kind ofrnmicroscopic focus in some sense, of trying to explain what moments like that dornto our apprehension of the object world. rnYou know, of its stabilities and instabilities of its symbolic value andrnits non-symbolic value.  You know.  So I would certainly say, DeLillo, Irnfind very, very powerful.

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 rnAllen

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