Assemblage theory within the social sciences has paid no mind to the practice of assemblage across the visual, plastic, and literary arts—a practice famously devoted to “everyday stuff.” How can such practice differently animate that theory? And how can the theory expand our apprehension of the artistic mode we associate with the likes of Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Noah Purifoy, and Betye Saar (who “just started collecting stuff”). Answering those questions can help to explain why we’re in a moment when stuff has attained a new kind of value within the arts and drawn increasing attention within the humanities.
Cosponsored by the Department of English.
Bill Brown is the Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture at the University of Chicago. In the past, his research focused on popular literary genres (e.g. science fiction, the Western), on recreational forms (baseball, kung fu), and on the ways that mass-cultural phenomena (from roller coasters to Kodak cameras) impress themselves on the literary imagination. His work is predicated on the belief that the actor literary analysis can become a "historiographical operation" all its own.
Recently, he became interested in the intersection of literary, visual, and material cultures, with an emphasis on "object relations in an expanded field." His observes how inanimate objects enable human subjects to form and transform themselves, and one another. In his piece, "Thing Theory," he points out how things and thingness might become new objects of critical analysis. In Other Things—focusing such analysis through‘The Matter of Modernism,’ ‘Unhuman History,’ and ‘Kitsch Kulchur’—he engages a very wide range of work: Bergson, Bachelard,Arendt, Latour; Homer, Virginia Woolf, Philip K.Dick, Shawn Wong; Man Ray, Spike Lee, Dan Flavin, Brian Jungen. Dislodging the object-thing distinction from fundamental ontology (Heidegger) and from psychoanalysis (Lacan), he uses it as a tool for apprehending the unanticipated force of an object, however banal that object may be. This is a new materialism within which the thingness of an object cannot be abstracted from the field of culture. Currently, he is working on a project called “Re-Assemblage,”which asks how assemblage practices (across the literary, visual, and plastic arts) might contribute to assemblage theory in the social sciences.