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, where he teaches in the Department of English, the Department of Visual Arts, and the College. He is the principal investigator for the Object Cultures Project at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory and Co-Editor of Critical Inquiry. Brown is also a fellow at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory.
Brown's research has focused on popular literary genres such as science fiction and the Western; on recreational forms such as baseball and 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 act of literary analysis (including formal analysis) can become a "historiographical operation" all its own. More recently, Brown has worked at the intersection of literary, visual, and material cultures, with an emphasis on "object relations in an expanded field." He asks how inanimate objects enable human subjects to form and transform themselves, and one another.
His books include: Other Things (2015), A Sense of Things (2003), and The Material Unconscious (1996).