Books for the News, Literature

Mark Goble on Bill Brown’s Other Things


An excerpt from Mark Goble’s review of Bill Brown’s latest take on the literary and humanistic chops of material cultureOther Things, from the most recent issue of Modernism/Modernity:

As a series of essays reflecting Brown’s own shifting intellectual commitments and the various
objects that have patterned them, Other Things is structurally predisposed toward cases
and examples. Every chapter in the book save one is parenthetically named for a writer or artist
(from Woolf and Man Ray to Shawn Wong and Spike Lee) whose works occasion Brown’s more
sweeping meditations on materiality and more. Yet Brown’s investment in the singular example
is no mere consequence of how this book is engineered. He has a very sharp eye for things
that can appear wonderfully “obtuse,” and Brown is especially insightful on the lump of glass
at the center of Woolf’s “Solid Objects” or Man Ray’s creepy, all-observing metronome “Object
to be Destroyed” (decorated with a photographic eye). Brown does brilliant labor excavating
the historical situation of the English glass industry after World War One to give a rationale for
Woolf’s material motivations, and engages Michael Fried to argue that a difference between “art”
and “objecthood” is seriously hard to maintain both within a surrealist tradition, and within a
book reviews broadly poststructuralist discourse where theorists such as Gaston Bachelard and Jacques Lacan
imagine subjectivity itself as a function of how we understand ourselves as seen by other objects.
Still, it is less the contextual schemes or arguments that win the day and more that Brown can
effectively—or better, affectively—insinuate and share the uncanny powers of his chosen things
with readers. . . . But 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.

To download a full PDF of the review, click here.

To read more about Other Things, click here.