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Ontology of Trash, An

The Disposable and Its Problematic Nature

Greg Kennedy

Publication Year: 2007

Plastic bags, newspapers, pizza boxes, razors, watches, diapers, toothbrushes … What makes a thing disposable? Which of its properties allows us to treat it as if it did not matter, or as if it actually lacked matter? Why do so many objects appear to us as nothing more than brief flashes between checkout-line and landfill? In An Ontology of Trash, Greg Kennedy inquires into the meaning of disposable objects and explores the nature of our prodigious refuse. He takes trash as a real ontological problem resulting from our unsettled relation to nature. The metaphysical drive from immanence to transcendence leaves us in an alien world of objects drained of meaningful physical presence. Consequently, they become interpreted as beings that somehow essentially lack being, and exist in our technological world only to disappear. Kennedy explores this problematic nature and looks for possibilities of salutary change.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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p. iii


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book is something of an odd fish. Its title signals its oddity. “Ontology” literally means the study of being; it is a technical term designating a specific branch of philosophy that investigates why things simply are. “Trash” has no technical but many...

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pp. xi-xix

Plastic bags, newspapers, pizza boxes, razors, coffee-filters, napkins,quartz watches, elastic bands, diapers, toothbrushes, j-cloths, mail-order catalogues, aluminum cans, ball-point pens, sticky-notes, hospital gowns, cosmetic compacts, cameras, holiday decorations, ink cartridges, running shoes, juice-boxes, boil-in-the-bag rice, lighters, rubber gloves, bottled...

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1. Waste

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pp. 1-22

Throughout their long cohabitation, waste has dogged humanity with a pack of woes ranging from embarrassment to pestilence. Yet the real problem behind these varying troubles is the ambiguity of waste. Anything and everything can become waste. We waste time, hot water, opportunity, money, potential, food, life, love, electricity, kindness and so on....

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2. The Body

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pp. 23-54

What makes the body “the most difficult problem”? More to the point, what does this problem have to do with trash? I have suggested that trash materially manifests our failure at being human and that, when properly understood, this phenomenon unambiguously exhibits our existential shortcomings. Such an understanding reveals trash as a denial of our...

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3. Food

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pp. 55-88

Of all things, food most directly implicates our finitude. We experience hunger as a void, a lack that punches holes in any delusions of our self-sufficiency. Our need to eat reminds us ever and again of our visceral being-in-the-world dependent on innerworldly beings. From the perspective of developmental psychology, the unanswered cry for...

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4. The City

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pp. 89-119

Garbage has befouled settlements since their inception. The price of stability and security in the form of permanent dwellings and fortifications was the relinquishment of the highly efficacious nomadic technique of waste management...

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5. Trash

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pp. 121-155

From the previous chapters a number of themes has surfaced: rationalization, disembodiment, convenience, the denial of mortality, dismissal of finitude, and, most recently, violence. Each one of these themes has arisen in some relation to waste and, when taken together, they combine to constitute the historically unique phenomenon of trash. With the elemental...

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6. Human Extinction

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pp. 157-182

Nomadic peoples do not put time into permanent dwellings. Their transience prevents their future from abiding in any one place, and nothing lasts that does not somehow participate in an abiding future. Modern technological consumers do not put time into beings. The triumph of convenience means...

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Before the End

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pp. 183-187

With these words, Wordsworth depicts a radical human transformation—one, moreover, not in the least metaphysical. The passage comes at the end of the doleful story of a ruined cottage. Once the domestic sanctuary of order, care, and humble industry, Margaret’s “poor cottage/ Sank intodecay; for he was gone, whose hand,/ At the first nipping of October...


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pp. 189-205


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pp. 207-212


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pp. 213-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480588
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791469934
Print-ISBN-10: 079146993X

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 85860126
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ontology of Trash, An

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ontology.
  • Environmental responsibility.
  • Refuse and refuse disposal -- Psychological aspects.
  • Refuse and refuse disposal -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Refuse and refuse disposal -- Philosophy.
  • Waste minimization.
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