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Reviewed by:
  • The Object Reader
  • Martha Blassnigg
The Object Reader edited by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, London and New York, 2009. 576 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-415-45229-8.

The Object Reader provides an extensive compilation of mostly previously published key articles by renowned authors along with original contributions of new works in an accessible anthology. "Objects" are introduced upfront from the original Latin obicere, referring to the "act of blocking," "to throw at" or "throw against," in the sense of disapproval or an objection, alongside the philosophical use of the term as "a thing which is perceived," external to the subject, as well as the common use of the word for "material thing(s)." It is highlighted that another etymological meaning refers to "that to which action, or thought or feeling is directed, the thing (or person) to which something is done" (p. 2), which does not differentiate between inanimate or conscious "things," the organic/inorganic or human, as a matter of fact. According to this wide spectrum of definitions and interpretations, the volume treats objects not strictly in the sense of studies of material culture but reflects on their practical uses, phenomenological perceptions, symbolic functions and social meanings. For this reason it draws from a range of fields: anthropology, art history, classical studies, critical theory, cultural studies, digital media, design history, disability studies, feminism, film and television studies, history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, social studies of science and technology, religious studies and visual culture.

Against this background, perhaps not surprisingly, the Reader opens with Marcel Mauss's famous account of the reciprocity of gift culture, in the sense of the Latin do ut des and Sanskrit dadami se, dehi me, setting out objects' relations as reciprocal bondage, and it ends with Candlin's personalized reflections on post-generational haunting by ghostly presences in a continuous shifting and interactive negotiation between the material and immaterial. When taking into account the numerous layers that the volume's contributions (too many to treat individually in any adequate way in this framework) unfold, wrap and interconnect, it could be observed that the topic of the compilation is very much the virtual (in a Deleuzian/Bergsonian sense) of the addressed objects' relations and those material interfaces and interactions where they temporarily manifest and actualize. This might also be another way to approach the last section of the book—rather than "object lessons," as indicated, as well as experimental treatments in the form of short essays—as creative unwinding, recollection, application and further extension of some of the dense entanglements of object encounters throughout this excellent compilation of thoughtful, innovative and rigorous scholarship. A lesson that certainly can be learned from the editorial ambition and realization of The Object Reader is that the fuller the recognition of inherent overlaps, tensions, contradictions and tendencies in the subject matter—in this case in discourses around the conception of objects, which seem to share a profound dissatisfaction with the extremes of materialism and idealism, conceived from the broadest spectrum of approaches—the richer the potential for a critical engagement that might even tentatively broach the sublime as embedded in experience.

The Object Reader seems particularly [End Page 279] timely given the recent revival of "material culture" (continuing the established strand in, among others, cultural anthropology) and the continued interest in the social construction of technology, ANT, the discussions around the "Internet of things" etc., and especially the focused philosophical concerns with object ontology (such as the philosopher Graham Harman's "object-oriented philosophy" and Ian Bogost's work in object-oriented-ontology ["ooo"], also the topic of a recent symposium at the Georgia Institute of Technology in April 2010). In this context, the Reader is exemplary for alluding to the significance of addressing the underlying philosophical frameworks on which the great variety of approaches to objects and objectifications are built, addressed and communicated. This exercise, however, is mainly left to the reader and has not been taken up explicitly in the anthology, neither in the introduction nor in the composition of the various sections, which is driven by a distinction of terms such as object or thing or what objects "do" or what...


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pp. 279-280
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