A Sense Of Things: The Object Matter Of American Literature

Paperback | December 1, 2004

byBill Brown

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In May 1906, the Atlantic Monthly commented that Americans live not merely in an age of things, but under the tyranny of them, and that in our relentless effort to sell, purchase, and accumulate things, we do not possess them as much as they possess us. For Bill Brown, the tale of that possession is something stranger than the history of a culture of consumption. It is the story of Americans using things to think about themselves.

Brown's captivating new study explores the roots of modern America's fascination with things and the problem that objects posed for American literature at the turn of the century. This was an era when the invention, production, distribution, and consumption of things suddenly came to define a national culture. Brown shows how crucial novels of the time made things not a solution to problems, but problems in their own right. Writers such as Mark Twain, Frank Norris, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Henry James ask why and how we use objects to make meaning, to make or remake ourselves, to organize our anxieties and affections, to sublimate our fears, and to shape our wildest dreams. Offering a remarkably new way to think about materialism, A Sense of Things will be essential reading for anyone interested in American literature and culture.

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In May 1906, the Atlantic Monthly commented that Americans live not merely in an age of things, but under the tyranny of them, and that in our relentless effort to sell, purchase, and accumulate things, we do not possess them as much as they possess us. For Bill Brown, the tale of that possession is something stranger than the history ...

From the Jacket

In May 1906, the Atlantic Monthly commented that Americans live not merely in an age of things, but under the tyranny of them, and that in our relentless effort to sell, purchase, and accumulate things, we do not possess them as much as they possess us. For Bill Brown, the tale of that possession is something stranger than the history ...

Bill Brown is the George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Material Unconscious: American Amusement,Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play, editor of Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Westerns, and coeditor of Critical Inquiry.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:260 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:December 1, 2004Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226076296

ISBN - 13:9780226076294

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Idea of Things and the Ideas in Them
1. The Tyranny of Things
Fetishisms
Object Lessons
A Trivial Thing
Democratic Objects
2. The Nature of Things
Iteration
Creatures of Habit
Possession
The Miracle of History
Misuse Value
3. Regional Artifacts
Natural Histories
Life-Groups and the Cultural Thing
Material History
"A Kind of Fetichism"
Waste Matter
Modernist Archeology
4. The Decoration of Houses
Décor
The Novel Démeublé
Reification as Utopia
Things to Think With
Golden Bowls
Coda: The Death and Life of Things: Modernity and Modernism
Notes
Index