Few scholars would dispute the importance of what Steve Connor termed, in 2007, the “thingly turn” in literary studies—the pronounced shift, since the late 1990s, in the focus of literary criticism from language and form to the “stuff” that language and form describes.1 Borrowing from material culture studies—most notably, Arjun Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff’s edited collection, The Social Life of Things (1986), Daniel Miller’s edited collection, Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter (1998), and Steven Lubar and W. David Kingery’s edited collection, History from Things (1993)—the first generation of literary materialist scholarship sought to demonstrate the socio-political charge of literary objects beyond that described by Marxist theory: which is to say, their capacity to illuminate not only systems of circulation and exchange but social dynamics and the pull of desire, aspiration, and memory, both within and outside the text. Now considered seminal, Douglas Mao’s Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production (1998), David Trotter’s Cooking With Mud: The Idea of Mess in 19th-century Art and Fiction (2000), Elaine Freedgood’s The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (2006), and Bill Brown’s A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (2003) sought to render literary objects legible in order to render legible the texts in which they appeared. From the Colonial subtext of ivory in Jane Eyre (Freedgood) to the anxieties of Empire and rejection of Victorian values implicit in the scavenged materials in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Solid Objects’ (Mao), literary matter, they showed, is pullulating with tacit stories of its own—and can in turn provide a way into thinking about the object-status of literature itself.
|Journal||European Journal of American Studies|
|Publication status||Published - Mar 2017|
- thing theory
- material culture studies
- twentieth century
- literary studies