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The Way Things Go

The Way Things Go: An Essay on the Matter of Second Modernism

Aaron Jaffe
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Way Things Go
    Book Description:

    Buffed up to a metallic shine; loose fitting, lopsided, or kludgy; getting in the way or getting lost; collapsing in an explosion of dust caught on the warehouse CCTV. Modern things are going their own ways, and this book attempts to follow them. A course of thought about their comings and goings and cascading side effects,The Way Things Gooffers a thesis demonstrated via a century-long countdown of stuff. Modernist critical theory and aesthetic method, it argues, are bound up with the inhuman fate of things as novelty becoming waste.

    Things are seldom at rest. Far more often they are going their own ways, entering and exiting our zones of attention, interest, and affection. Aaron Jaffe is concerned less with a humanist story of such things-offering anthropomorphizing narratives about recouping the items we use-as he is with the seemingly inscrutable, inhuman capacities of things for coarticulation and coherence. He examines the tension between this inscrutability on the one hand, and the ways things seem ready-made for understanding on the other hand, by means of exposition, thing-and-word-play, conceptual art, essayism, autopoesis, and prop comedy.

    Among other novelties and detritus, The Way Things Godelves into books, can openers, roller skates, fat, felt, soap, joy buzzers, hobbyhorses, felt erasers, sleds, magic rabbits, and urinals. But it stands apart from the recent flood of thing-talk, rebuking the romantic tendencies caught up in the pathetic nature of debris defining the conversation. Jaffe demonstrates that literary criticism is the one mode of analysis that can unpack the many things that, at first glance, seem so nonliterary.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4392-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Instruction Manual
    (pp. 1-34)


    You’re the proud owner of this book.

    Now what?

    Having gotten this far, you’ve already mastered the basics. The ground rules of the codex are, for the time being, still perfectly familiar: leaves of paper, bound and boxed together; one thing after another; page by page; word by word.Japonica / Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,but, to- day, we have the naming of parts.¹ Pay attention; you might learn something. The size—the book’s heft—points to something about the time it takes to read it.² Start to finish, this book is designed to...

  2. The Way Things Go

    • 100: I Don’t Know about the Coming Singularity
      (pp. 35-52)

      I don’t know about the “coming singularity”—Ray Kurzweil’s tipping point between humans and thing-machines—but 2014 is the year in which my students are behaving as if books were passé.¹ Better formulated, this tipping point rehearses once more the entanglement of two kinds of nonthings: trash and novelty. Suddenly, for example, books become nearly forgotten things, paleo-artifacts like LPs, wax cylinders, or magic lanterns, best left to hipsters and other juvenile contrarians. Self-assuredly toting new gadgets, students come back from their holidays as if they’ve emerged on the right side of progress. “See, you got your Austens, your Twains,...

    • 80: Lost and Found
      (pp. 52-65)

      Walter Benjamin’s Props,lost and found.And, then, what of words? Apropos of nothing in particular comes a non sequitur. As it stands, it’s also proper to nothing in particular. Nothing at hand at any rate. The non sequitur names that which does not follow. In the informal fallacy by this name, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. It is not proper to them, even though in technical terms it does—syntactically speaking, that is—follow them. If I am in Kentucky, I am in the United States. I am not in Kentucky—for purposes of this example....

    • 61: That Swell New Thing
      (pp. 65-93)

      That Swell New Thing.The things spilling from modernity’s prop locker may be best understood with reference to the sudden appearance of seemingly inconsequential novelty items—itching powder, exploding cigar, fake dog shit, joy buzzers. Chris Ware’sAcme Novelty Libraryprovides an instigation:

      Fellas & Gals! Here’s the swell new thing!

      Your very own Osc’r souvenir statuette:

      Wow! It’s the top shelf trophy of our nations imperial culture.⁶¹

      It’s hard to tell if these faux advertisements really mobilize a subjective message about “ironies of commodification,” as David Ball asserts, or if they constitute a kind of homage to the explosive...

    • 37: Risky Things
      (pp. 93-111)

      Risky Things.For a recent, real-life version of this fable—novelty without waste, or gain without risk—it would be hard to improve on No Impact Man. In early 2007, his story swept through the media. Somewhere in Manhattan, the story ran, a writer and his family were contriving a way to live having “no impact” on the Earth. To counteract the greenhouse catastrophe, they adopted a total do-it-yourself ethos. They no longer bought things—except provisions at the farmer’s market produced “within 250 miles—a day’s round trip.”¹¹¹ For light, one bulb supplemented by beeswax candles. Every deprivation becomes...

    • 15: Materials and Their Methods
      (pp. 111-126)

      Materials and Their Methods.Felt. Blood. Fat, wax, honey, gold leaf.A Rubberized Box.Well-thumbed lapin fur in mottled hues. A hare’s inert body, cradled by the artist. The mere inventory of the materials employed in artwork of Joseph Beuys—across three decades of actions, installations, performances, and documentations and still going on now nearly two decades after his demise—is enough to conjure forth his name. There is a remarkable durability in the bundling of “Beuys” (as aesthetic imprimatur) to the very stuff in, from, and by which he fashions his aesthetic projects. This enfolding of felt material and...

  3. 0: Nothing Beside Remains
    (pp. 127-130)

    We’re forever telling the story of stuff. It can’t speak for itself, so it’s narrated, supplied a make-believe shorthand of life stories, biographies, and CVs. The biography of the beer can is a conspicuous example, the narratives of heroic chocolate bars or coffee beans which Bruce Robbins writes about as commodities playing the part of “the impetuous, all conquering character type once attributed to tycoons or discoverers.”¹

    In her YouTube presentation, anti-stuff activist, documentarian, and author Annie Leonard stands in front of a diagram.² It looks something like an algorithm, one of those Rube Goldberg’s machines: a flowchart with a...