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UC Santa Barbara Literature Scholar Examines the Meaning of Materialism and Everyday Objects

originally posted on The UC Santa Barbara Current by Andrea Estrada
Monday, August 25, 2014

Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

Some scholars suggest that when Prospero spoke those words in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” he was referring to the things that help create an illusion.

Things creating an illusion and things as an illusion — and a very powerful one — are at the heart of a new book by Maurizia Boscagli, a professor of English at UC Santa Barbara. “Stuff Theory: Everyday Objects, Radical Materialism” (Bloomsbury/Continuum, 2014) traces the genealogy of 20th-century materiality: flashpoints of one kind of minor matter in a succession of cultural moments. Boscagli asserts that in modernity, stuff becomes a rallying point for a new philosophy of materiality and for a new kind of interaction between people and things.

“The book considers modern culture’s specific focus on stuff,” Boscagli writes. “Not on matter in general, but on stuff more specifically defined as those things which we own but which have shed their glamour as shiny commodities yet which we are unwilling to dispose of and relegate to the trash heap.”

With roughly 48,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S., according to the Self Storage Association, the industry’s official trade organization, that makes for a lot of “shiny commodities.”

“We like our stuff,” said Boscagli. “Oftentimes we need it, but sometimes we don’t and it just becomes an accumulation. I was interested in why we have all this stuff, why we need it, what we do with it, and how we get rid of it.

“We cannot forget we live in a culture of — now, perhaps, reduced —consumption,” she continued. “The stuff we own is always a commodity, produced, bought, consumed and discarded. In a culture of expenditure and planned obsolescence like ours, the individual object we desire and buy is always on the verge of becoming stuff, and stuff is always on its way to becoming junk, waste, garbage.”

When a bought object loses its price tag and its allure and is about to become another piece of clutter or waste, it starts speaking a different language, according to Boscagli. “It assumes another meaning, another function, another way of interacting with us,” she said.

It’s this new meaning that is at the center of “Stuff Theory.”

- See more at: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2014/014367/such-stuff-dreams-are-made#sthash.mPSfR0JY.dpuf

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