Arsić unpacks Ralph Waldo Emerson’s repeated assertion that our reality and our minds are in constant flux. Her readings of a broad range of Emerson’s. Columbia UniversityVerified account. @Columbia. “The best education is one that prepares you for your own venture into the unknown. Melville’s Philosophies departs from a long tradition of critical assessments of Melville that dismissed his philosophical capacities as ingenious but.

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Things Beyond Commodities: An Interview with Branka Arsić

So when we start talking about consuming, we are talking about a realm that is kind of broader than the realm of things. It all depends on great reading that generates both attention to language and good writing and thought. It is, in the end, the art of paying attention.

With topics diverse as signs and subjectivity, empiricism and the unobservable world, doubt and impersonality, unreciprocatable love and community ethics, the immateriality of pain and feeling faith, prosthetic sovereignty and the politics of new beginnings, Melville’s Philosophies gives us an exhilaratingly re-imagined Melville and, in the process, gives us much-needed insight into contemporary questions of belief and attachment, materiality and ethics, aesthetics and sensation, and the limits of justice.

Department of English and Comparative Literature

He differentiates objects as entities that depend on human recognition and appropriation, and then in return enact reification, as opposed to things, which can exist with or without humans, in landscapes that are not anthropomorphic. The canoe either becomes sacred, or is integrated into the floor of churches to be part of the life of the living. But I also want to think that when people think about consuming they think about the lives of beings other than humans, and do their best to respect them, maybe not even consume.

Objects are known through their market value or exchange value, which makes them, in Marxist terms, little fetishes. Where did I read that?

But could a thing contain human to human relations that are non-economic? But whatever we do to them, we are also, by the moment we start acting on them on them — on our affects or our sensations or our perceptions — touched by them. What emerges is a Melville who is materialistically oriented in a radical way, a Melville who thinks about life forms not just in the context of contemporary sciences but also ontologically.

It is fueled by an intense obsession with not just the world of things but with what that collection would make to the world of the collector. Even a creative production can be commodified and made into an object.


Some people collect worthless things. The tree sacrificed for a canoe is just one of many examples — these cosmologies can teach us a lot about possible way of lives of things that would not be capitalist objects.

Sometimes, ethical acts can be ways to mark yourself or to be in a certain way, in a more concrete and unified way. Self is constantly being re-negotiated through not just some interiority that, say, psychoanalysis posits with some unconsciousness then that kind of presses on us and wants to get out, but through the brajka encounters and external world.

So you can say, you live in a capitalist society and there are only so many place people can shop for clothes, which is true. It is rather to say that things start happening to us much before we actually became aware of their happening to us, and then we can then think about whether we can act against them to react to them.

As you were talking about the subject-object relation, you seem to suggest that the process through which things become objects is through language grafting that meaning onto them. In the context of perpetual consumption, does the thing-object distinction present us with a more ethical way to relate to the things we consume?

Things Beyond Commodities: An Interview with Branka Arsić | Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

From food to clothing, almost all the things we bring into our lives are bought or acquired in some kind of way, especially in this city. But I know you think a lot about moving away from the self or reducing its boundaries. And that interaction, again, will change you. Once at Columbia she began to investigate the broader influence of Edwards, which led her to Emerson. Self is something that is not something that exists in some kind of formed, stable, fixed interiority into which all of this exteriority comes and I kind of process it, but keep it under control.

But where do we exercise control? Finally, as a result of the readings collected here, Melville emerges as a very relevant thinker for contemporary philosophical concerns, such as the materialist turn, climate change, and post-humanism.

Your example of the canoe, an extension of a tree, is imbued with meaning from natural life. Here, there is a set of questions that is absolutely related to capitalism, most obviously the way we consume energy, enacting geological brania, climate change, all kinds of stuff to the Earth.

What should I do about that?


Emerson would always say that we find ourselves in a certain mood. That answers to a lot of arsc I have about the way I relate to objects and sort of store myself in objects in my room. She finds that when she teaches this cluster of authors, her students get extra-involved. For that reason, they cannot exist but in relation to a subject or an owner. Those are, in fact, affects that work in us and re-work us before we can even figure out the kinds of changes that have been initiated in us.

In her latest book, Bird Relics: I think many people realized, a long time ago, what some theorists do not realize today: What is the opposite of commodifying art?

Branka Arsić

CJLC began by asking Professor Arsic about non-capitalist ontologies of things, and then expanded the definition of consumption to discuss the porosity of the self, which led us to think about reading as a tool of perception in the art of ordinary living. Most obviously, we have to think about fair trade, we have to think — a lot of people think about — health issues, organic food, responsible growing.

A Final Appearance with Elihu Vedder: That brings to mind the contemporary art market, in which people collect art objects to store wealth and accrue value. Emily Dickinson, the Archive and the Lyric. Thoreau visits estate sales and tries to salvage certain things from the property of people he never met and did not know. I have a tactile relationship to the surface of the paper and so I almost have this little ritual of choosing which paper is right for which sentence, which chapter — it breathes arsicc energy into my thinking, and I write better.

By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy. Edgar Allen Poe, for instance, wrote a beautiful letter in which he wonders whether people who live thousands of years ago were somehow substantially different from us, on the basis brankx technology.

Materialist Poetics of the Nineteenth Century Americas, which discusses how American authors from Poe and Melville brankka Pierce, William James and Chestnutt imagined the capacity of matter to move and transform. Print this Page Share this Page.