Saturday, January 19, 2008

Taking Things Seriously




I've been enjoying the serialization of the essay book Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance on the website Design Observer. So far, there are six essays posted from Joshua Glenn's Princeton Architectural Press book.

"Many of us invest ordinary objects with other sorts of extraordinary significance," writes Glenn, a writer who has an excellent Boston Globe column and blog about ideas called "Brainiac." He continues,
"My friend Tony crams a U.S. Navy 100-pound practice bomb into his tiny workspace for much the same reason that Greg, a colleague of mine at the Boston Globe, displays a wobbly wooden Santa in his kitchen year-round. These doohickeys are actually fossils, petrified evidence of a vanished epoch (young adulthood). Other writers, thinkers, designers and artists of my acquaintance cherish things — sunglasses found at a yard sale, a colored-sand-filled glass clown, a one-eyed ceramic frog — for equally irrational reasons."
The 75 essays by a variety of writers and artists like critic and The Baffler creator Thomas Frank and Cabinet Magazine editor Sina Najafi, are sometimes pretty short, and always accompanies by photos of the objects.

The idea is obviously reminiscent of Roland Barthes' late 50s anthology Mythologies, a collection of essays the French critic wrote about things as various as wrestling and detergents.

Barthes wrote his essays to try to examine ordinary objects which he had felt had become caught up in the mythology of daily modern life, and thus robbed of layers of meaning. I think Glenn's project is similar, but much more personal and much more focused on the things, rather than on the stories that swirl around them.

I have hundreds of odd and precious objects that I'd like to write about. Some have already appeared on this blog, like Chairman Mao's red book, my toothbrush collection, my paper clip collection, a plaid tie with a dog on it by Polo, and an autographed photo of Dom DeLuise.

I'm ultimately disappointed in some of the essays from Glenn's book. I don't think they're thoughtful enough. In the next couple of months, I'll try my own version.

Here are the six essays that appear on Design Observer:
William Drenttel on a ten-year-old dried artichoke
Dmitri Siegel on the Aphex Twin Big Bottom Exciter
Greg Klee on a wooden Santa figure (shown above)
Carol Hayes on a needlepoint sampler (shown above)
Thomas Frank on a French WWI helmut
Beth Daniels on a pencil sharperner shaped like a TV (shown above)

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