Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

The Tears of Things

Melancholy and Physical Objects

2005
Author:

Peter Schwenger

The Tears of Things

Reveals the object as the self’s ultimate other

The Tears of Things looks at literary and cultural attempts to control and possess things—including paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, sculpture by Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell's boxes, Edward Gorey's graphic art, fiction by Virginia Woolf, and the corpse photographs of Joel Peter Witkin. What emerges is not an art that reassembles but one that questions what it means to assemble in the first place.

Peter Schwenger shows why and how the representation and organization of the inanimate object world perpetually falls short of our aspirations, and he shows what things get left behind. He makes an important contribution to the field of 'object studies' that has captivated the critical imagination. And perhaps above all, he explains something about the ache with which each of us must live as a thing among things.

Bill Brown, author of A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature

We surround ourselves with material things that are invested with memories but can only stand for what we have lost. Physical objects—such as one’s own body—situate and define us; yet at the same time they are fundamentally indifferent to us. The melancholy of this rift is a rich source of inspiration for artists.

Peter Schwenger deftly weaves together philosophical and psychoanalytical theory with artistic practice. Concerned in part with the act of collecting, The Tears of Things is itself a collection of exemplary art objects—literary and cultural attempts to control and possess things—including paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe and René Magritte; sculpture by Louise Bourgeois and Marcel Duchamp; Joseph Cornell’s boxes; Edward Gorey’s graphic art; fiction by Virginia Woolf, Georges Perec, and Louise Erdrich; the hallucinatory encyclopedias of Jorge Luis Borges and Luigi Serafini; and the corpse photographs of Joel Peter Witkin.

However, these representations of objects perpetually fall short of our aspirations. Schwenger examines what is left over—debris and waste—and asks what art can make of these. What emerges is not an art that reassembles but one that questions what it means to assemble in the first place. Contained in this catalog of waste is that ultimate still life, the cadaver, where the subject-object dichotomy receives its final ironic reconciliation.

The Tears of Things

Peter Schwenger is professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of Fantasm and Fiction: On Textual Envisioning, Letter Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word, and Phallic Critiques: Masculinity and Twentieth-Century Literature.

The Tears of Things

Peter Schwenger shows why and how the representation and organization of the inanimate object world perpetually falls short of our aspirations, and he shows what things get left behind. He makes an important contribution to the field of 'object studies' that has captivated the critical imagination. And perhaps above all, he explains something about the ache with which each of us must live as a thing among things.

Bill Brown, author of A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature