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The Way Things Go

An Essay on the Matter of Second Modernism

2014
Author:

Aaron Jaffe

The Way Things Go

That rare modernist book: erudite, innovative, thought provoking, and playful

The Way Things Go argues that modernist critical theory and aesthetic method are bound up with the inhuman fate of things as novelty becoming waste. Offering a thesis demonstrated via a century-long countdown of stuff, Aaron Jaffe demonstrates that literary criticism is the one mode of analysis that can unpack the many things that, at first glance, seem so nonliterary.

A brilliant feat of cultural connecting: of cross-reading, from epistemology to objects and vice versa, and a perfect counterpoint to the lazy, sub-Buddhistic essentialism blighting so much contemporary thinking about things in general and things in particular.

Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder, Men in Space, and C

Buffed 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 Go offers 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 Go delves 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.

The Way Things Go

Aaron Jaffe is professor of English and director of the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity.

The Way Things Go

A brilliant feat of cultural connecting: of cross-reading, from epistemology to objects and vice versa, and a perfect counterpoint to the lazy, sub-Buddhistic essentialism blighting so much contemporary thinking about things in general and things in particular.

Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder, Men in Space, and C

A page-turner.

Leonardo Reviews

Instead of a monograph, we are left with a refreshing hybrid of scholarship, speculative criticism, and reeling proclamation to which it will be a pleasure to return.

Critical Inquiry

Quirky yet surprisingly gripping.

American Literature

The Way Things Go

Contents

Instruction Manual
The Way Things Go
100: I Don't Know about the Coming Singularity
80: Lost and Found
61: That Swell New Thing
37: Risky Things
15: Materials and Their Methods
0: Nothing but Remains

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index