The questionnaire beckons as a mundane object rife with complexity. Evan Kindley’s book considers the questionnaire as both a scientific instrument and as a game, intriguingly and recursively pressing a question on his readers: Why do we fill out questionnaires? The questionnaire is one of those things that seems to exist equally as a virtual reality and as a simple routine—but which, the more one considers it, the more its objectness gets tacky and textured. Kindley draws from sources as diverse as canonical literature, occult paraphernalia, and online minutiae. Questionnaire will appeal the skeptic, the cynic, and the devotee alike, teaching all in turn lessons about the forms we fill out in anger, desire, or despair.
Shopping malls may be one of the more ubiquitous places of contemporary life in consumer culture—yet do we know what they really are? Matthew Newton takes his readers on a journey at once personal and cultural, architectural and fictive, exploring the quotidian marvels as well as the seedy underbelly of this paradigmatic site, the mall. Balancing memoir with cultural analysis, Newton considers shopping malls as vast spaces, existing in various forms, in so many different places. Arguably too big to count as a single object, the shopping mall nevertheless manages to stick together as a real thing that we encounter in everyday life as well as in cultural representations. The mall is a thing full of other things, a capacious object brimming with lessons.
Unraveling the sock’s history, construction, and necessity, Kim Adrian’s Sock reintroduces us to our own bodies—vulnerable, bipedal, and flawed—by examining this most common of objects, something we daily tug on and take off with hardly a thought. Sock reminds us that extraordinary secrets live in mundane material realities, and reveals how this floppy, often smelly, sometimes holey piece of clothing—whether machine made and ordered online or hand knit and given as a gift—can also serve as an anatomy lesson, a physics primer, a love letter, a weapon, a fetish, or a fashion statement. Consider the sock.
William Germano‘s Eye Chart is a meditation on the sharp, the fuzzy, and the invisible. It’s about that familiar thing we read with difficulty, and only partially. Reading the eye chart is an exercise in failure, since it only gets interesting when you can’t read any further. It’s the opposite of interpretative reading—to read the eye chart is to read it up the way we might use something up or eat it up. You can try to read the eye chart, but you know you can’t finish it. The eye chart—essential diagnostic tool, template, sign, toy—is a monument to un-reading and a guide to the absurdities of modern life.
In this book, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lindy Elkins-Tanton explore what happens when we think of the Earth as an object viewable from space. As a “blue marble,” “a blue pale dot,” a spaceship, an organism, or (as Chaucer described it) “this litel spot of erthe,” the solitary orb is a challenge to scale and to human self-importance. Beautiful and self-contained, the Earth suspended in cold blackness turns out to be far less knowable than it at first appears: its vast interior is after all an inferno of incandescent and yet solid rock and a reservoir of water vaster than the ocean, a world within the world. Viewing the Earth from space also invites both comparisons to its sister planets, and the subsequent dive into the abyss of scale: how can humans apprehend the distances, the temperatures, and the time scale on which planets are born, evolve, and die?
Starting from her own marriage ceremony at when she first wore a full veil, Rafia Zakaria explores how the physical reality of the veil as an object is catalyzed by the context of the wearer to produce new and unexpected meanings. Part memoir and part philosophical investigation, Veil unravels modernist assumptions that the seen is automatically the good and the free, while the veiled represents servility and subterfuge. Taking readers through personal encounters with the veil, from France where it is banned to Iran where it is forced, Zakaria reveals how the veil’s reputation as a pre-modern relic is being reconfigured to contest accepted ideas of meaning and morality. The veil emerges as an object transformed by post-modernity, whose myriad meanings pose a collective challenge to the absolute truths of patriarchy.
In this book, Anna Leahy takes readers on an intellectual adventure around cultural concepts and attitudes that shape ways humans research scientifically, treat medically, and talk socially about these things, tumors. With the likelihood that one in two men and one in three women will develop invasive cancer, tumors have the power to redefine our identities and change how we live and interact with each other and the world around us. With poetic verve and acuity, Leahy explores why and how tumors happen, how we think and talk about them, and how we try to rid ourselves of them. Tumor is about the object that is you.
In Personal Stereo, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow takes us back to a time when a handheld device was both a marvel and a danger. This book illuminates how personal stereos like Sony’s Walkman changed forever public space and boring tasks, and shows how the initial reception of portable cassette players can help us put our hopes and fears about today’s devices into perspective. Brimming with stories of audio technology, public space, personal affect, and global economy, Tuhus-Dubrow’s study ranges over an intricate landscape of semiotic and cultural touch points that together make the personal stereo an iconic piece of postmodern equipment.
What exactly is jet lag? And, more importantly, how do we live with jet lag? Christopher J. Lee’s book introduces jet lag as an object of study, tracing medical, temporal, and technological approaches for understanding this strange, hidden cost of our populist cosmopolitanism today. Drawing upon personal experience and an array of cultural registers, Jet Lag considers this present-day Icarian experience to be an allegory of our intrinsic human limits in the face of modern technological change. Jet lag is revealed to be an unavoidable discomfort, an existential condition that is the result of the human body and its inner clock being pitched against the time-leaping effects of modern aviation technologies.
At turns lightly philosophical and stylistically playful, this book is about a strange object—strange in part because it is something that we all have been, and that many of us eat. Nicole Walker‘s Egg relishes in sharp juxtapositions of seemingly disjunctive or repellent topics, so that reproductive science and gustatory habits are considered alongside one another, and personal narrative and broad swaths of natural history jostle, like yolk and albumen. Egg, with its multiple narratives, styles, and contexts, draws together a quirky series of perspectives on this common object, setting it within a new frame—or plural frames, mapping curious eggs across times, scales, and spaces.
Fetishized, demonized, celebrated and outlawed, the high heel is central to the iconography of modern womanhood. But are high heels good? Are they feminist? What does it mean for a woman (or, for that matter, a man) to choose to wear them? Meditating on the labyrinthine nature of sexual identity and the performance of gender, Summer Brennan‘s High Heel moves from film to fairytale, from foot binding to feminism, and from the golden ratio to glam rock. It considers this most provocative of fashion accessories as a nexus of desire and struggle, sex and society, setting out to understand what it means to be a woman by walking a few hundred years in her shoes.