I am left feeling…well, to be perfectly frank, I am left feeling. Perhaps that is the point. There is no doubt in my mind that this class has made manifest the objects and things in my life in a way entirely novel. I walk away, if indeed it is possible to locate oneself in any place “away” from objects (I believe Harmon and Latour would question this ability), with an understanding that the world is indeed full of objects who hold sway in the daily exercise of human life. I do not necessarily see an agreement among our authors in the way this influence is expressed, but this debate only makes things more powerful, stronger.
The thread, then, that holds them together for me is the ephemeral power of things. Be it Brown’s ambiguity, Heidegger’s thingness, Gell’s captivation, Miller and Ingold’s materiality (not the same, note), Bennett’s assemblage, or Latour’s network, there is no denying that objects have a hold over (or around, or under, or in) humanity. We are not separable from our things, and maybe never have been (man make tool, man make fire). Given this incredible history, I do not find it surprising that theories of our engagement with things should proliferate, nor that they should be engaged in controversy.
To convolute the matter, I feel that we missed a tremendous piece of the puzzle. Despite Henare and companies call for a study of the myriad worlds humans find themselves in (create), we looked at only one. The tremendous amount of material and argument we grappled with is only one viewpoint of things. Missing is the native voice of the Inca, the Hutu, the Cherokee, etc. Their lives are also amassed with things, but these are not Heidegger’s jug, Ingold’s rock, or Brown’s dirty window. What, I ask, would be thing theory to the Khamag or the Yamamano?
So what, in the end, is a thing? It is anything and yet everything. It is animate and inanimate, isolated and connected, black boxed and assembled, transparent and frustratingly opaque. It enables and resists, it acts and yet refrains from action, it is material and immaterial. It is subject and object. In short, it is all and none. At first, this appears to be a dismal end to our thing theory, but hark! Culture, too, has been called anything and everything. Philosophy has been called the study of all and the study of nothing. This is not a dead end, it is a beginning. No one can say that this study of things has not illuminated them, that things have not taught them. They have given us some thing to think about…