Week 13: Hybrids

For the final week of class we had two new readings and one revisiting of a previous work. The title of this weeks reading, Hybrids, seemed appropriate since the topics of each reading ranged from postmodernism to ethical concerns over objects. However, despite the seeming lack of connection, these works do come together to inform how we should look at material culture moving forwards after the end of the class. The one work that we reread was a New York Times article by Sam Anderson on Edmund de Waal, an artist who works with porcelain. De Waal stressed that one must touch an object to transcend both space and time since objects become “repositories of human experience.” Furthermore, in his book The Hare With Amber Eyes, de Waal believed that “touch tells you what you need to know: it tells you about yourself.’’ This is the important part of de Waal’s method since it is used not only to understand the history of the object but also to understand one’s relation to that object.

The second reading was a chapter from Laura Levitt’s upcoming book, Evidence as Archive. The chapter entitled “Potter’s Hands: Precarium or the Holocaust Object” looked at how we can use objects to make real the collective and person loss that results from violence (10). In this chapter, Levitt used De Waal’s book, which traced his family history through Japanese netsuke that they recovered after World War II, to tell the story of loss and show how objects relate to each other and to us. Levitt’s approach is interesting since she began with an examine of a biblical passage on judgment through the metaphor of a potter but then rejects this as not reflective of De Waal’s experience and views as a potter. Thus through this chapter, Levitt explores more ethical problems when dealing with objects, as in this case, there is the struggle to return objects back to their original owners before World War II. This is an important work because it reveals the deeper meaning and importance that objects take on for people when dealing with suffering and loss.

The final reading was an chapter by Bruno Latour entitled “Crisis,” from his book We Were Never Modern. This article is a clear example of postmodernism as it rejects the structuralism that defined modernism. Indeed, Latour argues against a dual dichotomy that we have created, one between nature and man and one between those two and networks society (11). Latour believes that it is necessary to tear down the divides between this parts since divides and artificial barriers make understanding incomprehensible (3).  While there are some concerns with the postmodern conclusions, Latour’s work is interesting and adds a unique perspective to how we can understand our relationship to things.




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