Thingly Things


I received this in my inbox recently and all I can manage to say is holy crap. Forget the fellowship. I am dropping out of school, I really am.

CALL FOR PAPERS: “Things Matter”

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Department of English
March 13-14, 2008
Keynote Speaker: Bill Brown, University of Chicago

iPhones and Ikea, megastores and Manolo Blahniks, falling buildings and rising temperatures ­ with the quickening pace of globalization, neo-imperialism, and digitalization, and the rise of neo-liberal approaches to politics, economics, and social-engineering, scholars throughout the academy have become increasingly concerned with the decline of the natural and the human, and the concomitant rise of commodities and material culture, the ascension of things. Yet things have always been with us, and in order to understand their unique role in contemporary global society and unique significance to contemporary literary and cultural studies, we must also understand their past, as sacred objects, crude commodities, and cherished bearers of cultural memory. What role do things play in our daily lives? What roles have they played in our past? Is there any room for humanity in a world of things?

The Graduate English Students Association at the University of Virginia seeks to explore these and other thing-ly matters at our annual conference, to be held on March 13 and 14, 2008.

While I admire the use of the word “thing-ly,” I am wildly disturbed by the fact that people will spend money (and time! time, people!) to attend this conference and that some will even write papers and books on “thing-ly things” that will probably get them tenure.

Oh my dear god.

This is not, by any means, the most ridiculous call for papers I’ve ever seen. Not even the least academic. But something about it speaks to me. Because really: in a world where we have come up with words like “performativity” and “aquasorbitiveness” can these conference people really not come up with a better word than “thing”? A word that would lend seriousness and scholarliness? A word that would require us to spend the first several pages of our papers on things simply defining the word? Because if we can’t spend at least 2000 words defining stuff, then what will we write about? And how will anyone know how smart we are?


5 Responses to “Thingly Things”

  1. You’re in trouble. The farther I get from the mainstream of academic life, the more I get intrusive thoughts like these. And I say “down, intrusive thoughts!” but they just keep cropping back up again.

  2. If you think it sounds nuts and overthink-y (overthinkily?) imagine how it must sound to me, a denizen of the “real” world. ;)

    Concomitant…is that an endangered water bird?

    I want to change my blog name to Cherished Bearer of Cultural Memory. Do you think it will increase traffic?


    Thanks for sharing.

    Using My Words

  3. Whoah. I used to love school. But that sounds CRAZY!!!! :-)

  4. Thing-ly matters. Thing-ly matters.

    I keep repeating it in my head, but it still doesn’t sound academic enough for a call for papers. Sorry, Bill Brown.

  5. Of course, if you could write a paper about thing-ly things, working in the words “truthiness” and “w00t”, you’d have tenure for sure.

    Next year’s word of the year will be “thing-ly” for sure.

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