Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Houses and stuff

Daniel Miller’s Stuff is the best thing I’ve read for a long while. For a start he writes well; but also the book is an intriguing glance over the shoulder at his own journeys in social anthropology and the investigation of material culture. A favourite extract is where he launches into a passionate rebuttal of the semiotic perspective on clothing: ‘what and where is this self that the clothes represent?’ he asks. ‘In both philosophy and everyday life we imagine that there is a real or true self which lies deep within us....It is as though if we peeled off enough layers we would finally get to the real self within.’ And then ‘if you keep peeling off our layers you find: absolutely nothing left. There is no true inner self. We are not Emperors represented by clothes, because if we remove the clothes there isn’t an inner core. The clothes were not superficial, they actually made us what we think we are.’ (p.13). It’s the sort of performative account of ourselves that I was alluding to here. After all that I’m now in Houses: Accommodating Theory (Chapter 3), I wonder if that will be as entertaining.

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