Alberto Tondello (UCL) - 2017-18 Students

Inanimate Matter in the Writing of James Joyce: Objects, Things, and Quasi-Objects within and beyond Consumerist Culture

My research project will examine the ways in which the depiction of inanimate matter evolves in the writing of James Joyce, from his earliest writings to Ulysses. Under the broad umbrella of the term “inanimate”, I intend to gather three categories of lifeless matter as defined in Bill Brown’s ‘Thing Theory’, and Bruno Latour’s ‘Network Actor Theory’: objects, things, and quasi-objects. I will embark on a unique examination of Joyce’s works, which will seek to analyse the innovative ways in which the author shows human knowledge to be constituted in relation to objects. Joyce’s novels are an exceptionally rich site for the depiction of docile objects which stand at the disposal of the subject, obstinate things which resist instrumentalisation, and travelling quasi-objects which define subjectivities. Joyce’s panoply of styles unsettles the rigid dichotomy between object and subject which lies at the basis of Western metaphysics and consumerist society, thus dramatizing and problematising commonplace notions of our relations to objects.

I hope, by drawing on the complication of Joyce’s conception of what it means to enter into contact with everyday objects, to contribute to the field of Thing Theory. The relation between human and non-human matter evolved markedly with the emergence of things and objects as mass-produced commodities. While Joyce brings a singular deftness to the portrayal of this particular relation, his attention to the modalities of perception, allied with his meticulousness in rendering the smallest details of everyday life, invite and enable a rethinking of our relationship with the material world thorough and beyond consumer culture.

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