Things, Part I
Things: A Story of the Sixties, cover design by Stephen Raw, Collins Harvill, 1990
In George Perec's first novel Things
, published in 1965, the protagonists are a pair of disillusioned dropouts who are quickly revived when they join the (then-newly minted) field of market research — a choice that ultimately traps them in a kind of closed loop of consumer greed. It's easy to perceive this story as a fictional depiction of bourgeois culture (the characters become puppets in a modern retelling of an ancient parable, proving that no good ever comes of wanting too much) when, in point of fact, Perec's narrative is stunningly, even disturbingly accurate as a modern-day portrayal of capitalist greed.
Yet wanting things is what people do, and today, material culture is even a serious academic discipline. (And a beat at The New York Times
, thank you very much, Rob Walker
!) We continue to fetishize things, but now we recognize — indeed, pathologize — our bourgeois longings. There are conferences
and books that examine our visceral attachment to objects...