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Waste (Object Lessons) Paperback – September 24, 2015
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"Fascinating, thought-provoking, and necessary, Brian Thill's Waste is about not just our present but our future. You can't read it and come out of the experience unchanged." ―Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times-Bestselling Author of The Southern Reach trilogy
"If 'waste,' as Brian Thill points out, is any object plus time, then Waste is waste plus spirited curiosity and tremendous intelligence. With a gaze full of vigor and heart, Thill looks at the fate of what we discard-from space junk to horse corpses to bird bellies split open from plastic-and illuminates invisible margins we'd often rather forget. I read the whole book in one sitting, spellbound." ―Leslie Jamison, New York Times-Bestselling Author of The Empathy Exams
"Waste is the finest filth around-or really the finest mediation of it I can think of: Thill looks deeply into how what we waste controls us at the level of the personal and the public-our discards become our fate and home both-and finds treasure." ―Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night
"The Object Lessons series achieves something very close to magic: the books take ordinary―even banal―objects and animate them with a rich history of invention, political struggle, science, and popular mythology. Filled with fascinating details and conveyed in sharp, accessible prose, the books make the everyday world come to life. Be warned: once you've read a few of these, you'll start walking around your house, picking up random objects, and musing aloud: 'I wonder what the story is behind this thing?'"―Steven Johnson, best-selling author of How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
"The Object Lessons project, edited by game theory legend Ian Bogost and cultural studies academic Christopher Schaberg, commissions short essays and small, beautiful books about everyday objects from shipping containers to toast. The Atlantic hosts a collection of "mini object-lessons", brief essays that take a deeper look at things we generally only glance upon ('Is bread toast only insofar as a human toaster perceives it to be "done?" Is bread toast when it reaches some specific level of nonenzymatic browning?'). More substantive is Bloomsbury's collection of small, gorgeously designed books that delve into their subjects in much more depth." ―Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
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In a series of interconnected essays, Thill frequently glosses the work of other writers while offering his own cultural theory of waste. As he observes toward the end of the book, the topic is inevitably a reflection of time and taste: the most valued item now may be trash in a matter of years, if not months. One man’s curio collection appears to another as teeming clutter. We should find each of these conditions far more discomfiting than we do.
Thill’s book creates such discomfiture, but in the most gentle and graceful way. He’ll comment on a terrible 1970s TV sci-fi comedy (Quark, about a space trash collector), finding a kernel of insight embedded in an utterly trashy precursor to Wall-E (another film mentioned in Waste). He brilliantly compares the shows American Pickers and Hoarders, finding an industrial solidarity in the former that is utterly lacking in the latter’s pathologization of people who probably happen to waste less than many of us—they just make the mistake of keeping it all in one place.
Thill makes a distinction between the (beautiful) ruins and the (neglected or despised) derelict toward the beginning of the book, and signals his work as an effort to mark, elevate, or delineate the importance of the latter. But the book’s cover (with an image of a statue of Augustus floating along a stream of detritus) and its restrained and elegant style signal an aspiration for this work itself to last, to be a guide for future thinkers trying to understand the bizarre juxtapositions of excess and deprivation (on bodies and in communities) so common in 21st century America.
Waste should last—it continues a tradition of critical theory going back at least to Walter Benjamin, of deeply pondering our material, manmade surroundings, and hearing what they say. Thill has listened intently to the objects and experiences most of the rest of us are fast to trash or trample, and this volume is a considered, concise reflection on what we should deeply ponder before we continue to do so.