Malicious Objects, Anger Management, and the Question of Modern Literature

Malicious Objects, Anger Management, and the Question of Modern Literature

Malicious Objects, Anger Management, and the Question of Modern Literature

Malicious Objects, Anger Management, and the Question of Modern Literature


Why do humans get angry with objects? Why is it that a malfunctioning computer, a broken tool, or a fallen glass causes an outbreak of fury? How is it possible to speak of an inanimate object's recalcitrance, obstinacy, or even malice? When things assume a will of their own and seem to act out against human desires and wishes rather than disappear into automatic, unconscious functionality, the breakdown is experienced not as something neutral but affectively--as rage or as outbursts of laughter. Such emotions are always psychosocial: public, rhetorically performed, and therefore irreducible to a "private" feeling.

By investigating the minutest details of life among dysfunctional household items through the discourses of philosophy and science, as well as in literary works by Laurence Sterne, Jean Paul, Friedrich Theodor Vischer, and Heimito von Doderer, Kreienbrock reconsiders the modern bourgeois poetics that render things the way we know and suffer them.


-----------------------Shut the door.------------------------

—LAURENCE STERNE, Tristram Shandy


This study focuses on the obstinate obtrusiveness of what Martin Heidegger calls Zeug, a recalcitrant term that so thoroughly defies translation that only colloquial terms give some handle on what Heidegger is after. Often translated by “equipment,” the term is probably better understood as the underlying stuff of everyday life, the tools and equipment that are at one’s disposal. Malicious objects refuse to disappear into their automatic, unconscious functionality and instead remain stubbornly conspicuous. Endowed with agency, these cunning and perfidious intruders into the lifeworld of the subject seem to actively interrupt his or her intentions, unleashing anger and rage against the object. The malicious object in any case is something the subject experiences as recalcitrant, obtrusive, and vexing. The very possibility of this experience is one of the constitutive features of experience in general: the possibility, that is, that the object will not simply be thrown out there, as the term ob-ject suggests, but will, instead, be thrust into the sphere of activity that is most fully the subject’s own, the place where the subject feels most fully its sovereignty. And the realization of the experience in question, this study argues, gives direction to some of the most probing texts of literary modernity.

By focusing on the minute details of everyday human life, as they are reflected in the literary texts under consideration, this study argues for a reevaluation of the seemingly irrational, that is, affective, qualities of . . .

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