Things we think with

by Cynthia Newberry Martin on April 17, 2011

Sherry Turkle asked scientists, humanists, artists, and designers to “trace the power of objects in their lives, objects that connect them to ideas and people.” In Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, published in 2007 by the MIT Press, you’ll find thirty-four essays on objects such as a rolling pin, a yellow raincoat, an axe head, a suitcase, a stuffed bunny, an apple.

In “Knots,” Carol Strohecker writes, “I understand being pulled; it is something that I know.”

In “The Archive,” Susan Yee writes about studying Le Corbusier’s drawings and how fortunate she feels to belong to a generation that has both created drawings on paper and on the computer. Drawings now, she writes, “are born digital. They will never be touched.”

Turkle divides the essays into six categories: objects of design and play, objects of discipline and desire, objects of history and exchange, objects of transition and passage, objects of mourning and memory, and objects of meditation and new vision.

My favorite essay was “Death-Defying Superheroes,” written by Henry Jenkins and placed by Turkle in the section on Objects of Mourning and Memory. Jenkins had read comics since grade school but became attached to them the week his mother died.

Retreating from the emotional drama that surrounded me, I found myself staring into the panic-stricken eyes of a young Bruce Wayne, kneeling over the newly murdered bodies of his parents. I had visited that mo ment many ti mes before, but this time, our common plight touched me deeply.

Over the years, as he ages, the comics remain the same.

As such, they help me to reflect on the differences between who I am now and who I was when I first read them.

As Turkle writes in her introduction to the essays, “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.”

~cross-posted at catching days

Amanda April 17, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I love this! Reminds me of Neruda’s Odes — to the onion, to the scissors. The object is a universe of questions. Neruda’s odes are great teaching tools, for this and many other reasons. It also reminds me of the pedagogy of Critical Exploration, a progressive approach to teaching and learning (Eleanor Duckworth, Harvard) which talks a lot about the power of having a “third thing”” in the learning space as a way to generate conversation. To diffuse the direct teacher/student dynamic, the real object (a map, a thimble, a knot) becomes the center piece for learning, the source stone, the hot spot, for revelation & thought. Viva la object. Now, perception is another questions. Leave that to the philosophers/theologians.

Cynthia Newberry Martin April 19, 2011 at 6:38 am

Amanda, I love your comment. Wonderful associations. Thanks for sharing.

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