Bill Brown

Bill Brown
Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture
  • Department of English
  • Department of Visual Arts
  • Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
  • Deputy Provost for the Arts
  • Principal Investigator, Object Cultures Project at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory
  • Coeditor, Critical Inquiry
Walker 502
(773) 702-4525

In the past, my research has focused on popular literary genres (e.g. science fiction, the Western), on recreational forms (baseball, kung fu), and on the ways that mass-cultural phenomena (from roller coasters to Kodak cameras) impress themselves on the literary imagination. Rather than assuming that historical contexts help to explain a particular literary text, I assume that literature provides access to an otherwise unrecuperable history. In other words, I believe that the act of literary analysis (including formal analysis) can become an "historiographical operation" all its own.

Things: Edited by Bill Brown

More recently, I have worked at the intersection of literary, visual, and material cultures, with an emphasis on what I call "object relations in an expanded field." I askhow inanimate objects enable human subjects (individually and collectively) to form and transform themselves—and indeed how objects andsubjects transform oneanother. I tried, in a piece called "Thing Theory," topoint out how things and thingness might become new objects of critical analysis.In Other Things—focusingsuch analysis through‘The Matter of Modernism,’ ‘Unhuman History,’ and ‘Kitsch Kulchur’—I engage a very wide range of work: Bergson, Bachelard,Arendt, Latour; Homer, Virginia Woolf, Philip K.Dick, Shawn Wong; Man Ray, Spike Lee, Dan Flavin, Brian Jungen.Dislodging the object-thing distinction from fundamental ontology (Heidegger) and from psychoanalysis (Lacan), I use it as a tool for apprehending the unanticipated force of an object, however banal that object may be.This is a new materialism within which the thingness of an object cannot be abstracted from the field of culture. Currently I’m at work on a project called “Re-Assemblage,”which asks how assemblage practices (across the literary, visual, and plastic arts) might contribute to assemblage theory in the social sciences.

Sample of Courses Taught

    Graduate: LateJames; Urban Fiction and American Space, 1880-1910; Modernity and the Sense of Things; Romantic Fetishism; Kitsch, Camp, and the Politics of Culture; Thing Theory; Assemblage.

    Undergraduate: Whitman, Henry James, Philip K. Dick, The American 1890s, and Modernism, both American and British. BLAST: Avant-Garde London, 1912-1920; Studio R-A (A Theory/History –Design/Build Studio)

Selected Publications

  • Other Things (Chicago, 2015).
  • A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago, 2003).
  • Things, a special issue of Critical Inquiry (Fall 2001).
  • Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Novels (Bedford Books, 1997).
  • The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play (Harvard, 1996).
  • "The Origin of the American Work of Art," American Literary History (Winter 2013)
  • "Anarchéologie: Object Culture, Circa Now," The Way of the Shovel (Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, 2013)
  • "The Bodies of Things," Bodies and Things in Nineteenth-Century Writing (2012)
  • "Commodity Nationalism and the Lost Object," The Pathos of Authenticity (2010)
  • "Textual Materialism," PMLA (January 2010)
  • "Objects, Other, and Us (The Re-fabrication of Things)" Critical Inquiry (2010)
  • "Counting (Arts and Disciplines)," Critical Inquiry (2009).
  • "Materiality," Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago, 2009).
  • "Now Advertising: Late James," Henry James Review (2009).
  • "Reweaving the Carpet," New Literary History (2009).
  • "Object Relations in an Expanded Field," differences (Fall 2006).
  • "The Dark Wood of Postmodernity: Space, Faith, Allegory," PMLA (May 2005).
  • "Reification, Reanimation, and the American Uncanny," Critical Inquiry (Winter 2005).
  • "The Matter of Dreiser's Modernity," The Cambridge Companion to Theodore Dreiser (2004).
  • "The Secret Life of Things: Virginia Woolf and the Matter of Modernism," Aesthetic Subjects (Minnesota, 2003).
  • "How To Do Things With Things-A Toy Story," Critical Inquiry (Summer 1998).
  • "Global Bodies / Postnationalities: Charles Johnson's Consumer Culture," Representations (Spring 1997).
  • "Science Fiction, the World's Fair, and the Prosthetics of Empire, 1910-1915," Cultures of U.S. Imperialism (Duke, 1993).
  • "The Meaning of Baseball in 1992 (With Notes on the Post-American)," Public Culture (Fall 1991).


Ph.D., Stanford University, 1989. Teaching at Chicago since 1989.