THING THEORY AND THE APPEAL OF LITERATURE
The term “thing theory” was coined in 2001 by the American Bill Brown who was trying to speak out in favor of things as a possible alternative to endless abstraction. This essay claims that thing theory not only opens up the possibility of a fresh approach to literature but also to some extent accounts for why literature is attractive. After briefly exploring the roots of thing theory in the work of Viktor Shklovsky and Martin Heidegger, I propose that readers are drawn to literature not just because literary texts are character- or plot-driven but also because they are thing-driven. I claim that Shklovsky’s long-standing emphasis on plot (inextricably intertwined with character) is at odds with the Russian Formalist’s own famous statement about art allowing us to feel the stoniness of the stone, and I suggest a parallel between Shklovsky’s contention that literature makes the stone stoney and Heidegger’s celebration of literature as guarding against the loss of “thingness.” The contention that works of literature provide a platform on which things may be allowed to speak their own “being” is then traced through three works of fiction by Gustave Flaubert, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and José Saramago.
Keywords: thingness, defamiliarization, Heidegger, Flaubert, Robbe-Grillet, Saramago.