The ‘Introduction’ of *Waste: A Philosophy of Things* Available Here

WasteWith the official UK release of Waste: A Philosophy of Things on 22nd May 2014, Bloomsbury have supplied a preview to give you an idea of the book’s ambitions. You can read the Introduction here.

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About Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

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“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

– See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/waste-9781472527578#sthash.FbBc2Y1X.dpuf“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

Reviews “This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

Table Of Contents

Acknowledgements
List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
Part I: Collecting Waste
2. Narrating the Event of Waste
3. Archaeologies of Waste
Part II: Reading Waste
4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Part III: Building Ruins
6. Ruins Past
7. Ruins of the Future
8. Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Reviews

“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

– See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/waste-9781472527578#sthash.Sndli2r2.dpuf

Waste: A Philosophy of Things, Now Available on Amazon

Though it won’t be available for some months – provisionally scheduled for release in May 2014 – my first book, Waste: A Philosophy of Things, is now listed on Amazon for pre-order. The book will be published by Bloomsbury Academic at a price that will put it beyond the reach of most individuals but with the Waste-A Philosophy of Thingshope that institutions may buy enough copies for a paperback edition to be financially viable. Having worked in academic publishing, helping others to get their work published, I am delighted that I’ll be putting out something of my own. And, though my attention is now directed to other projects, my work on waste is still a source of interest to me and, I hope, not yet redundant by all that has been written and published on the subject since I concluded my research.

Things are changing in publishing and, though I am interested in open culture and, to an extent, the open source publishing models pioneered online, I am still convinced that traditional, hardcopy formats (alongside digital formats), established on flexible but globally structured editorial, publicity and marketing relations, along with the modest kinds of innovation that Bloomsbury are strong on, is a better option for me, at this stage, and for this particular project. If that sounds like I have ethical issues with the academic publishing industry as a whole, well, I do, but this is a book that requires all the support of an established and well-run press of which Bloomsbury is certainly an example.

The cover image is taken sometime in 1888, I think, during the Tower’s construction. I am particularly interested in monuments as waste or as immanent objects of waste, and the temporality of this is explored in the book’s final chapters. It is not the case that all monuments ruin in the same way nor do they always resemble ruins in their construction, but the sight and site of a building being made makes use as well as future ruin possible. It is the relationship between use and waste, use as waste, use making waste, that has captivated me and made this book project so unexpectedly relevant to my current research into the use of twins in contemporary science. More on that elsewhere, for now, I’m looking to topping off the almost-not-quite-yetness of Waste, with the index and final proofs not yet ready.

The Landfill Harmonic (2014)

Landfill Harmonic is an upcoming feature-length documentary about a remarkable orchestra from a remote village in Paraguay, where its young musicians play with instruments made from trash:

Cateura, Paraguay is a town essentially built on top of a landfill. Garbage collectors browse the trash for sellable goods, and children are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs. When orchestra director Szaran and music teacher Favio set up a music program for the kids of Cateura, they soon have more students than they have instruments.

That changed when Szaran and Favio were brought something they had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. Today, there’s an entire orchestra of assembled instruments, now called ‘The Recycled Orchestra’.

Our film shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments, but more importantly, it brings witness to the transformation of precious human beings.

Waste Effects – Table of Contents

As a quick way of navigating this site I thought it might be helpful to upload my table contents and provide links. These are not verbatim extracts but versions or papers that have a close correspondence to the final text. And there are lots of other incidental posts on this site, which closely relate to the subject of waste, that have not made it into the final draft. Now that this project is almost complete, the work in progress found here will be left up as a record of the various iterations it went through before being handed in, together, as my PhD thesis.

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. Introduction
– Use-time and the End of Ends
– Waste-time and the End of the End
– Epic Wastes: “Nothing will come of nothing”
Sovereign Wastes: Unproductive and Uninhabited
– For a Temporal Poetics of Waste
– The Beginning of the End

SECTION 1: COLLECTING WASTE

Chapter 2. Narrating the Event of Waste
Interrupting Waste
Continuities of Waste
Narrating The Event of Waste in the Work of Cornelia Parker

Chapter 3. Archaeologies of Waste
Gathering Waste
– The Contingencies of Narrating Waste
– Anthropologies of Waste: Collecting Culture, Collecting Time
– Archives and the Afterlife of Collections
– Waste Remains, Dust Dissolves

SECTION 2: READING WASTE

Chapter 4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
Make it Waste
– Bringing the Waste Land to Order
– Allusion, Intertexuality and Manuscript Drafts

Chapter 5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Waste Words and Throwaways
– A Language of Flotsam and Jetsam
– Narrating the Place of Textual Waste
– Waste in Progress
– Eliot and Joyce: Writing into Disappearance

SECTION 3: BUILDING RUINS

Chapter 6. Ruins Past
– The Temporality of Use
The Temporality of Ruins
– Ruins and the Past

Chapter 7. Ruins of the Future
Apocalypse, Then
– The Ozymandias Complex
– Encountering Last Things
– Concluding with Ruins

Contemporaries

Becoming a little obsessed with the phenomena of waste in contemporary art has left me vulnerable to discovering just how many other people share something of this obsession.  This realisation doesn’t help me write or plan my thesis one bit and I’ve had to make the uncomfortable decision not to try and give an exhaustive account of all the different ways that objects of waste have been used in sculpture. (Lea Vergine’s When Trash Becomes Art attempts this, giving particular emphasis to European and North American artists of the twentieth century.)  I hope my analysis of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion does enough for me to pass my viva but these close readings offer little comfort when I think of all the fascinating and diverse work being done now. So, I hope to update what follows on a regular basis; whenever I come across a contemporary artist using waste in a striking or unusual way:

Lara Almarcegui

Lara Almarcegui was born in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1972 and now lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Building archives of the transient, Almarcegui collects historical, geographic, ecological, and sociological data about vacant areas in the urban spaces. She says about her work, “one wasteland has very different characteristics from the next. I try to present each site in as much detail as I can, zoom in a lot, try to present the uniqueness of each site.”

Lara Almarcegui, Guide to Ruined Buildings in The Netherlands XIX-XXI Century (2008)

Cutting across her Guides to European and North American wastelands, Almarcegui also looks to the materials of construction and destruction, to the substance of rubble. In her current solo show at Secession, Austria, she has piled the necessary quantities of concrete, wood, terrazzo, brick, mortar, glass, plaster, polystyrene, and steel that were needed for the construction of the Secession exhibition space.

 

Lara Almarcegui, installation view: Construction Rubble of Secession’s Main Hall (2010). Photo: Wolfgang Thaler

These construction materials are heaped together like spices at a market and all are products of recycling processes. They come to evoke both the future and past uses of these objects as well as the future and past uses of the exhibition space. And operating and anticipating a continuum between making and discarding, it seems to me that Almarcegui’s work unearths the etymological root of the work ‘material’, from the Latin materia: “timber roughly squared off for future construction” (see Michel Serres, Rome p. 43). That is to say, her material feels to have a for-ness even when it is ruinous. This point might lead us on to a little quixotic quotation from Jacques Derrida, who observed that “At the origin comes ruin; ruin comes to the origin, it is what first comes and happens to the origin, in the beginning” (Memoirs of the Blind, 65). I like how Almarcegui’s Guides and installations are works that end with beginnings and discover the beginning in the end. Whether or not this is the substance of ‘deconstruction’ is, perhaps, a different matter.

Kathy Taylor

Closer to home. I first discovered Kathy Taylor’s work at the artist’s studios in Wandsworth, London. Having seen a friend on the upper floor of Collective Studios we were greeted by this at the door; snapped with the camera on my mobile telephone:

Kathy Taylor, Quench (2010)

The low quality of my photography actually exaggerates an effect that I think Taylor wants to put to work – that it isn’t immediately obvious that the work is constructed from thousands of used teabags. Falling from a vent, this vine-like construction presents a constellation of national self-description, international finance, caffeinated ritual, European trade and expansionism. It also smells of tea. The work first appeared earlier this year in a collaborative exhibition with Margret Duston.

Kathy Taylor and Margret Duston, Quench (2010). Used teabags, cotton & wire framework (10,000 plus used teabags were donated by local residents).

See Kathy Taylor’s website for more details.

 

Peter Buggenhout

Born 1963 in Dendermonde, Belgium, Peter Buggenhout’s assemblages are really quite odd. This strangeness is largely born out of the waste, household dust, animal hair, blood and intestines that are his source materials. Intricate yet monolithic, his sculptures are both abject and calmly composed; oscillating between the catastrophic remainders of bizarre or subterranean crimes, and a solemn and delicate orderliness.

Peter Buggenhout, TBL, TBL (The Blind Leading The Blind) #2, (2004). Mixed media, stof (h) 95 x (w) 64 x (d) 99 cm

In his series The Blind Leading the Blind, Buggenhout assembles pieces of waste and covers them with thick layers of household dust. Another series of wall-based sculptures entitled Gorgo is made of waste textiles, horse hair and black animal blood. A third series, Mount Ventoux, is formed out of bleached animal intestines stretched over polymorphous shapes of polyurethane foam.

Peter Buggenhout, Gorgo #4 (2005). Blood, pigment, iron, wood, paper, glass. 83 x 148 x 92 cm

Anselm Kiefer

Kiefer was born in Donaueschingen, Germany in 1945. He now lives and works in Provence, France. Once a student of Joseph Beuys, Kiefer shares Beuys’ interest in mixing, combining and confusing unusual objects with great texture and visual complexity. His huge variety of materials – oil paint, dirt, lead, models, photographs, woodcuts, sand, straw – are made to occupy a compelling third space between painting and sculpture. He once said, “All that artists do is to reorganise remnants.” And, in the second part of this BBC ‘Arena’ documentary, Kiefer compares the position of the artist to that of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History’; standing before a chaotic and ever growing heap of ruin.

More to follow…

Cornelia Parker and the Untimeliness of Waste

A version of this text was presented at “L’art Intempestif/Untimely Art”, held at the Institut du monde anglophone, Université de Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle, 9–10 September 2010.

It has become, in recent years, quite common to equate concepts of waste with ideas of dirt, disgust or contagion. Following the work of Mary Douglas (1966), studies across the humanities and social sciences have taken for granted that ‘filth’ and ‘abjection’ provide a necessary condition for waste. Objects of waste, then, stand in opposition to all that is clean, hygienic or orderly. Of course, it is quite easy to think of situations in which we discard something without disgust or recourse to notions of dirt and abjection; objects that are considered technologically, architecturally or informationally obsolete, for instance, are frequently discarded without reference to the idea of dirt, disgust or repulsion. In what follows, I propose, instead, quite a different approach to the subject of waste that stresses the temporal problems that things of waste present. We contrast times of waste with the way in which use brings things into a contemporary and complicit time, made timely by our projects, our plans and our activities. Use makes objects projective in this way, throwing things towards a functioning future. Waste, on the other hand, describes objects that are no longer commensurable with our action. Objects of waste are therefore things that are no longer felt to be our temporal co-dependents. Cut adrift from the teleology of use, the time of waste is untimely, marked by a sense of temporal dislocation.

There are a number of reasons why I have chosen the work of the British artist Cornelia Parker to discuss the relationship between art, waste and temporality. The first reason is a matter of convenience – her work is full of waste things, stuff that has been discarded or is undergoing a process of disposal. The second reason is more specific to Parker’s method of interrogating things and the meanings that pre-exist her interaction with them. Her work demonstrates how these meanings can undergo change, transformation and translation. Her best known works, Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988–89), Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), Mass: Colder Darker Matter (1997), Avoided Object (1995), and The Negative of Words (1996), operate in a diffuse chorus to reassess how meaning becomes attached to and validated by material; explicating how these attachments can become located, detached and reconfigured. Parker does not so much create as recreate things, taking what pre-exists and manipulating this condition of pre-existence in order to query the time we distribute to things.

One of the temporal effects most commonly associated with Parker’s work is the relationship between object and action. This temporal effect is particularly evident in works where Parker includes, manufactures or engages with objects of waste, with things in which the problematic distinctions between use and non-use, the active and the dormant, the telling and the unintelligible motivate our critical engagement.

Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991)

We begin with an explosion; a common garden shed exploded into hundreds of shards, fragments, particles. And, after this explosion, there follows a careful process of arrangement where each fragment is attached to wire and suspended within a gallery space. The shards are gathered around a single light bulb that has been found intact among the debris that the explosion has left in its wake. The creation of Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View is a choreographic, almost photographic act, an assisted readymade that speaks of an event by which waste has been created – a waste, a remnant, a remainder of action caught in an unreal time that is neither fabricated nor factual, present nor absent. These objects have been retained and displayed to unfold this weird and wired tableau that, despite its apparent inertia, demands that we follow the course of things through a process of creative destruction. On the gallery wall a small piece of text tells us that Parker had taken a garden shed to the British army and, with the help of some explosives, dispensed with this rather diminutive yet functional piece of garden architecture.  The work’s subtitle, ‘An Exploded View’, helps us to trace the relationship between the artwork that is suspended before us and the creative work of destruction that the art required.  It is a work that seems to make exigent certain conceptual and temporal problems, particularly about the condition of ‘found’ materials and the temporal baggage they might carry. We are asked to juxtapose the rich artifice of Parker’s ‘exploded view’ with the explosion that has been instrumental in its making; each ‘explosion’ needs the other to be known, and yet we come to know both through these lowly and disreputable objects, through objects that come to be by having been.  In rendering the garden shed a porous yet tantalisingly opaque spectacle, our ‘view’ of the shed (both visually and conceptually) is exploded. Parker brings an assembly of objects and suspends them as if they were in flight, as if have they have been and are on their way to a temporal and spatial ‘elsewhere’. Throughout the course of this paper I’d like to argue that it is, in part, a particular quality of waste that gives this elsewhere an ambivalent presence. As objects that signal absent times, we identify things of waste precisely because they no longer do what they once did. I argue that Parker puts this quality of waste to work, showing that waste is not just ‘matter out of place’ (c.f. Mary Douglas) but matter that originates from a multitude of times and places. It is this sense of dispersal that Parker utilises, petrifies and makes mobile.

Although Cornelia Parker assembles her extinct shed into something that looks nothing like a healthy shed full of tools and old bits of rope, Cold Dark Matter is, nonetheless, an enclosure made of tools and old bits of rope. What kind of relationship has been established between shed and ex-shed? Jonathan Watkins has argued that, “by blowing up the shed Parker is taking away such a place, throwing doubt on all that it represents. Its contents are revealed, damaged in the process and yet somehow more eloquent” (Watkins, 1996: 30). For Watkins, the shed’s destruction performs a kind of exorcism, removing both the location of the shed’s meaning and its referential stability.  By erasing the shed’s reclusive, secluded and domestic qualities its conceptual fidelity comes under scrutiny. Parker has said that her work aims to take the clichéd beliefs that objects transport and, by unmaking and refashioning these objects, tries to reconfigure the ideas that are associated with them:

“I like the idea of the material already being loaded, or clichéd. By trying to unpick or dismantle something and remake it, somehow the perimeters get changed. What I’m trying to do is to take very clichéd monumental things, things that everybody knows what they are (or think you know what they are) and then trying to find a flip side to it or the unconscious of it” (Parker, 2000: 24).

Here we might recognise the ecstatic echoes of Heidegger’s notion of the broken tool: the failure of equipment produces a before and an after, a moment that brings to light all that was secret and hidden (1962: 98). But this shed has not failed in the Heideggerian sense; it was knowingly destroyed. Neither are the fragments of the shed taken up for repair or merely discarded as useless. Parker has taken the clichéd time of the shed – as a store of things, a retreat, a place of quiet seclusion – and, through the mediating function of its remains, strung this time up for examination. In what sense has the shed or its contents been removed? Clearly, the remains succeed in making the shed or the trace of the shed visible, but visible in a way that is felt to be somewhat divorced from the time of its ‘materiality’, to a time when it was for something. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the shed and the times and places it evokes have not vanished, but have become visible in a new way: suspended, caught in time.

If “the piece evolves out of the ambiguity of the material” (2000: 24), as Parker once observed, then from this evolutionary process we might narrate the effects of this ambiguity. In presenting these ambiguous and suspended things, Parker affects a lithe and fragile collage of associations between different events, times and places. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View mediates these events, times and places, issuing us a challenge to reconcile its temporal and spatial locations. Intensifying this challenge is what I term the ‘exigency of waste’, Cold Dark Matter behaves like a red rag to our reconstructive compulsions which have us reconstitute, explain and relocate what a particular waste object is, or was or yet might be.  The narrative exigency of Parker’s work is therefore an effect of the temporal problems we encounter with the material she employs. This emphasis on narrative responses shouldn’t give cause for critical abandon or blind, ‘anything goes’ subjectivism; quite the opposite is the case. Parker’s deliberate gesture of making, unmaking and remaking anew, precludes any sense of absolute plurality. Waste itself establishes estranged relationships within an object, a temporal break between an object’s use and non-use. This process of estrangement neither erases an object’s meaning nor does it make it more meaningful; it simply makes the task of narrating the biography those things a much more risky and compelling task.

Cornelia Parker, Mass (Colder Darker Matter) (1997)

In 1997 Parker was working as artist in residence at ArtPace, San Antonio, Texas. She heard that a small church had been struck by lightning and had burnt to the ground. Having gained permission to collect the charred remains, she arranged and displayed the fragments on wire, densely grouped towards the centre and more sparsely distributed towards its periphery. The results had so much in common with her earlier work that she saw fit to make the connection linguistically explicit, naming it Mass (Colder Darker Matter). The difference between this and her earlier work is that the objects that Parker has collected, suspended and displayed to an audience, create a kind of narrative ellipsis or aporia. Whereas in Cold Dark Matter many of the shed’s fragments were recognisable things from a shed, making immediate our narrative transition between shed and ex-shed, time of use and time of waste, the charred remains of the Texan church are less readily apprehended. This obscurity arises, among other things, through the difficulty of locating an event from which the work arose, a reliable narrative source.

“You can’t really tell it’s a church unless you read the label”, Parker observes, “I was reconstituting it. It’s now abstract” (2000: 58). The work is certainly more ‘abstract’ in the sense that our flights of interpretation seem to depend less on familiar ‘useful’ forms as they did in Cold Dark Matter, but, again, Parker is careful to provide a description that locates her source material. The label reads: “Mass (Colder Darker Matter), 1997 / Charcoal retrieved from a church struck by lightening / With thanks to the Baptist Church of Lytle, Texas”. Parker has deliberately assuaged the bafflement of her audience and directed us towards the disjuncture felt between the time of use and the time of waste. Her gratitude to the “Baptist Church of Lytle, Texas” simply underpins the dispersed geography of the work, as well as highlighting the humorous and ambivalent role that the church has played in the work’s composition. With the agency and identity of church and ex-church held in a rich state of temporal suspension, as it was with the shed of Cold Dark Matter, we begin to see how divergent times and places might hang together.

I’d like to suggest that one of the elements that prevents Parker’s work from becoming a pure abstraction, from falling beyond the reach of any sensible or determinate assessment, is the temporal structure drawn between the event that has destroyed the church and the presentation of its charred fragments. The pre-existing meanings of things and the events in which these objects participate provide Parker’s work its narrative energy: “The work really makes itself; you are just rearranging the materials” (ibid). Although it might be tempting to dismiss this comment as false modesty, we should take seriously the claim that her manipulation of waste renders her work in some way autopoietic, generating work that “makes itself”. The invocation of an event of waste, the moment where use has ceased and waste has come into being, can be seen as one way to think through this issue of autopoiesis and the self-generating and autonomous actualisation of an artwork. Mass makes itself because it takes the way in which time is organised around the use and non-use of things as an arbitrary point of narrative departure, it takes the relation between ‘church’ and ‘charcoal’ as a temporal arrangement ready for rearranging.

The last work we’ll consider, Heart of Darkness (2004), is more recent. But, by playing out the powerful marriage between objects, time, and narrative that we have pursued so far, this work reveals itself to be no more or less contemporary than Parker’s other works. It provides a useful conclusion to this paper because it emphasises an aspect of waste that has so far been obscured: repetition. Parker’s repeated use of waste objects in her sculpture insists that waste (and our responses to it) is not rare. Whilst waste always occurs within singular circumstances, the temporal inscription that seems to characterise a thing of waste, the divorce between its working ‘life’ and its ‘living death’, makes the labour of narrating waste much more common than it might at first appear. When we speak of waste we must automatically become time-travelling elegists that navigate the past in order to make sense of the now. Indeed, old shoes in the street or an abandoned ruin mean little without this ability to respond to a time that is both present and absent, cindered and supplemented. In Heart of Darkness, Parker employs a formula that should now be familiar to us, stringing up objects that have spent their existence in one time and yet seem capable of making a noisy demonstration of their non-use, re-use and reassembly.

Cornelia Parker, Heart of Darkness (2004)

The gallery description of this work, along with the title’s invocation of Conrad’s novel, sets our attention upon a particular tack. We are told that the Florida Forestry Division was ‘managing’ a woodland area by burning back what was adjudged overgrown, but the fire got out of control and quickly spread, burning large areas of woodland. As in Mass, Parker collects the remains of this event and arranges them in a cube, suspending the fragments on wire. Again, the human and the non-human are tragically interconnected; any attempt to apportion blame, to designate whose ‘heart’ has been darkened or where this heart is said to reside is rendered problematic by a work composed of a multitude of actors, times and places, all of which, through charred remains, are related to one another in subtly different ways. What does become clear is that the gesture of taking these remnants, and stringing them up in order to make those objects speak in new and peculiar ways, must traverse and enact the problem of their manufacture. To interpret Parker’s work is to already engage with how objects carry, mould and are given time through the cessation of their use and functionality. One must, then, respond to the contingent and incomplete termination that waste objects can suggest; these are things neither dead nor alive but perpetuating a spectral and untimely afterlife. Their employment within sculpture is necessarily the result of their redundancy elsewhere, in a time and place that is also felt to be actively redundant. These things neither become useless, nor do they take back the use they once enjoyed, they remain uncanny remnants.

Through the work of Cornelia Parker, I hope I’ve been able to propose a new vocabulary for speaking about artworks that include, manufacture or engage with objects of waste, as relevant to the work of Cornelia Parker as it might be to Duchamp, Tinguely, Schwitters, Beuys, and so on. We should question how a work of art can be made timely or, indeed, untimely by using stuff that has been exhausted, discontinued and cast aside. I think we could generalise here and call objects of waste, and the sculptural works that employs this material, ‘multitemporal things’: stuff that does not seem to belong to any particular time but is the sum of many different and diverging periods. These are not objects with a clear or uniform tense; they are, instead, those things that feel as if past, present and future have tumbled together. It is through this temporal conflict between passing and persisting, transience and endurance, cessation and survival that makes the relationship between art and waste one that is so rich with generative potential. This is untimely art but not through any intrinsic, counter-temporal or atemporal quality of art itself, but an untimeliness that originates out of the type of matter that Parker has puts to work.

Works Cited.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concept of Pollution and Taboo. 1966; London: Routledge, 2002.

Heidegger, Martin. Being in Time. Trans John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1962.

Morgan, Jessica. ‘Matter and What it Means’ in Cornelia Parker: Second Edition. Ed. The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. Boston: Art Data, 2000. 11–44.

Parker, Cornelia. ‘Cornelia Parker interviewed by Bruce Ferguson’ in Cornelia Parker: Second Edition. Ed. The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. Boston: Art Data, 2000. 45–65.

Watkins, Jonathan. ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ in Avoided Object. Ed. Stuart Cameron Cardiff: Chapter, 1996. 25–38.

The Heidelbergh Project

I recently stumbled across the The Heidelbergh Project, an artwork of reclamation that transforms spaces and objects of waste in a Detroit suburb. Taking four derelict houses and burying it in layers of scavenged materials—tires, hubcaps, broken toys, battered dolls, rusty signs, busted appliances, and automobile parts—all brightened with stripes, polka dots, and splashes of paint. It’s interesting to note how the people in this promotional video  speak of the ‘magic’, ‘fantasy’ and ‘incomprehensibility’ of the work. The creator of the project, Tyree Guyton, speaks of resurrecting the city.

Whilst I realise this project has much to do with the urban economics of Detroit –  and the hope that the Heidelbergh Project might reverse the city’s decline – I’m left wondering what it is about using and manipulating waste that allows this intervention to have its ‘magic’. If I was an ethnographer I’d like to survey the varying responses to The Heidelbergh Project and Nek Chand’s infamous Rock Garden. I think that a comparative study like this would reveal some interesting responses to the instrumentalisation of waste in art. I wonder if notions of transformation, transubstantiation and redemption would be common to both.

Go to it, Sweepings of all Nations!

A Work in Progress
A Work in Progress

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Waste Words and Throwaways – A Reading of Joycean Disjecta

Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding, but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone. Hope it’s not too big bring on piles again. No, just right. So. Ah! Costive. One tabloid of cascara sagrada. Life might be so. It did not move or touch him but it was something quick and neat. Print anything now. Silly season. He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell. Neat certainly. […] He tore away half the prize story sharply and wiped himself with it (U 4.506–13, 507; UP 83–84, 85).[1]

The temporality of literature is placed under an ironic microscope towards the end of ‘Calypso’, both literature’s use and functionality are playfully distorted. Bloom’s shit in the outhouse and his concurrent digestion of Philip Beaufoy’s prize story suggests a canny enmeshment between literary production, literary reception and the production of waste. As Maud Ellmann has demonstrated, the passage serves as a description of Bloom’s interaction with the short story and a description of his defecation.[2] Whilst Beaufoy’s story and Bloom’s faeces might both be judged “neat”, the activities of reading and defecation become comically mixed. Indeed, the activities become indistinguishable. The boundary between waste and the written is, as we have seen in the wok of Eliot, a boundary distinguished by uncertain limits. In the outhouses of Ulysses, thought, story and bodily excretions occupy and contaminate one another. Bloom wipes himself with the story, free indirect discourse becomes stylistically cloacal, and the words and waste are rendered textually and conceptually proximate. An object of the narrative and a synecdoche for the narrative act itself, Bloom’s use of the Beaufoy’s short story is an object and fulfilment of a narrative act. One might want to argue that by wiping himself with the story Bloom signals the end of the story’s use as reading material, as ‘literature’ and pronounces the story’s transformation into an implement of bodily hygiene. And yet, it is precisely this ambivalent category of ‘literature’ that persists, lingering beyond the act of reading or any other absolute or unequivocal end. Joyce’s material and linguistic ends are provisional, working through codas and reprises. Even though the short story is discarded along with Bloom’s faeces the language of literary narrative continues to structure how Bloom perceives his waste making. In ‘Wandering Rocks’ Bloom is reminded of the Beaufoy story when he meets Mrs Breen. “Did I pull the chain?” he asks himself, “Yes. The last act” (U 8.270; UP 200). We should not take Bloom’s assessment for granted; his shit, like the literature he reads and features in, has a necessary and significant afterlife.

Ideas of reusing and recycling seem particularly pertinent here, especially since Joyce himself wrote a short story for Titbits and a line from this unpublished story appears in the ‘Calypso’ episode, “Matcham often thinks of the masterstroke by which he won …” (U 4.513–14; UP 84).[3]  This autobiographical detail cannot be underestimated as it compounds the complexity of Joyce’s attitude towards his own literary product, as well as providing another intratextual example of how ‘expunged’ elements of his literary output become reinscribed in later works. Although the Titbits story might seem to display a common trajectory suffered by all kinds of writing, the reappearance of a work from Joyce’s adolescence affirms and confuses the reflexive gesture being made, prompting the question: precisely who’s story is being wiped? The scatological employment of this “old number of Titbits” (U 4.467; UP 82), which might be understood as an attempt on Joyce’s part to exorcise the detritus of his early writing career, a reading which openly contradicts Lawrence Rainey’s argument that the incident “epitomizes the modernist contempt for popular culture.”[4]  If contempt is being shown to Joyce/Beaufoy’s story it is contempt that implicates the broader narrative of the novel. It is not, in any case, a feeling shared by Bloom who “envie[s] kindly” the story’s author (U 4.516; UP 84). Moreover, one might argue the opposite is true; the incident proves how Ulysses could not exist without the countless stories that precede it, Bloom’s recycling is akin to the novel’s compositional methods of narrative cycling and recycling. These narrative intertexts, authored by Joyce and countless others, render the novel a silted, inter- and intratextual palimpsest that incessantly quotes, alludes and cites works from ‘elsewhere’. And as Cheryl Herr and R. Brandon Kershner have demonstrated, popular works play a fundamental role in this silting process.[5] The commingling of these intertexts sees them inserted within a textual economy that allows both popular and avant-garde works to be discarded. So ‘Calypso’ attempts to raise more interesting issues than whether or not items of popular culture are being unfairly rubbished. A more prescient series of questions surrounds what might be the use-time of literary language, how this use-time might be understood when the materiality of language is used for radically different purposes over than read, and how categories of ‘literature’ respond to a transition from use to reuse.

If Ulysses is a novel that represents waste it does so by making waste novel, by putting the idea of waste to work. All writing produces and relies upon the production of waste and, whilst some forms of writing are more susceptible to being physically thrown away than others, the condition of being a ‘throwaway’ has a dynamic immanence in the production of the literary. Steven Connor is right to suggest that in Ulysses “the letter […] is always being transformed into litter,”[6] but this is by no means the final transformation that Joyce’s objects undergo. To discard an object is to enact one of many potential transformations, and to do so heralds only the illusion of an end. If letters, newspapers, scribbled notes, envelopes and handbills all have a propensity to be discarded, and in a novel like Ulysses this propensity is frequently consummated, then Joyce does not allow this litter to simply ‘disappear’ from the text. Although things tend to gravitate towards the rubbish heap, the outhouse or the graveyard in Ulysses, Joyce does not allow these objects to remain there, disappear, or become inert. This sense of the functional multiplicity of things is underscored when Bloom visits the offices of the Freeman’s Journal and observes the machinery that manufactures the paper, “the obedient reels feeding in huge webs of paper. Clank it. Clank it. Miles of it unreeled” (U 7.136–137; UP 152). We glimpse the fantastic quantity of reading material being produced, generated in industrial measures. But the Freeman’s Journal as reading material is not its only use, “What becomes of it after?” wonders Bloom, “O, wrap up meat, parcels: various uses, thousand and one things” (U 7.137–138; U 152).[7] The production of commodities reproduces a temporal structure according to a function; the transience of this function is crucial for structuring the afterlife of things. The use-values of things are designated according to an ambivalent sense of an “after”, in this case a temporal break from the function of being read. The temporal structure that divides an object by use is integral to the invention of waste and the possibility of future uses. Bloom’s use of the prize short story accentuates how literary waste remains a functioning entity that persists beyond its function as reading material. The functionality of this non-functionality is a key condition for the articulation of ‘waste’ in literature. This is an important paradox, one that occurs at the level of objects narrated and at the level of the narrative itself. In ‘Calypso’ we read about an object that has exhausted its potential to be read. But this literary exhaust is an object that becomes reused by Bloom and is a narrative object that continually engages our readings and interpretations. Efforts to interpret the text thus centre upon objects that, by no longer having value as reading material for one of the narrative’s characters, intensify a problem of their legibility, readability and significance. In this way, and despite appearances, waste objects have a narrative afterlife that suspends their absolute disappearance from the novel’s surface. We might summarise the paradox of word-waste in the following way: representing the end of narrative objects only prolongs literature’s use-time; the narrative means that fabricates the meaning of literature obstructs its absolute end. The writing of waste, the writing that has become waste, is described, distorted, and made visible via the reflexive manipulation of yet more writing, yet more narrative.

It is therefore unsurprising that Joyce singles out “freshprinted rag paper” (U 5.58; UP 88) as a particular object of circulation, waste and subsequent narrative extension. Of course, the serialisation of Victorian novels in newspapers makes the historical and technical development of the modern novel intimately bound to the circulation and profitability of newsprint. Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, and Hardy published in this serialised format. Despite these strong ties, the status of ‘literature’ has often been felt to stand in opposition to the lowly newspaper. This is partly due to the short-lived nature of newsprint’s use-time. One might argue that newspapers and handbills are especially sensitive to the temporalisation of use-values. The use-time of newspapers is integrated into their status as commodities and contained by the date-marked information they communicate.  The utility of this information becomes inextricably tied to the dates, events, and announcements that arise from their pages: their obsolescence is inbuilt. Expressions such as ‘yesterday’s news’ or ‘today’s news, tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper’ only serve to emphasise how we associate newspapers with this inbuilt obsolescence. As a means of figuring the disposability of information, newspapers foreshorten the temporality of writing – the use-time of words are partly dictated by their material form, newspapers and handbills manufacture and are manufactured by the passing of their use-time. For this reason, newspapers and fliers provide a convenient analogue to the transience of language and meaning, a transience to which ‘literature’ supposedly stands in opposition. For Connor, “the newspaper points in Ulysses to a mysterious textual economy whose purpose is to process detritus into meaning, and meaning into detritus. Seen in this way, the newspaper is not the textual adversary of the novel, but its secret model.”[8] This textual economy is one played out materially and linguistically; newspapers and other pieces of written ephemera provide a way of signifying the residues of language and the remnants that give it shape. This is an analogue the novel amplifies in two distinct ways. The first of these comes about through Joyce’s replication of the date-function that we have just used to characterise the temporality of newsprint. This date-function occurs in two principle forms. Firstly, the novel presents the events of a single day, an act of inscription made plain by Miss Dunne as she “clicked on the keyboard: ­— 16 June 1904” (U 10.376; UP 294). This novel is undeniably marked by a date, branded with signature that announces news that has already past. Secondly, and at a more general level, Ulysses closes its account of things by underlining the period of its production “Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921” (U 18.161–1611; UP 933). Together, these dates mark the time being represented and the period taken for this representation to be realised. For Karen R. Lawrence this date-function renders the novel “a souvenir of a time and place passing and gone. The city is arrested, dated, in its premodern phase. The spatial and temporal distance between the city and its novelistic image, between ‘home’ and Joyce, is captured in Joyce’s signature at the end of the novel”.[9] Ulysses represents a time apart, a time that is always ‘after’. Whilst newspapers are always falling or have already fallen into the informational obsolescence by which they take their meaning, Ulysses takes its meaning by already being obsolete, by being a souvenir of a time that can only be felt at a greater and greater distance. By dating his fiction in this way Joyce captures the dialectical movement between the writing of time and the time of writing; meaning is attributed to time through writing whilst time makes the process of writing meaningful. But these prominent dates, which appear to order our sense of time in Ulysses, are by no means fixed; they are subject to a kind of elastic tension. The action of the novel spills into 17th June 1904 and the progressive composition of Ulysses has continued long after 1921. Although the date-function of newspapers and handbills secures or even hastens their passage into a state of waste, the double dating of Ulysses places a disjunction between the times of use and the time by which that use can become obsolete.

The second reason that newspapers and handbills provide a model rather than an adversary for Ulysses is that the transience of newspapers and handbills, what we might call ‘disposable writing’, structures and participates within the composition and decomposition of the narrative. In ‘Lotus-eaters’ a famous misunderstanding occurs that rests upon the disposability of Bloom’s Freeman and the name of a horse called ‘Throwaway’ that would later win the Gold Cup. Bantam Lyons is eager to see Bloom’s copy of the Freeman to scan its form guide and Bloom tells him twice that he can keep the paper as he was “going to throw it away” (U 5.534; UP 106). Bantam takes this to be a betting tip and scurries off, leaving Bloom with his throwaway but without the knowledge with which to convert its financial reward.  It is a misunderstanding that we only come to realise has occurred in ‘Lestrygonians’ when Bantam Lyons announces that Bloom gave him a tip and that he intends to place five bob on it (U 8.1016; UP 228). Even at this stage we cannot be entirely sure what has gone on until, in ‘Cyclops’, Lenehan provides the missing information– Bloom gave Bantam Lyons the winner of the Gold Cup, Throwaway, the “rank outsider” (U 12.1219; UP 422).  As Tony Thwaites documents, the evolution of this textual puzzle occurs over hundreds of pages and to even begin the process of resolving the riddle one must read and reread the novel several times.[10] The reader’s work of reconstruction is not aided by the appearance of another ‘throwaway’, another textual puzzle that issues from a disposable form of writing. At the beginning of ‘Wandering Rocks’ Bloom meets a “sombre Y.M.C.A. young man” – described later as the “distributor of throwaways” (UP 17.1490; U 855) – who places “a throwaway in the hand of Mr Bloom” (U 8.6; UP 190).  The handbill announces, “Elijah is coming. Dr Alexander Dowie, restorer of the church in Zion, is coming” (UP 8.13–14; U 190). As he walks, Bloom reads the handbill in his typically elliptical, interrupted and tangential manner. When he comes to O’Connell Bridge he looks down to the Liffey below, observing barges and swooping gulls. Bloom cuts short his wandering thoughts to fulfil the inherent disposability of this handbill: “He threw down among them a crumpled paper ball. Elijah thirtytwo feet per sec is com. Not a bit. The ball bobbed unheeded on the wake of swells, floated under by the bridgepiers” (U 57–59; UP 192). In stark opposition to the two Banbury cakes that Bloom also throws down to the gulls, which are swiftly taken, “Every morsel” (U 8.77; UP 192), the paper ball bobs and drifts upon the water’s surface. The afterlife of this writing flows through the novel as a remainder, changing its appearance and its levels of signification with its geographical position, given according to the bridges, buildings and other landmarks it passes along its way:

A skiff, a crumpled throwaway, Elijah is coming, rode lightly down the Liffey, under Loopline bridge, shooting the rapids where water chafed around the bridgepiers, sailing eastwards past hulls and anchorchains, between the Customhouse old dock and George’s quay. (U 10.294–297; UP 291)

North wall and sir John Rogerson’s quay, with hulls and anchorchains, sailing wesward, sailed by a skiff, a crumpled throwaway, rocked on the ferrywash, Elijah is coming. (U 10.752–754; UP 308)

Elijah, skiff, light crumpled throwaway, sailed eastward by flanks of ships and trawlers, amid an archipelago of corks, beyond new Wapping street past Benson’s ferry, and by the threemasted schooner Rosevean from Bridgewater with bricks. (U 10.1096–1099; UP 321)

This is a kind of waste writing that is made to reverberate through the text. The throwaway takes on an ambiguous, intensely enigmatic role within the episode, replicating the passage of human bodies as they pass into Joyce’s textual labyrinth. Again, we meet with the paradox of writing that becomes waste, as an object to interpret its importance seems to become intensified because its original use, as reading material, has passed. We will soon see how the same is true of the manuscript drafts that record the composition of this usefulness, this legibility. For Maud Ellmann this ball of paper signals Joyce’s “throwaway economy of writing­ – Joyce wastes words.”[11] But the words that have become waste do not and cannot disappear from the text, they become puzzles and enigmas that the reader is invited to unravel. Richard Ellmann draws out a Homeric parallel, the skiff successfully passes through the labyrinth and “floats down like the Argo between the two Symplegadean banks, as between the North and South walls of the Liffey, and out to sea.”[12]  Between these observations lies an obvious tension; between annihilation and survival, disappearance and endurance, the throwaway seems to be an object of lowly value and an object of singular importance. The condition of written waste is the uneasy synthesis of these extremes. Jacques Derrida has given an elaborate discussion of the Elijah figure, suggesting that the prophet orders and mediates communication, overseeing rites of circumcision and, thus, the expansion and legitimation of community. But, Derrida writes, whatever he might represent, Elijah serves as “a synecdoche of Ulyssean narration, at once smaller and greater than the whole.”[13] Although Derrida does not say as much we might carry this observation into our discussion of waste, not least because Elijah’s arrival is announced on a throwaway handbill, a disposable form of writing. The throwaway, like the newspaper, has a direct material relationship to the condition of the novel; they are material manifestations of language that have entered the temporal structures of use and waste.  What Ulysses demonstrates by taking these objects and narrating their passage into the outhouse, onto the beach, or along the surface of the river, is that the category of waste is a category full of false endings and illusory disappearances. Moreover, the passage of writing into a category of waste does not mean that this writing loses or has lost meaning.  In Joyce at least, the opposite is true.


[1] Aside from the presence of manuscript material, readers of Joyce’s Ulysses must first decide which of the many editions of the book to consult. Believing it to be the most accurate version of the text currently available, all subsequent quotes are from Hans Walter Gabler’s Bodley Head edition of 1986, hereafter cited in the text as U with episode and line numbers. However, since many come to read Joyce inexpensive editions that are still in print, I include page references to the Penguin edition of 1992, cited alongside as UP.

[2] Maud Ellmann, ‘Ulysses: The Epic of the Human Body,’ in A Companion to James Joyce ed. Richard Brown (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008) 61.

[3] Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses (Berkeley: California UP, 1988) 84.

[4] Lawrence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (New Haven: Yale UP, 1998) 2.

[5] Cheryl Herr, Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1986); R. Brandon Kershner, ‘Dialogical and Intertextual Joyce’ in James Joyce Studies, ed. Jean-Michel Rabaté (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) 183­­–202.

[6] Steven Connor, James Joyce (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996) 54.

[7] Incidentally, Bloom has already used his copy of the Freeman’s Journal to kneel and pray at Dignam’s funeral (U 6.586–587; UP 130).

[8] Steven Connor, James Joyce 56.

[9] Karen R. Lawrence, ‘Bloom’s Circulation: Who’s He When He’s Not at Home?’ in Joyce on the Threshold, eds. Anne Fogarty and Timothy Martin (Gainesville, FL: U P of Florida, 2005) 23.

[10] Tony Thwaites does not consider the effect of his own criticism in speeding up this process of reading and rereading, see Thwaites, Joycean Temporalities 53–54.

[11] Maud Ellmann, ‘Ulysses: The Epic of the Human Body’ 63.

[12] Richard Ellman, Ulysses on the Liffey (London: Faber, 1972) 98.

[13] Jacques Derrida, ‘Ulysses’ Gramophone: Hear Say Yes In Joyce’ in Derek Attridge ed. Acts of Literature (London: Routledge, 1991) 286.