Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: The Culture of Objects and Object Fancy

Instructor: Patricia Turrisi


GLS 592-005 (Object Fancy) and GLS 592-006 (Technology and the Quality of Life) in Fall 2012, and, GLS 592-TBA (Evil and Suffering) and GLS 592-TBA (Happiness and Well-Being) in Spring 2013, are four topically related courses of 1.5 credits each. They may be taken as stand-alone courses, or in any combination or two, three, or all four courses. Each are cross-listed as PAR 492 course sections as well. The student learning objectives and course requirements differ for GLS 592 graduate sections and undergraduate PAR 492 sections while the course descriptions are the same for graduate and undergraduate sections.

Object Fancy

Objects are compelling to human beings regardless of their kinds or uses insofar as we are physically adapted to touch, hold, see and sort, and re-purpose material substances. Objects serve as the central cues for a range of behaviors and cognitive developments in human archaeological history and in individual personal development. Products "speak" to us nonverbally as material gestures, communicating their overt and potential meanings and purposes. The design features of artifacts (for example, their shine, shape, texture, aroma, sound, color, weight, simplicity or complexity) capture our attention and draw us to them. The sheer number of objects we possess or maintain access to indicates the longevity of object fancy in the human species, and in particular cases, the degree of compulsion objects have for individuals or communities. We may project human characteristics into objects of desire, for example, items that caricature human personality traits - jewelry, shoes, "collectibles," and so on, in the one case, and in the other, objects that we purposely imbue with anthropomorphic significance, such as "friendly" children's toys, automobiles with faces, or ergonomically appropriate furniture, homes, tools, etc. In the modern age, even the subtlest possible attractions of material substances and object design have been studied and mined in order to create and market objects of inexorable allure.

While objects, artifacts and products are ubiquitous in our world, we seldom recognize their enticements categorically, with the one exception of when we are warned against their power to de-humanize us or usurp our true spirituality. Warnings in the form of religious and moral injunctions against regarding material possessions too highly originated in the ancient world and have increased in frequency and kind over time, adding to their arguments a variety of examples of virtuous abstemiousness (minimalist decorative styles, clutter free lifestyles, saintly poverty). However, the proliferation and mass of objects being produced and consumed, forever beckoning from TV monitors, internet shopping sites, store shelves and elsewhere speaks to an antithetical tendency in the human condition. The uncompromising presence of both camps indicates the need for understanding their relationship as dialectical and not merely as a rift or a division or opinions. This course is a study of the range and significance of object fancy for human cognition and behavior in its positive aspects as well as the history and phenomenology of both camps in their dialectical relationship to one another. We will read primary sources in Ecclesiastes, St. Luke, Bhagavad Gita, Jane Austen, William Thoreau and Jean Baudrillard as well as contemporary readings on nonverbal communication, consumerism, and hoarding. Class activities will include a shopping trip, a visit to a museum and guest lectures. Students will be required to perform reflective inventories, write and orally present reflections on readings and activities, and complete a final project and reflective paper.

Last Update: February 27, 2012