Cover: Friends of Interpretable Objects, from Harvard University PressCover: Friends of Interpretable Objects in PAPERBACK

Friends of Interpretable Objects

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$32.00 • £27.95 • €29.95

ISBN 9780674013681

Publication Date: 03/01/2004


208 pages


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In an exquisitely idiosyncratic book of enormous intellectual ambition crammed into a tiny space… Tamen wants to redefine aesthetics, by way of intently focused chapters on, inter alia, Byzantine theology and image-smashing, human rights, and bodies (of corporations and of babies). In his scheme, the interpretable object (which might be what we recognize as an artwork, but does not need to be) exists by virtue of its ‘friends’—those people who gather round it and, so to speak, talk to it, as we might do with a statue or painting. How do objects ‘talk back’ from within a museum or a church? Suavely Wittgensteinian and insatiably curious, Tamen’s arguments are hardly devalued by the lack of any earth-shattering conclusion.—Stephen Poole, The Guardian

Because Tamen is willing to go out on various disciplinary and logical limbs, this is a book like no other. It will appeal to students of literature and the visual arts, it will be debated by the more humanistic of philosophers, and it will perform noble cross-over activity between those disciplines and material from theories of law, science, and ecology. The book will work in this admirable way for those who are open-minded, inquisitive, and seducible by some lovely instances of intellectual wit.—Leonard Barkan, Princeton University

Friends of Interpretable Objects is an idiosyncratic, breath-taking inquiry into the human capacity to cherish the material object world and to hate it, to hold it responsible, and to grant it its own humanity… This book should be read by art historians, anthropologists, curators, literary critics, and anyone who has ever shouted at a car or kicked a door.—Bill Brown, author of A Sense of Things

The art world and interpreting institutions of museums can learn from Tamen’s artful journey across disciplines and ways of knowing and experiencing the world around us. Friends of Interpretable Objects opens up the museum and places artworks into networks of interpretation that make them part of the cognitive worlds we share with diverse animate and inanimate bodies and objects.—John G. Hanhardt, Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts, Guggenheim Museum

As its wacky title might indicate, this is a book of striking originality. Its subject, broadly speaking, is art, whose works are the interpretable objects of the title. In another sense, however, Tamen’s concern is to show how inanimate objects take on life through their interpretation… There is quite simply nothing like it… The learning is real… Written in a highly idiosyncratic style, learned but not hermetically so, Friends of Interpretable Objects takes wide aim at an audience that could conceivably come from many walks of life: from the museum world, from art history, law, philosophy, not to mention that educated general reader whose voracious habits take in a far richer banquet of ideas than we can ever imagine.—Ingrid Rowland, Professor of Art History, University of Chicago

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