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Evocative Objects: Things We Think with [Hardcover]

Sherry Turkle
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

10 Aug 2007
For Sherry Turkle, "We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with." In Evocative Objects, Turkle collects writings by scientists, humanists, artists, and designers that trace the power of everyday things. These essays reveal objects as emotional and intellectual companions that anchor memory, sustain relationships, and provoke new ideas. This volume's special contribution is its focus on everyday riches: the simplest of objects--an apple, a datebook, a laptop computer--are shown to bring philosophy down to earth. The poet contends, "No ideas but in things." The notion of evocative objects goes further: objects carry both ideas and passions. In our relations to things, thought and feeling are inseparable. Whether it's a student's beloved 1964 Ford Falcon (left behind for a station wagon and motherhood), or a cello that inspires a meditation on fatherhood, the intimate objects in this collection are used to reflect on larger themes--the role of objects in design and play, discipline and desire, history and exchange, mourning and memory, transition and passage, meditation and new vision. In the interest of enriching these connections, Turkle pairs each autobiographical essay with a text from philosophy, history, literature, or theory, creating juxtapositions at once playful and profound. So we have Howard Gardner's keyboards and Lev Vygotsky's hobbyhorses; William Mitchell's Melbourne train and Roland Barthes' pleasures of text; Joseph Cevetello's glucometer and Donna Haraway's cyborgs. Each essay is framed by images that are themselves evocative. Essays by Turkle begin and end the collection, inviting us to look more closely at the everyday objects of our lives, the familiar objects that drive our routines, hold our affections, and open out our world in unexpected ways. Essays by: Julian Beinart, Matthew Belmonte, Joseph Cevetello, Robert P. Crease, Olivia Daste, Glorianna Davenport, Judith Donath, Michael M. J. Fischer, Howard Gardner, Tracy Gleason, Nathan Greenslit, Stefan Helmreich, Michelle Hlubinka, Henry Jenkins, Caroline A. Jones, Evelyn Fox Keller, Tod Machover, Susannah Mandel, David Mann, Irene Castle McLaughlin, Eden Medina, Jeffrey Mifflin, William J. Mitchell, David Mitten, Annalee Newitz, Trevor Pinch, Susan Pollak, Mitchel Resnick, Nancy Rosenblum, Susan Spilecki, Carol Strohecker, Susan Rubin Suleiman, Sherry Turkle, Gail Wight, Susan Yee

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (10 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262201682
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262201681
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.7 x 20.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 36,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Evocative Objects is a collection of great richness and complexity. Reading these essays transforms one's sense of the most commonplace objects, and prompts us to explore the palimpsest of the past within us." --Jill Ker Conway, President Emerita, Smith College, author of The Road from Coorain "Original, absorbing, and beautifully written, this collection of essays will forever change the way you look at the objects in your life." --Helen Epstein, author of Children of the Holocaust and Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for her Mother's History

About the Author

Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and Founder and Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. A psychoanalytically trained sociologist and psychologist, she is the author of The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Twentieth Anniversary Edition, MIT Press), Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, and Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution. She is the editor of Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, and The Inner History of Devices, all three published by the MIT Press.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative Objects- Kindle edition 19 Jan 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a fascinating and thought provoking book which I have enjoyed a great deal . However, the Kindle edition suffers from odd formatting with seemingly arbitrary page and section run ons. The main irritation is that the footnotes aren't clickable, which means a lots of paging backwards and forwards to the relevant section. Very annoying in an academic book.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thought-provoking and easy to read 11 Dec 2007
By A. Philley - Published on Amazon.com
I bought this book because it seemed to get to ideas I've been using in my latest painting project. Turkle gives a very nice and brief introduction to how she became interested in objects as a path to philosophy and ways of thinking about the world. The vignettes are rather random and I think quite beautiful. This is not a book that will have a great final point. It meanders and allows you to make associations and hopefully draw some conclusions about your own life and the objects in it. I also like that the book itself is a wonderful object. About the size of a hymnal or some other type of book meant to be held and easy to carry around. A very nice book as a gift for someone who has too many things!
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Evocative Objects" -- insightful and absorbing 10 Oct 2007
By Alice K. - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a gem. In this collection of essays, the authors reflect on how a seemingly simple object - a rolling pin, a train, a pair of ballet slippers - can serve as an emotional marker and play a powerful role in understanding relationships, life transitions and loss. I'll recommend this book to my book group because it should prompt a lively discussion about the evocative objects of the members.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Evocative Objects" --elegant and evocative 8 Oct 2007
By shrink reader - Published on Amazon.com
THis is a lovely book, a treat for the imagination. Sherry Turkle has arranged these short essays with photographs and artfully chosen bits of literature, psychology, or cultural theory for accompaniment. Her own essays are erudite, clear, and beautifully written. REading this will prompt enjoyable meditations on your own evocative objects.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a mistake to believe that things are "just" things 3 Jun 2009
By Stephen Hage - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Book Review submitted by: Stephen J. Hage, [...]

This is an unexpectedly delightful yet seriously thoughtful book that invites you reexamine your relationship to objects, about which, you seldom, if ever think.

It's a collection of essays written by humanists, designers, scientists and artists--thoughtful individuals--that disclose the fluidity and complexity of being alive by revealing their very personal relationships with objects as mundane as a rolling pin and as banal as comic book superheroes.

Each essay is paired with writings from philosophy, history, literature and theory which resonate with the essay in ways that illuminate both what the essayist is saying and what he or she means.

Each essay, in a very different way, demonstrates why it is a mistake to assume that objects are nothing more than inanimate collections of atoms and molecules. They show instead that objects can be and often are capable of evoking potent emotional responses dealing with grief, fear, loss, love, hatred, abandonment, intellectual curiosity, poverty and existence.

Here's a taste of what's in store for you should you choose to read this book:


Before the essay the paired writing offers this: "To get to the idea of playing it is helpful to think of the preoccupation that characterizes the playing of a young child. The content does not matter. What matters is the near withdrawal state, akin to the concentration of older children and adults. The playing child inhabits an area that cannot be easily left, nor can it easily admit intrusions. This area of playing is not inner psychic reality. It is outside the individual but it is not the external world. Into this play area the child gathers objects or some sample derived from inner or personal reality...[Thus] in playing, the child manipulates external phenomena with dream meaning and feeling [And] there is a direct development from transitional phenomena to playing, and from playing to shared playing, and from this to cultural experiences." --D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality

The essay is about the experiences of a little girl with an actual stuffed bunny and explores how, at first, she finds it no different from "the rest of the pastel objects" of her world. As you follow the story you learn how the little girl (the author's sister) develops the idea that a she can love a bunny.

Next you come to understand how she deals with the separation anxiety associated with the realization that when she begins nursery school she won't be able to take Murray with her. Later you learn how the little girl infuses Murray with a life of his own in a utopian setting with provinces and capitals and a complicated topography. And finally the author reveals this about Murray: "...he has given me a ringside seat at the performance of Shayna's imagination, even as I remind myself that in fact it was she, as his creator who bought me the ticket to that seat."

This book will make you laugh and cry, say WHAT(?) and oh yeah, I know exactly what that feels like. I found reading it like riding an intellectual rollercoaster that forced me to reexamine not only objects but my relationship with and to them.

The book begins and ends with an essay by Sherry Turkle which adds to the reading experience and further illuminates how and why objects, can and do become powerfully evocative.

I recommend this book without reservation.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fails as a book, succeeds as a collection 20 Jan 2009
By David Block - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sherry Turkle's "Evocative Obects" fails as a book because Turkle fails to draw unifying and distinguishing principles about any certain set of 'things.' Nobody doubts that objects evoke, nobody doubts that 'objects' can be...well...anything: real, virtual/digital, Wordsworthian 'spots of time', memories, etc. The problem is that we seem not to be able to define a new, exclusive class of things called 'evocative objects,' predict when a thing will be a member of that class or not, what role it will/may/might/ought to perform, what its long term effect will be on the development of the person at whatever stage the person encounters it and how the person will change over time having been 'evoked.' What, who, when, where, and why does it evoke, and are we evoked? Even saying that "I have been evoked by that object" sounds a little peculiar (except at maybe a Wittgenstein birthday party) since when we are evoked, we are pretty passive observers of our selves. And I don't think this is what Sherry (just easier than "Dr" or "Prof") means.

Rather, there is a class of special things (in the sense above) comprised of "invocative objects": they do cause changes in us, they likely relate to a stage of development and there is something in them and something in us that are "the same." Or so I gather from Sherry's closing essay.

That said, the collection is fascinating - and Sherry's essays should be seen as no different in kind from any of the others. Perhaps that's what saddens me: she recognizes her invocative objects - the photograph and the imago of her dad and the world of "the grandparent's box" - and she fails the test of ultimate engagement. (All the other writers pass, with varying grades). When she goes off to France to study and learns that the magic box has been removed, I want her to tell the post-modern retroflexive structuralists that she is on a mission of her self; that she is Sherry, not Cherie; I want her to rush back and reclaim the box. For it is the stone of her wise woman of Karoo. Alas, it is hard to find the box for the bibliography, Sherry. That's 'interesting': I think that's the last thing one wants to be called by a professional.

Each writer, really, presents a startling and intimate picture - even if as inverse (for Sherry and Evelyn Fox Keller, for example). We meet David Mann, born perhaps into the frozen people, who finds he is chosen by his World Book Encyclopedia: how passionate he grows, wrapped in his prayer shawl to shut out everything but the articles of the world of 1952. Still he wrestles - more than 50 years now - to "grasp...feelings" and to open his soul. He does not have a "private practice" of medicine in Cambridge; no, he "practices privately." Did Sherry say that, or did David say that?

Caroline Jones, an art historian, chooses as "an object in question" one of her own paintings to show how she relates, and doesn't, to her brothers and sisters - and to one sister who more there by being left out. "Surely I can solve any puzzle...," she says - except for the one that matters. "Stop using italics," I yell at her. "Stop talking German! Stop conjugating 'limn'! Just tell me." She won't, except in the parentheses.

One more, and most poignant of all. Nancy Rosenblum surely completes the honest connection between her invocative object - the Chinese Scholars' Rocks - and her self. She begins with a depiction of these rocks in a gentle, self-effacing prose. And then comes the revelation about her husband, his death, his love of these, their work together - more than work, maybe a joint calling or adventure or un-puzzling. It is almost a masculine, Orphean lamentation, not a damnation. In so few paragraphs, how completely she loved, and still loves, him. "How can a rock be a man?" she asks. With a woman like that, how could a rock not become man?

Enough. There are lots of little miracles in these essays. You will not be unrequited or unrewarded for the reading.

Just a question or two, Sherry. Why couldn't you find non-MIT connected folks to write? Don't bartenders and such have invocative objects? You need to find them. And I implore you to can the accolades in the author's credits. Isn't it enough to know, for example, that Tracy Gleason is a psychologist - need we know more in order to see if Tracy can bring her life full circle?

Four stars: three as a single "book" and five as the story of who each of us might have been had we found different invocative objects.

David Block
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