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On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection
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On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  329 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Miniature books, eighteenth-century novels, Tom Thumb weddings, tall tales, and objects of tourism and nostalgia: this diverse group of cultural forms is the subject of On Longing, a fascinating analysis of the ways in which everyday objects are narrated to animate or realize certain versions of the world. Originally published in 1984 (Johns Hopkins University Press), and ...more
Paperback, 232 pages
Published December 19th 1992 by Duke University Press Books (first published May 1st 1984)
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(showing 1-30 of 864)
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Feb 20, 2010 Kate marked it as to-read
have look at small sections of this book for multiple papers and every time i am more frustrated that i dont have the time to just sit down and read it all through. pretty much a tying together of everything i am interested in.
dear susan stewart,
let's hang out
love, kate
While this book is a quintessential example of "high theory" in that it tends toward abstraction and makes grand gestures toward relating everything in the world to everything else, the dichotomies is creates (between miniature and gigantic and souvenir and collection most notably) are incredibly useful. Further, while Stewart is intent on using these dichotomies to explicate on the grand schemes of the world, they can be easily applied to the smaller world of the book collectors I'm studying. I ...more
stewart thinks nostalgia is a dirty, dirty std. It is also the desire for an impossible return to some kind of ‘authentic’ moment in the past, one that cripples you from experiencing the immediacy of the present.
the sign is in crisis! and in todays postmodern exchange economy, your overly mediated and abstracted life can no longer experience the present unless it is grounded in the objects of some idealized/allusive past – that means your personal or ‘unique’ experiences do not give meaning to t
John Carter McKnight
Brilliant, despite a brutally dense first chapter. A clever, syncretic, wide-ranging study of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir and the collection, and their roles in psychology and culture. Anyone studying the co-construction of the self can benefit from this, especially those focused on cultures whose identity derives in part from divergence from a social norm. A real tour de force of creative synthesis, and, after that first chapter, an excellent read.
A one-of-a-kind book. Stewart's is the kind of scholarship that bursts out of its ivory box; it's much too robust and original and genuinely, genuinely brilliant to concern itself with the empty rhetoric and discursive obscurity of much "theory"-based criticism. You could read her work for the prose alone and be enthralled. See also "Crimes of Writing," which is magnificent. Susan Stewart is that rare commodity in her discipline: a real writer.
Claudia Deloach
A dense read centered on metaphors and the relation of narratives to its objects. A fascinating analysis of the ways in which everyday objects are narrated to animate certain versions of the wrold. Stewart addresses the relations of the body to scale, and narratives to objects. She examines the ways the sourvenir and the collection are objects of experiece in space and time.
Dec 06, 2013 Ian is currently reading it
"These conventions of description are intimately bound up with the conception of time as it is both portrayed in the work and partaken of by the work. By means of its conventions of depiction, temporality, and, ultimately, closure, narrative here seeks to 'realize' a certain formulation of the world. Hence we can see the many narratives that dream of the inanimate–made–animate as symptomatic of all narrative's desire to invent a realizable world, a world which 'works.' In this sense, every narra ...more
Oct 24, 2007 Ashley rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who love to think and feel at the same time
objects have a life of their own, both in the world and in our imaginations, and this book accounts for how we arrange ourselves and our objects into collections, how we fantasize about who we are in the world in relation to objects that are giant or miniature, and for how we try to reimagine ourselves by rearranging the objects around us.

this book also contains one of the most piercing thoughts on writing and death i've ever read:

". . . while speech gains authenticity, writing promises immorta
Parts of this book are quite fascinating. Other parts are beyond me. I guess I really should have taken philosophy at some point in my life.
I had high hopes for this book, but I felt it didn't reach sympathetically at its object nor shed much light on these obsessions. Does liking miniatures make you a smaller person as I fear Stewart suggests? Or does it invite imagination around objects that would be overly decadent if achieved in their life-sized form? Miniatures permit a sort of "having" without owning that in many cases must be viewed as less materialistic than owning the objects in life-size. Distortion of scale is an aestheti ...more
Extremely thought provoking - a good read :)
Lindsay Joy
This book is lovely, but quite challenging. I had to take a few breaks from reading it, and so it took longer than expected. It includes some great ideas around nostalgia, longing and the souvenir, and most relevant to me, the miniature. The only thing that bothered me were the untranslated quotations from people like Baudrillard and Foucault. My French isn't good enough for that kind of stuff.
I'm rereading this one. Well, certain chapters, as it's a dense one. I don't know about you, but I find comfort in critical theory-based stuff when I am about to embark on making things -- in this case, miniauture sourvenirs. It's a classic, really. If you want to understand the psychological aspects of nostalgia, memory-keeping, and collecting, then this one is for you!"
a great book for anyone interested in thinking through cultural attachments to objects: particularly in the form of the antique and kitsch. stewart also has some wonderful things to say about the postcard - which were central to my thinking about zine culture's use of the postal system. this is a benchmark for unqiue, considered cultural criticism.
A really intriguing look at the cultural implications of the miniature, the gigantic, the collection, and the souvenir. A bit dense at times, but the section on dollhouses alone makes the book worthwhile.
Apr 18, 2011 Natalie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Natalie by: Jenelle Stafford
calling it done! I had no choice but to take the skimmer route with this one as it's so dense, with occasional beautiful, beautiful lines on things very, very tiny and noble.
Though this was not at all helpful for my thesis, Stewart's prose is so pretty. Pretty pretty pretty. Pretty. (I skimmed it so I don't have any else evaluative to say about it.)
Jul 02, 2013 Laura added it
A favorite. I have had this book for a long time and still refer to it. I also use it to teach from in my 3D Foundations class (Memento project).
I keep reading and rereading this, especially the chapter on miniatures. Favorite phrase= center within center, within within within.
This sucker was the mainframe (?) of my master's thesis. I've read like one chapter, but it was a really handy chapter!
Currently reading this for thesis. It takes a LONG time to read, really dense and good.
lovely and insightful. i like any book that devotes a section to the parenthesis.
Kathryn Stine
Nov 08, 2008 Kathryn Stine is currently reading it
I'm convinced I will be reading this book for-eh-ver. It is so promising but so dense!
The writing is a bit odd but this was a cornerstone book for me.
This book is the reason I am philosophically opposed to collecting.
Amazing work. Stewart is subtle and poetic. Elegant read.
Feb 01, 2009 Gyewon rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: diss
good for thing theory, basic for cultural history
Curt Bozif
Oct 03, 2007 Curt Bozif rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers, readers, and a few artists
That I don't know very much about literature.
Laura Auricchio
Thought provoking essays on collecting.
Jonathan Walz
This book is AMAZING!
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