Turkle, Sherry, ed. Evocative Objects: Things We Think With. Cambridge, Mass.; The MIT Press, 2007. Illus. Pp. ix + 385. Hardcover, $24.95.
Evocative objects act as “companions to our emotional lives or as provocations to thought.” Thinking with objects is not always well regarded; abstract reasoning is the canonical style in science. The book is a collection of short essays showing the powerof objects, written by thirty four people. A native American axe head evokes “musing on the long ago, long dead people” on the same land as the family farm. A 1964 Ford Falcon makes a graduate student part of the Boston community and allows her, by creating a home page for the car, to participate in the personal and informal side of the web. Eventually she gives the car away and buys a BMW. Other objects are also “transitional”—when Shayna started nursery school her cloth bunny, left behind, becomes able to see through walls and to hear Shayna. A granddaughter packs a recently deceased grandmother’s suitcase with the red cardigan, the white necklace, the pink-and green-flower-painted teacups, and whatever else the two of them need together. Two and a half years later she can barely open the suitcase: memories are fluid, objects are not. In another writing, a kung fu teacher explains that you have to use his jow (liniment). Like the kung fu he teaches and that in the movies, the jow looks the same but it is not, the tradition is part of it. Several essays deal with how a person can feel as one with her/his object— a writer and her laptop. A diabetic writes about interactions with his glucometer; these interactions “define my sense of who I am.” The essays are paired with paragraphs from many people—Erik Erikson, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Derrida, Jean Piaget to list only the first four. For Turkle these epigraphs are the theory that “defamilarizes” the object. I found many of the epigraphs difficult, perhaps because the context was missing. Turkle contributed the initial and final essay discussing, among other things, why thinking about objects matters and what makes an object evocative. Different essays will undoubtedly be particularly appealing to different people. I found several very moving, and expect I will now think often about evocative objects.