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The Comfort of Thingsby Daniel Miller
Synopses & Reviews
The diversity of contemporary London is extraordinary, and begs to be better understood. Never before have so many people from such diverse backgrounds been free to mix and not to mix in close proximity to each other. But increasingly people's lives take place behind the closed doors of private houses. How can we gain an insight into what those lives are like today? Not television characters, not celebrities, but real people. How could one ever come to know perfect strangers?
Danny Miller attempts to achieve this goal in this brilliant expos? of a street in modern London. He leads us behind closed doors to thirty people who live there, showing their intimate lives, their aspirations and frustrations, their tragedies and accomplishments. He places the focus upon the things that really matter to the people he meets, which quite often turn out to be material things, the house, the dog, the music, the Christmas decorations. He creates a gallery of portraits, some comic, some tragic, some cubist, some impressionist, some bleak and some exuberant.
We find that a random street in modern London contains the most extraordinary stories. Mass murderers and saints, the most charmed Christmas since Fanny and Alexander and the story of how a CD collection helped someone overcome heroin. Through this sensitive reading of the ordinary lives of ordinary people, Miller uncovers the orders and forms through which people make sense of their lives today. He shows just how much is to be gained when we stop lamenting what we think we used to be, and instead concentrate on what we are becoming now. He reveals above all the sadness of lives and the comfort of things.
What do we know about ordinary people in our towns and cities, about what really matters to them and how they organize their lives today? This book visits an ordinary street and looks into thirty households. It reveals the aspirations and frustrations, the tragedies and accomplishments that are played out behind the doors. It focuses on the things that matter to these people, which quite often turn out to be material things – their house, the dog, their music, the Christmas decorations. These are the means by which they express who they have become, and relationships to objects turn out to be central to their relationships with other people – children, lovers, brothers and friends.
If this is a typical street in a modern city like London, then what kind of society is this? It’s not a community, nor a neighbourhood, nor is it a collection of isolated individuals. It isn’t dominated by the family. We assume that social life is corrupted by materialism, made superficial and individualistic by a surfeit of consumer goods, but this is misleading. If the street isn’t any of these things, then what is it?
This brilliant and revealing portrayal of a street in modern London, written by one the most prominent anthropologists, shows how much is to be gained when we stop lamenting what we think we used to be and focus instead on what we are now becoming. It reveals the forms by which ordinary people make sense of their lives, and the ways in which objects become our companions in the daily struggle to make life meaningful.
About the Author
Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture at University College London.
Table of Contents
Portrait 1 Empty.
Portrait 2 Full.
Portrait 3 A Porous Vessel.
Portrait 4 Starry Green Plastic Ducks.
Portrait 5 Learning Love.
Portrait 6 The Aboriginal Laptop.
Portrait 7 Home and Homeland.
Portrait 8 Tattoo.
Portrait 9 Haunted.
Portrait 10 Talk to the Dog.
Portrait 11 Tales from the Publicans.
Portrait 12 Making a Living.
Portrait 13 McDonald's Truly Happy Meals.
Portrait 14 The Exhibitionist.
Portrait 15 Re-Birth.
Portrait 16 Strength of Character.
Portrait 17 Heroin.
Portrait 18 Shi.
Portrait 19 Brazil 2 England 2.
Portrait 20 A Thousand Places to See before You Die.
Portrait 21 Rosebud.
Portrait 22 The Orientalist.
Portrait 23 Sepia.
Portrait 24 An Unscripted Life.
Portrait 25 Oh Sod It!.
Portrait 26 José and José's Wife.
Portrait 27 Wrestling.
Portrait 28 The Carpenter.
Portrait 29 Things That Bright Up the Place.
Portrait 30 Home Truths.
Epilogue: If This is Modern Life – Then What is That?.
Appendix: The Study
What Our Readers Are Saying
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