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216 × 138 × 17 mm
208 pages
31 illustrations
01 Nov 2004

On Garbage John Scanlan

This is the first work to examine the detritus of our culture in its full range; garbage in this sense is not only material waste and ruin, environmental degradation and so on, but also residual or ‘broken’ knowledge, useless concepts, the remainders of systems of intellectual and cultural thought. In this unique and original work (a kind of intellectual scavenging in its own right) the author shows why garbage is, perversely, the source of all that is valuable.

The author considers how Western philosophy, science and technology attained mastery over nature through what can be seen as a prolonged act of cleansing, the disposal of incorrect, outmoded or superseded knowledge. By detailing the waste, ruin and nonsense that we have discarded, the author argues that we can learn new things about the accepted truths and basic building blocks of our culture; he throws new light on our modern condition by examining not what we have kept, but what we have thrown away.

On Garbage shows that disposal causes not only the mountains of rubbish that we occasionally believe threatens to overwhelm us; it also creates a host of other ‘garbage’, particularly in the dead ends of useless knowledge and the often abject reality of our disposable lives. It turns out that we ourselves have become the garbage of our times.

This bold and thought-provoking work will be of interest to readers in areas as diverse as cultural studies and social theory, the histories of philosophy, public health and the environment, as well as those interested in the aesthetics of contemporary art.

‘There is such a fine Montaignesque scope to On Garbage . . . [a] little masterpiece . . . Scanlan [is] an essayist of the first order.’ — The Times

‘The story of rubbish, as Scanlan persuasively argues, is the story of culture . . . [and] cheery references to everyone from Heidegger to Blur make this fun reading.’ — Guardian

‘Highly different, intellectually intriguing and happily stimulating stuff.’ — Glasgow Herald

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John Scanlan is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University.He has previously worked at the Universities of Glasgow, St Andrews and Bristol. He is the author of On Garbage (Reaktion, 2004), Van Halen: Exhuberant California, Zen Rock & Roll(Reaktion, 2012), Memory: Encounters with the Strange and the Familiar (Reaktion, 2013), Easy Riders, Rolling Stones: On the Road in America, from Delta Blues to 70s Rock (2015),

1. Garbage Metaphorics
2. Garbage and Knowledge
3. Garbage Aesthetics
4. Garbage Matters
5. Garbage and the Uncanny
Photographic Acknowledgements